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.