Radicalisation cases ‘uncomfortable’ for social workers, report says

Government research says social workers are uncertain and anxious about how to respond to radicalisation cases

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Radicalisation remains an “uncomfortable area of practice” for social workers and they have high levels of anxiety and uncertainty about managing such cases, according to government funded research.

The study, funded by the Department for Education, analysed the response to radicalisation in 10 local authorities and identified a range of barriers to effective practice.

“Among frontline practitioners in particular there was a perception that both intervention and failure to intervene had the potential for serious repercussions in the event of something going wrong – both professionally and politically, or ultimately to the point of risking the safety of others,” the report said.

As a result of this – and a lack of clear guidance on how to handle these cases – social workers were less likely to respond to a case “flexibly” and take “‘risks’ or unorthodox approaches” in their interventions.

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A social worker told researchers: “The child protection structure is not built [to deal with the risk of radicalisation], it’s absolutely not built for that, and we need to be really clear… social workers aren’t trained for that. So, it’s very easy for the Government to think you can shove it all in [to your workload], but you can’t, you absolutely can’t, and it will become more of a mess.”

Social workers also raised concerns about times when their interventions received external challenges, such as when a case was referred to courts, or family members or community organisations challenged the legitimacy of an intervention.

An example of where a child assessment order was denied “contributed to the feeling that social workers are being stymied by the lack of clear guidelines on handling these cases”. This was made more difficult because court decisions were perceived to be “unpredictable and unreliable”, the report said.


While the report found all social workers had heightened concerns about getting things wrong in such cases, it identified differences between those social workers working in Prevent priority areas and those who had less exposure to radicalisation.

Prevent, the government led, multi-agency programme to target radicalisation, has focused funding and attention in a number of areas considered to be high-risk areas for radicalisation, with more than half of those in London.

While staff in Prevent priority areas had a “very clear” idea of the safeguarding risks associated with radicalisation, those working in local authorities without direct experience of the consequences of radicalisation were more uncertain.

“Staff within some of these authorities did not believe the psychological or emotional harms associated with radicalisation would merit a safeguarding or child protection response,” the report added.

‘Toxic brand’

Families were often suspicious of the Prevent agenda and many regarded it as a “toxic brand” that targeted Muslims, the report said. Social workers were worried this would damage relationships and hard won trust built up over time.

A key factor that drove confident or a lack of confident practice was how well local authorities had decided on an “internal consensus” about radicalisation practice, the researchers said.

A strong consensus would mean the authority had come to shared definitions and agreements at both strategic and frontline levels about what radicalisation is and how best to approach it.

The report concluded that local authorities must:

  • take steps to agree who is responsible for responding to radicalisation
  • agree what the most appropriate response is
  • define a single referral process and
  • build an evidence base of existing radicalisation cases to improve practice in this area.

It added authorities should share the learning about appropriate interventions and engage with communities to build better awareness and understanding about the authority’s goals.

A government spokesperson said it was investing in three organisations to test out new approaches to safeguarding children at risk of harm from radicalisation. The projects are Kidscape, Street Teams and Victim Support.

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4 Responses to Radicalisation cases ‘uncomfortable’ for social workers, report says

  1. Tom J August 8, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    I for one am pleased that they are uncomfortable for social workers.

    The last thing we need are social workers who are comfortably referring everyone and anyone who expresses any anti American sentiment or criticism of British foreign policy.

    It is complex and social workers should weigh things up as they would in all other areas of their practice. The recent Brighton serious case review into the two brothers who went to Syria unsurprisingly found that neither child advertised their plans.

    A significant challenge of The Prevent agenda is the harder you push it, the more that certain areas of speech go underground. I know that if I was a parent of a Muslim child I would be telling them to tone down any criticism of Western intervention disasters in Iraq and Libya.

    • Jim Greer August 9, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

      There is a lot of misunderstanding of Prevent out there. I have done the training and my impression was that it very much tries to make it not targeted towards any religious or ethnic group. Terrorism can come from any race and be about any issue- as shown in the tragic murder of Jo Cox. The next terror incident in the UK could come from the far right or be related to a cause or group which nobody is currently concerned about. The whole point of intiatives such as Prevent is to encourage people to be vigilant.
      I have heard of stories of teachers referring children for spurious reasons but I don’t think the fault for these unfortunate instances lies with Prevent itself. The training highlights a number of indicators which COULD suggest that someone has been targeted for radicalisation. Anti-war sentiments are not of themselves reasons to refer someone. What is important for professionals is to be on one hand sensible and proportionate in how they deal with concerns but at the same time understand that radicalisation has very serious consequences for people caught up in it. The fate of young men and women who have journeyed to Syria should tell us that radicalisation is not only a threat to public safety but also a serious safeguarding issue.

    • Jim August 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

      There is definitely some concerns about the direction of the Prevent model and that people feel that it is to target only anti American or anti British foreign policy groups. That has not been my experience at all of prevent and Chanel, we have been very well supported by safeguarding and special branch in working with people at risk of being radicalised into far right anti-Islamic groups

  2. Tony Stanley August 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

    The new DFE report is helpful, to a point. The real gap is offering practical sw practice tools and methods that provide social workers an ethical way to work. and ones that calm down the risk aversive nature is this area, and addresses the moral panic that is going on. The 2015 PREVENT duty is something we must work with, so the issue for me is how PSW nationally can offer practice advice and case illustrations that we learn from. A small working group of cross adults and children’s PSWs is now up and running,
    any PSW interested in joining can contact me