Top tips on developing a social work approach to radicalisation

How to fulfil statutory duties while keeping good social work practice at the heart of the process.

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This advice is taken from Inform Children’s radicalisation and extremism knowledge and practice hub. Inform subscribers can view the hub here.

The 2015 Prevent update now places a statutory duty on local authority staff and partner agencies to work to the Prevent agenda. This has reimagined the role of statutory social work and could serve to alter the relationships social workers have with service users.

Statutory guidance issued under section 29 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 states that authorities should place the appropriate amount of weight needed to prevent people being drawn into terrorism (HM Government, 2015). The guidance is unequivocal in promoting a risk-based approach to information sharing, while monitoring and enforcement principles underpin the duty.

The question has to be asked – how can this new duty be balanced with the fundamental social work principles of promoting a family and community centred rights and justice based approach, rather than focusing on the individual?

The following tips offer a critical social work perspective, designed to help you fulfil your statutory duty without losing sight of the social work role.

  1. Simply instilling in children a strong sense of belief and/or religious practice is not a safeguarding concern. Radicalisation is a vague and non-specific word.  It means different things to different people, and this has led to confusion in accurately assessing risk.  Where there is evidence that a child is being influenced or groomed with fundamentalist thoughts, associated with a hatred for the country or another religion, then that is a potential concern.
  2. Start assessments early, meaningfully engage with the family and keep the response proportionate. In cases where it is suspected that a child or young person has been radicalised, and they are living in a household where other family members are known to hold extremist ideologies, it can be difficult to determine the proportionate social work response. It is not enough to live in a family where parents are associated with prescribed groups. The quality of information gathered is key here. You need to know what it is like for the young person living in this family, to keep a real watching brief on whether compliance is genuine or disguised and how you are making progress.  It is about solid assessment, meaningful understanding of the family and thorough risk analysis to inform a plan going forward that links back to evidence.
  3. Work closely with police, and other partner agencies, to develop a shared understanding of how and when information will be shared and thresholds. This is crucial from the outset. Robust systems of information governance need to be developed, and understandings around what information is shared, and why, need to be explicit. It can be difficult when police colleagues have high levels of sensitive information which cannot be shared, but might change the outcome of a decision. Work needs to be done to look at how this information can be managed between partners. Learning needs to be done together, developing a truly multi-agency strategy. The Prevent board, strategic overview and channel panel all need to dove-tail, and fit together with an operational approach. Social workers also should also work closely with partners to promote understanding amongst pivotal associated roles eg assisting independent reviewing officers and child protection chairs to understand thresholds, and how they are applied in cases of suspected radicalisation, or working with schools in identifying risk. This needs to be alongside wider community work to raise awareness of what radicalisation looks like and what people should do when they suspect it is occurring, and to build community resilience.
  4. Do not focus exclusively on at-risk children. In radicalisation cases risk is a dynamic idea that shifts and changes. The family group conference model can be adopted, and in some cases prevent an escalation to child protection. This model gives the family the right and option to come up with plans to help themselves in a quiet and confidential space. If you can locate possibility, dreams and desires in family life, then it is the work of social workers to help in bringing about that change. Social workers need to question what they are drawing on when they talk about risk and children and families in this area. Thinking about risk needs to be orientated out, so that it is not just about at-risk children, but at-risk families and communities.
  5. The social work role is a safeguarding role. There is a real need to keep an eye on whether social workers are treading into the territory of ‘soft policing’. It is crucial to remember that social workers have a distinct role, and are not there to deliver the police agenda. Despite the immense political, public and media pressure to influence the lives of some families, social workers need to be mindful to take a ‘business as usual’ approach, as they would to any safeguarding concern, and remain proportionate in any response taken. Social workers need to question the notion of radical views being a problem. The problem we should be concerned about is extremist behaviour.


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