Working with Prevent: Social Work Options for Cases of 'Radicalisation Risk


The 2015 Prevent duty mandates social workers and other professionals "to pay due regard" to possible radicalisation concerns. However, there is currently no guidance on how practitioners might do this.

Authors Tony Stanley et al

Published by Practice: Social Work in Action, 30 (2018)

The 2015 Prevent duty mandates social workers and other professionals "to pay due regard" to possible radicalisation concerns. However, there is currently no guidance on how practitioners might do this.

This paper brings together learning from a series of practitioner events to:

  • Explain the Prevent duty and the challenges professionals face when working within this.
  • Discuss how strengths-based approaches offer a humane way of practice in this area.

Policy context

The Prevent programme was introduced as part of the previous Labour government's wider social inclusion approach. It was embedded in community cohesion and aimed to win "hearts and minds", especially of vulnerable young people experiencing discrimination and disaffection. One strand of Prevent was Channel, which was a mechanism for de-radicalising young people identified by Prevent as needing support to move away from radical ideas.

The 2011 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government introduced a new version of Prevent. This moved away from the community cohesion approach into a version that emphasised fundamental British values.

The Prevent Duty was introduced in 2015 "to help prevent" terrorism and radicalisation. It formalised referrals to Channel, and promoted a risk-based approach to information sharing.

Channel panels are led by local authorities and involve multi-agency partners. Families are not present at the panels. The panel relies on referrals from police, education, health and social care staff about those potentially at risk and/or vulnerable to extremism. The aim is that individuals are then guided away from extremism through support and interventions. Specific details of Channel programmes and outcomes are not readily available.

Learning from practitioners

Three multi-agency workshops, comprising frontline workers from health and social care, police and counter-terrorism police officers, were held to explore practice in relation to children, young people and adults considered at risk of radicalisation. It included discussions of case examples provided by participants, what had worked well for professionals and what challenges they faced.

A key theme emerging from the workshops was the lack of effective multi-agency working models and practical tools, as illustrated here:

  • Practitioners in agencies other than the police reported that multi-agency information sharing was poor and that sometimes when they had to attend strategy meetings they could not fully contribute because they did not have enough information.
  • Limited resources and tools prevented workers from expanding their work with families. They also expressed concerns around the lack of practical ways being offered to work with families and communities.
  • When families declined the voluntary Channel offer cases were routinely re-referred to a statutory service. Where this happened, social workers expressed tensions in not feeling able to close cases because they were unsure what constituted sufficient change and how to assess and measure this.
  • Most assessments tended to focus on the child or adult of concern, and generally ignored family and community relationships. Coupled with this, there were tensions in approaches and ways of working with risk in radicalisation cases across different agencies.

Implications for practice

The authors argue that strengths-based, restorative approaches can help bring about change with families where radicalisation risk or terrorism is of concern. Some examples of potential approaches (from the authors), include:

Signs of Safety - helps to engage families with what is working well, what professionals are worried about and what changes the family needs to make. It offers multi-agency partners a framework to share and reflect on their risk thinking, while remaining clear on professional differences.

Family Group Conference (FGC) - draws on resources within and around the family. This approach enables family members, rather than social workers, to test out and challenge their belief systems and ideological views.

The Good Lives Model - is based around being open to alternatives to "the presenting problem" and then co-producing a narrative of meaning and goals that are more pro-social and acceptable. The approach helps workers support clients to question what belonging to a particular group means for them. It is currently used in forensic terrorism cases (Dean, 2016) and could potentially be used alongside FGC.

The Capabilities Approach - recognises that a person's capabilities represent the freedom of an individual to choose between different kinds of life that he/she values (Nussbaum, 2011). A key element relevant to radicalisation cases is the multidimensional analysis of social problems, including the impact of wider political and socio-cultural factors on families' lives.

The research section for this special report is based on a selection of academic studies which have been explored and summarised by Research in Practice, part of the Dartington Hall Trust

This article is part of CYP Now's special report on exploitation and vulnerability. Click here for more

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