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.
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.