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Study published on social work and radicalisation cases

Research conducted across 10 local authorities has identified the demands placed on social workers in response to cases of radicalisation as an “uncomfortable area of practice” for some staff.

The Department for Education funded study found varying levels of anxiety among practitioners when dealing with such cases and suggests a need to increase the amount of knowledge sharing between local authorities on this issue to give staff who are less confident the chance to draw on the experiences of those who have dealt with more radicalisation cases.

Concerns over intervention

Social workers raised concerns about the effect of intervention, the implications if they did not intervene, and over external challenges of intervention such as by the courts or families.

The DfE says it was motivated to commission the study in the context of the “new and emerging nature of this area of practice for safeguarding professionals”, to help develop a deeper understanding of how councils were responding to radicalisation, and to gather evidence of emerging practice about what works in social care interventions.

“A key finding of this research is that participants were highly conscious of the on-going debates and contested terminology in this area – both within local communities and among staff in the authorities themselves. In particular, the research surfaced widely varying views about the extent to which radicalisation represents a safeguarding or child protection risk,” the report stated.

Varied consensus on radicalisation response

A factor impacting on staff confidence was the degree to which a local authority had arrived at consensus on the main issues.

Three ‘types’ of local authorities emerged. High prevalence (typically in Prevent priority areas with a high volume of radicalisation cases), low prevalence areas having the most clearly defined differences and moderate prevalence areas, where the response was generally on a reactive, ‘needs-driven’ basis. This indicates how a local authority will make use of the experts available to them, whether those are in Child Protection jobs, Social Carers or working in Best Interest Assessor jobs

Prevent priority authorities tended to have a strong internal consensus that radicalisation presented either a safeguarding or child protection risk, and were committed to taking ownership of the issue. 

On the other hand, low prevalence areas reached an internal consensus that the response was more appropriately provided by universal services such as education in cases of low severity, or to the police in cases of high severity.

Clear guidance leads to appropriate intervention

Four key themes emerged from discussions: 

• How the degree of internal consensus about how an authority responds to radicalisation impacts on staff confidence and capability to handle these cases

• The challenge of engaging with families and communities

• Working effectively with partner agencies, (the police, schools and healthcare professionals)

• Challenges to intervention

The report said: 

Key lessons

Key lessons emerging from the study were the need to: 

• Agree who is responsible for responding to radicalisation 

• Recognise the need for local authorities to reach agreement about the most appropriate response for them
• Define a single referral process

• Build an evidence base to learn from previous practice 

• Share learning about appropriate interventions

• Engage with communities to build awareness and understanding.
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