- The Prevent programme has been integrated into the council's mainstream safeguarding work
- More than 5,000 staff have been trained in using the programme, and most young people exit successfully
The Bedfordshire town of Luton has been a priority area for the Home Office's counter-terrorism Prevent strategy for around a decade. This is largely due to the presence in the town of extremist Islamist and far-right groups, which aim to groom and recruit people who may be vulnerable.
The 2015 Prevent duty mandates local public agencies to "pay due regard" to possible radicalisation concerns. This built on the Prevent programme, introduced in 2003 by the then Labour government, which used community cohesion approaches to support young people vulnerable to extremism.
Luton Council's approach to working with children and families affected by, and at risk from, extremist ideology has been to embed the Prevent programme into its wider multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, explains Nicola Monk, service director for policy, communities and engagement in Luton.
"One of the things we are concerned about is intergenerational radicalisation and how we protect the wider community from that," Monk says. "It is why we have worked with schools to build the resilience of children so that they can recognise and challenge [extremist] narratives.
"We view all forms of extremism through the same safeguarding model of social work."
In keeping with Prevent's community-led focus, the Luton programme works to build young people's sense of "identity and belonging" because of the fact they are potentially vulnerable, explains Sarah Pinnock, Prevent co-ordinator. "We work on developing their critical thinking skills."
This is done through programmes in schools such as Me and You Education and training support through community-led voluntary groups like Luton Tigers, which delivers classroom-based sessions that develop critical thinking skills, and addresses the risks posed by extremists.
When a young person participating in Prevent is identified as already holding extremist views they can be referred to Channel, a specialist early intervention safeguarding programme.
Jo Fisher, service director for prevention and early intervention in Luton, is the council's Channel lead. She explains that Channel is fully integrated into the council's early help service.
"Channel is part of our mainstream early help work - it doesn't sit outside gangs work or our response to child sexual exploitation," she says.
"A team of two family support workers collect information about the child and family, builds the relationship with them and co-ordinates multi-agency support.
"The plan could be to address the young person's isolation or mental health needs. Looking at the issues through a safeguarding perspective so that we can understand what is going on for this child and family is also really important."
Luton is one of nine authorities to take part in Operation Dovetail, a Home Office scheme that transferred responsibility for leading Channel from the police to local government, with the aim of better integrating the programme into wider safeguarding arrangements.
As a result of this change, the early help family worker will often be the first person to engage the parents, explains Fisher, which can lead to "challenging conversations".
"It's about building a relationship - in most cases parents give their consent to participate," she adds.
Due to the sensitive nature of the Prevent programme, councils are unable to publish data on the impact of their work. Fisher says young people worked with through Channel are assessed at three and six months after they leave to "check how they are getting on".
"The vast majority exit successfully," she adds.
In Luton, more than 5,000 frontline practitioners across social care, health, education, and the police have been trained in Prevent.
Meanwhile, the council's efforts to improve citizenship and community cohesion across the town is reflected in the fact that 84 per cent of respondents to a residents' survey said they get on well with people from different backgrounds.
For Fisher the fact that the issue is now seen as part of the "usual business" of safeguarding and not "tagged on" shows the impact of the council's work.