Children at risk of radicalisation may not be on the radar of local authorities, research suggests.
A Cafcass analysis of 54 family court cases involving radicalisation found that generally children were not “outwardly vulnerable” to the extent that they or their family were known to the local authority.
The research found it was “not possible to create a profile of children at risk of radicalisation” and that practitioners were struggling to come to terms with appropriate thresholds for intervention.
Richard Green, national child care policy manager at Cafcass, said the study offered a snapshot of the different types of radicalisation within family law proceedings.
Read expert guidance on how social workers can tackle radicalisation and extremism on Community Care Inform Children. A login is required to access the knowledge and practice hub.
“Although the type of radicalisation concerns we are now seeing might appear to be a new phenomenon, especially references to so-called IS, judgments have highlighted the importance of practitioners making use of the core safeguarding skills. These are the most crucial tools in assessing these cases.”
Judges and policing experts have issued similar advice that social workers should turn to core safeguarding skills to assess the risk of radicalisation.
The cases analysed by Cafcass were categorised into the types of radicalisation, with 21 dealing with adult radicalisation and the risks it posed to children, and 10 cases about children who had been radicalised.
Boys were at risk of radicalisation through similar ‘recruitment’ strategies to gangs, but the pattern was “like nothing seen before” for girls.
Applying the correct definition of radicalisation was a “challenge”, the study said, adding: “There are clearly complexities in the many different manifestations of ‘radicalisation’ within family law proceedings.”
The threshold set by professionals in radicalisation cases “seemed to focus on travel”, the evidence compiled by Cafcass suggested.
“There appear to be two considerations within this: the likelihood of it happening, and the potential impact to the child,” it said.
It added: “In some cases, while there was only a small risk of travel, the impact would be such that the court found that the severity of the outcome trumped the assessment of low risk of likelihood.”
Social workers’ concern over their role in radicalisation cases has existed since the Prevent duty was brought in last year.
As well as ethical questions raised by the duty, a survey of 507 social workers by Community Care revealed more than half were either not confident about knowing the correct intervention in a radicalisation case.
Five things judges have said on radicalisation:
As part of the study, Cafcass collated several pieces of judicial guidance on radicalisation, here are some of the key quotes from judges about identifying and acting upon radicalisation.
- On the definition of radicalisation: “negatively influencing [a child] with radical fundamentalist thought, which is association with terrorism”.
- How to approach radicalisation: “The type of harm I have been asked to evaluate is a different facet of vulnerability for children than that which the courts have had to deal with in the past. What, however is clear is that the conventional safeguarding principles will still afford the best protection.”
- “The risk assessment of potentially vulnerable children is the professional skill set of the experienced social worker”.
- Balancing risks posed by extremism with appropriate religious or cultural practices: “There can be no objection whatsoever to any child being exposed, often quite intensively, to the religious practices and observance of the child’s parent or parents. If and insofar as what is meant in this case by “radicalising” means no more than that a set of Muslim beliefs and practices is being strongly instilled in these children, that cannot be regarded as in any way objectionable or inappropriate.”
- On risk: “Risk does not exist as a concept in a vacuum. Sometimes a small risk of some very serious consequence is an unacceptable risk.”