Social workers have been told that radicalisation cases are “exactly the same” as other safeguarding concerns.
At a packed session on preventing radicalisation at Community Care Live on Tuesday (3 November), Alamgir Sheriyar, active referral coordinator for Kent Police, said that in cases of grooming, child sexual exploitation and young people becoming involved with gangs, social workers “make notes, and you pass it on to your safeguarding team,” and there was “nothing different” in cases of suspected radicalisation.
“We are not talking about reinventing the wheel of safeguarding, it is what we do,” Sheriyar said.
He added: “When we talk about radicalisation, child sexual exploitation, and issues with gangs, it is exactly the same process, and if something has the same process involved then it makes sense that the identification will be very, very similar.
Vulnerable young people
“What we’re talking about is vulnerable young people. Vulnerable people who are being targeted, not because they are bad people or want to get involved in criminal activity, [but] because they are vulnerable and they need a sense of belonging and through that grooming process they are given that.”
In suspected cases of radicalisation, social workers and local authorities are under a duty to refer the case to the local Channel panel, which will then decide the correct, if any, intervention and support to be offered to that individual.
In recent months, high-profile radicalisation cases in the press have placed a greater emphasis on the role of agencies in preventing the radicalisation of individuals. This has brought the social work role more into focus, and concerns have been voiced about how well social workers understand the duty and what role they should be playing in it.
However, Victoria Latham, head of local delivery for the government’s Prevent programme, said that radicalisation was a part of the same safeguarding agenda as other preventative work done by social workers.
Latham told delegates that the Prevent duty, introduced on 1 July, was “not actually asking anybody to do anything new or different, it’s about reflecting a safeguarding issue as part of everyday practice”.
‘Core safeguarding issue’
“Ultimately, this is a safeguarding issue, this is not radicalisation bolted on to a safeguarding conversation you would already have about an at risk individual. This is a core safeguarding issue, it’s just one that has drawn a great deal more attention of late,” she said.
The Prevent guidance was first put in place in 2011, Latham reminded the social workers present, and she said the Prevent duty had only placed a new emphasis on the issue.
“It’s not a new strategy, it’s not a new design, it’s not a new thing. It’s the 2011 strategy and work that has been placed on a statutory footing,” Latham said.
Amid concerns from other panellists and the audience that the Prevent agenda reflected a “pre-crime” approach, where radical thoughts are taken as an assumption that someone might commit a crime – and questions about how radicalisation fits in with other forms of abuse dealt with in child protection – Sheriyar said that a young person arriving at an idea was not abuse, but how that position was “developed through the grooming process” was “absolutely” abuse.
He said: “When you break down the radicalisation and the grooming process, there is emotional abuse because you are telling someone they don’t fit in. There is, in some cases, sexual abuse, [like] young girls travelling to Syria with this dream they are going to get married to a soldier. So when we are talking about these things, these abusive cultures are represented within child protection. When we talk about child protection we are essentially talking about keeping young people safe. That is what we are doing through the Prevent strategy.”
However, Jo Finch, deputy director of the Centre for Social Work Research, questioned social workers’ involvement in these cases.
Finch asked: “Are we getting into dangerous ideological grounds here? Is this our role? Should it be our role?”
“My concern is about the notion of pre-crime. If people have a genuine interest, does that mean they are going to commit terrorist acts? I remember my radical self at 13, animal rights, anti-vivisection and strict vegetarian, that’s part of growing up isn’t it, to perhaps have views that aren’t very well informed,” she added.
Sheriyar said the process involved referrals of radicalisation being verified and understood: “What is the worst thing that can happen if you share that risk? You speak to somebody like myself, a Prevent officer, and we say ‘Do you know what, this doesn’t fit the Prevent criteria’.”