Wording on boy’s t-shirt prompts radicalisation referral to social workers

The Prevent duty to tackle radicalisation is 'untenable' according to a report by Rights Watch UK

white t-shirt
Photo: Fotolia/Kaspars Grinvalds

A report has criticised an “irrational” response by social services and a school after an eight-year-old child was thought to be at risk of radicalisation due to the wording on his t-shirt.

According to the report by Rights Watch UK on the impact of the Prevent duty, the boy was referred to a social services department in east London by his teachers after he wore a t-shirt which said ‘I want to be like Abu Bakr al-Siddique’ – a major Islamic figure, considered to be one of the first converts to Islam.

The boy’s mother then received a phone call from social services where she recalled ‘deradicalisation’ being mentioned.


The child was interviewed without his parents being present about whether the t-shirt referred to Islamic State, a line of questioning, the report said, “presumably on the basis of a misreading of the name on the t-shirt as referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of [Islamic State]”.

Under the Prevent duty, which was brought in last year, agencies working with children must identify those at risk of radicalisation and refer them to the Channel programme, where cases are assessed and decisions made about intervention.

Radicalisation tips on Community Care Inform

Social workers can access expert guidance on identifying and supporting children at risk of radicalisation on Community Care Inform’s radicalisation and extremism knowledge and practice hub.

Channel panels must include police, and can include social workers and representatives from other services like schools and housing. Researchers interviewed professionals, academics, parents and children from across the UK.


Rights Watch UK, a think-tank which scrutinises security policies, said the response in this case by the school and social services was “irrational”.

“The only inference available is that school and social services staff drew the inappropriate conclusion that an Arabic name was suspicious in and of itself,” the report said.

Professionals were also concerned by the boy describing his father’s ‘secret job’, which turned out to be selling nail polish online.

“Presumably school and social services decision-makers elected to question the child on the flawed assumptions that his t-shirt referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and that his father’s ‘secret job’ was a cause for suspicion. Neither was correct. But what is more important is that neither was even a reasonable position for the school or social services personnel to hold,” the report said.

It also criticised the decision to interview the boy alone, saying it was difficult to see how this served his interests better than having the support of a parent.

There was confusion among agencies about whether the school was correctly acting in line with the Prevent strategy.

“Subsequently the head of social services has told the mother that the Prevent strategy does not govern the child’s situation,” the report found.

‘Untenable’ Prevent strategy

Stephanie Petrie, a qualified social worker and Liverpool University legal academic quoted in the report, said none of the “substantial” knowledge about preventing child abuse was included in Channel guidance.

“It is misleading to imply that what is primarily a surveillance operation is intended to protect young people from harm,” Petrie said.

The report said the Prevent duty was “leaving a generation of young Britons fearful of exercising their rights to freedom of expression and belief and risks being counter-productive”.

“Brought into operation without adequate consideration of its impact on children’s rights, the Prevent strategy and the statutory duty on schools is predicated on a series of flawed assumptions. The most concerning of these is that holding non-violent extremist views is a reliable precursor of future participation in terrorism,” the report said.

“The Prevent strategy as currently structured and implemented is untenable,” it concluded.

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11 Responses to Wording on boy’s t-shirt prompts radicalisation referral to social workers

  1. Anita Singh July 20, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    The Oxford dictionary definition of terrorism = “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” In fighting terrorism, we should apply such policies across the board to all communities to prevent radicalisation. I question what it is that we do not expect the social work profession to intervene in families who actively promote race hatred. I have never seen any policies directed at social work intervention with parents actively engaged with groups such as the English Defence League, Britain First, the BNP, the National Front and Combat 18? What is it that we are solely focussed on political extremism of Muslims but not other extremist political groups who could potentially brainwash their children, incite racial hatred and terrorising civilians or even the murder of individuals such as Stephen Lawrence or Jo Cox?

    • Stuart Holmes July 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

      I’m not a fan of the ‘Prevent duty’ but isn’t the answer to your question that the EDL and those other dudes are, while damaging in parts, mere fringe cranks when viewed from a global perspective whereas the IS crew are threatening all sorts of inernational mayhem and death & destruction on a totally different scale…?

    • Jim Greer August 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

      I have done the Prevent training and I can assure you that it is not directed at Islam or Muslims. It recognises that terrorism can come from any part of the political spectrum as demonstrated by the horrific murder of Jo Cox. The panic response mentioned in this article could have been easily avoidable by staff simply googling the name on the t shirt. Over-reaction is common to all forms of state intervention in people’s lives and did not start with Prevent. There is nothing in the Prevent training itself which would encourage people to be paranoid or over-zealous. I really wish more social workers would do the training before commenting rather than accepting prejudiced assumptions.
      On a general note, however, I would suggest that putting religious slogans on the chests of children too young to fully comprehend what they mean is not necessarily in their interests. And yes- I realise that Christians have been doing this in the UK for a very long time. As an atheist I don’t agree with that either.

  2. Robert Bain July 21, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    This makes both the school and the social services look ridiculous and is probably caused by ignorance on both. Abu-Bakr al Sidique was the first Calif and the best friend of the prophet Mohammed. The Christian equivalent would perhaps be a T shirt saying “I want to be like you St Paul”. There are those in society and the media who wish to portray all Muslims as extremists. This kind of reaction shows that they are wining. Interviewing this little boy without the presence of his parents was wrong and shame on them for doing so.

  3. Peter Endersby July 21, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    I agree that the response was wrong and heavy handed but why would you have a t-shirt saying that at this moment in history? It was a little unwise and ill informed of his parents.

    • Stuart Holmes July 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

      More unwise than wearing a cross or crucifix or any of many other God Squad emblems or slogans?

    • Tabby July 23, 2016 at 8:32 am #

      I disagree with the ending of your comment, because that’s exactly what people want us Muslims to do “at this moment in history” they want us to roll over and let them stop us practicing and just being Muslims, they want Muslims to be scared and not be ourselves.

  4. Jonathan Ritchie July 21, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    Where is the Social Work commitment to uphold Freedom of Expression?

  5. Jenny Cockcroft July 21, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

    Peter Endersby – are you kidding? Unwise for parents to allow their child to express his religious affiliation?! Hmmm not oppressive in the least.

    Im no expert in Islam at all but a quick google by school or social workers would have allowed them to learn who he was & what he stood for & could have avoided the child & family distress & themselves embarrassment!

    Prevent is a poorly thought out policy which I believe is too often being operationalised poorly too.

  6. CEOPS July 22, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    Sorry – But I’d rather people checked!

    Well done for critisiing Social Workers for trying to do their job yet again!!!
    Surely it’s better to be safe than sorry.
    And if he had been radicalised and nobody checked up – especially in light of the suspicion of the ‘secret job’ – then the School/Social Care would have been criticised for not acting on indicators.

    I’m sorry for the Parent to experience this intrusion but I would also say well done to the professionals for acting on their instincts – as we have all been told to do on the prevent training!

  7. Andrea July 25, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    the point made by CEOPS is sadly THE point, no-one did any checking because their first concern was fear of getting it wrong and being criticised – the response wasn’t appropriate and wasn’t child focused, and had checking the facts first been undertaken was also not necessary.