DfE to commission review of children’s services’ approach to tackling radicalisation

Tender document cites need for more evidence around authorities' approach, including 'emerging' forms of extremism such as 'incel' movement

Image of the word 'extremism' represented by wooden letter tiles (credit: shane / Adobe Stock)
(credit: shane / Adobe Stock)

The Department for Education (DfE) is to commission a review of the ways in which children’s services are responding to radicalisation and extremism among young people.

Tender documents published this month seek applicants to conduct research within 10 English local authorities, updating on a 2016 safeguarding and radicalisation evaluation, which found divergent views around the extent to which extremism presents a safeguarding risk.

The government’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, founded under Labour in 2006, has long attracted criticism over its perceived excessive focus on the dangers of Islamic extremism, and the potential for this to reinforce negative stereotypes.

But the documentation for the new study said the landscape had “developed in important ways”, with newer forms of extremism – such as the ‘incel’ movement, cited in several attacks in North America – posing fresh challenges alongside established far-right terrorism.

“There is a lack of current research evidence to understand how children’s social care engages with these increasingly varied cases, the consistency of approaches adopted and an understanding of the unique challenges different types of extremism may pose,” the document said.

The new research will aim to gauge social workers’ views on how responses to extremism have developed, assess what useful sources of information and support exist, and highlight best practice to share across the sector.

‘Wide disparities in social worker knowledge’

Jo Finch, a social work academic at the University of East London, said it was important there was more research into the how social workers are dealing with cases involving radicalisation and extremism and described the initiative as a “useful start”.

Five years ago, a survey by Community Care found there was widespread lack of confidence among social workers around their role in radicalisation cases.

Finch, who said she was likely to be part of a bid for the research project, added that in her experience there were still wide disparities in social workers’ knowledge levels and comfort in dealing with extremism.

“In certain parts of country, maybe these issues are not at the forefront [of practitioners’ minds],” Finch said.

“Anything that can help social workers manage these issues, [which lack] a good research base, is a good idea so long as it is not politicised,” she added.

It was positive, Finch went on, that the DfE was extending and updating the scope of influences that could be seen as radicalising, because this may enable a more “nuanced, subtle” and evidence-based discussion.

“The debate [often] gets polarised and cross – people are either for or against Prevent,” Finch said, referring to the agenda’s Islamophobic reputation. “My view is that we need to be engaging with messy middle ground – I am not calling for Prevent to be removed, but for people to be sensible.”

‘Sophisticated response’

Stephen Cowden, the academic lead for social work at Ruskin College, Oxford, agreed that the proposed study was “very welcome”, adding that social work interventions could be crucial where young people were at risk from various forms of radicalisation.

Echoing Finch’s comments, Cowden also said he hoped the new study’s focus on a range of forms of extremism could shift “simplistic” and “polarised” perceptions around Prevent.

Cowden said he had recently been impressed, during ongoing research he is conducting, at the sophistication of one large urban borough’s response to extremism, and that he was “heartened” that the new study would include a focus on sharing best practice.

“The contextual safeguarding agenda offers a really useful way to think about not just child sexual [and criminal] exploitation but radicalisation too,” he said. “Radicalisation takes place within networks, for example within football supporter groups there may be high-status individuals who argue for racist positions, so we need to understand context and that this isn’t just about individual pathology.”

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3 Responses to DfE to commission review of children’s services’ approach to tackling radicalisation

  1. Chris Sterry August 13, 2020 at 2:04 pm #

    Are we all demanding too much from Social Workers, whose, workloads are already extremely excessive, with other safeguarding issues, not to mention issues relating to disabilities, families and many other areas, including funding.

    Social work has always been a demanding area and the austerity cuts over the last 10 years of austerity cuts have not made this any easier, in fact, it as made it much harder.

    Many social workers are crumbling under the various many pressures and many are leaving, expressing they will not work for local authorities again.

    All this and other issues are causing major issues for the remaining social workers and will lead to mistakes being made, where the blame will mainly rest with the respective social workers, who in many instances are not being supported by their local authority management structures.

    This, of course is happening within children services, but there are also many issues with transitions and then adult services where there are many failings and not only will the services suffer, but more importantly the persons and families who rely on these services.

    This Government is currently throwing money in many directions and have done so to social services, but not in anywhere near sufficiently. Not even sufficiently to reverse the 10 years of austerity cuts, let alone the current pressures.

    Social Care is indeed in crisis and is urgently in need of not only funding, but much more including an understanding of all the related problems.

    I do fear that social care will cease to exist in any reliable form and this will create more pressures on those working in social care, families in need of social care, but also the health services, who may also have to deal with a second wave of COVID-19.

    Not a very rosy picture and the time to deal with it are shortening hour by hour.

    I created a petition, Solve the crisis in Social Care, https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/solve-the-crisis-in-social-care,which was with regards to social care delivery within the community.

    More information, https://www.dropbox.com/s/9nurve8oev2rfrv/Solve%20the%20crisis%20in%20Social%20Care%209.docx?dl=0

    I appreciate that this petition only covers a certain area of the problems and certainly not the issues raised in this article, but by supporting the petition it is a start and will bring pressure on the Government to do something, for currently they are doing nothing.

    Social Care needs YOU

    #care #socialcare #crisis

  2. dk August 14, 2020 at 9:29 am #

    My experience is that collaboration with partner agencies, particularly police (especially SO15) and Prevent, is a real issue for children’s social workers in working with children where extremism and radicalisation is a concern. They can have unrealistic expectations of children’s social workers that stem from a misunderstanding of (or if I am less charitable, disregard for) the remit of CiN or CP work; our role is intervention, not proxy surveillance and intelligence gathering. I’ve also found information tends to flow only one way in these professional networks; you’ll be told there are grounds to believe or be concerned about extremism but not what these grounds are, and if you are lucky enough to be told it is often on the proviso that you do not share that with the child or family so as to not compromise an intelligence source; you can imagine how those initial conversations with children and families go when you don’t know why it is you’re worried exactly.

    From what I hear and see, London LAs are waking up to the harm white nationalism inflicts on impressionable and vulnerable white adolescents and are starting to put together better and more targeted services dedicated to tackling that. Perhaps a bit wooly and defeatist of me, but I struggle to feel optimistic about the outcomes and efficacy of such services when right wing perspectives and ideas that would have been well outside the Overton window only a few years ago are currently the blithe stuff of daytime television and tabloid editorials.

  3. Sharon August 14, 2020 at 12:17 pm #

    Jo Finch asserts that new research to inform tackling radicalisation is to be welcomed so long as this is not “politicised”. This is odd. The term radicalisation is it self a politicised term given that choices are made to include or exclude behaviours and beliefs and groups as being radicalised or not. I happen to believe that poisoning of birds of prey or setting traps to catch foxes and badgers so that hedge fund managers can blight Scotland by murdering hand reared grouse is extremism and maintains the subjugation of my nation through economic terrorism. Many will no doubt find my view absurd. Either way how we see class power played out in the Highlands is based on our political ideologies. All research is based on suppositions so no research is ideologically neutral. Why is “Polarisation” the only contrast to “Nuance”, Subtle”, Evidence based”, “Middle ground” and “Sensible”. All of those definitions are beliefs so I struggle to see how when they are used in more overtly political contexts they suddenly take on other meanings to that used in the article. I can predict with confidence the new research will not address assaults on feminists by trans extremists but will no doubt feature assaults on women by incel zealots. Those choices are ideological. Not sure how they aren’t political.