The Department for Education needs to increase the amount of knowledge sharing between local authorities in relation to radicalisation, a report has found.
Sharing information will enable staff that are less confident in their practice are able to draw from the experiences of those who have dealt with more radicalisation cases, the report commissioned by the DfE has found.
“Overall, staff were most confident responding to radicalisation in local authorities where safeguarding and child protection teams had arrived at a clear conclusion about who should take ownership of these cases, and developed guidance around assessment and handling of radicalisation cases,” said the report. “Where staff are confident in how they should handle radicalisation cases, they were also better able to engage effectively with families and children who are at risk.”
The research was carried out to develop a deeper understanding of how local authorities are responding to radicalisation, and to begin to gather evidence of emerging practice about what works in social care interventions.
A key finding of this research is that participants in the study were highly conscious of the ongoing 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.
Although participants identified some parallels between radicalisation and other forms of harm (particularly Child Sexual Exploitation), it was felt that the greater difficulty of identifying ‘vulnerable’ individuals in radicalisation cases meant that this remained a “distinctive and difficult issue” for safeguarding professionals to grapple with.
“One of the key factors driving staff confidence (or lack thereof) was the degree to which a local authority had arrived at an internal consensus (i.e. shared definitions and agreement at both a strategic and frontline level) about these key questions,” said the report. “This in turn was often influenced by the prevalence of cases of radicalisation within a local authority.”
Four key themes emerged from discussions about challenges:
The degree of internal consensus about how an authority should respond to radicalisation has an impact on staff confidence and capability to handle these cases. Where a local authority had reached consensus about the nature of the risk associated with radicalisation and the appropriate response, this gave confidence to staff. Local authorities were able to further build confidence of staff by strengthening internal knowledge about radicalisation, either through case reviews or by consulting relevant experts.
Engaging with families and communities around the issue of radicalisation is a key challenge, with some indications of emerging good practice. Staff reported different kinds of barriers that arose in relation to engaging with families and communities as part of the safeguarding response to radicalisation. Some staff had encountered direct barriers, where family members sought to directly restrict the access of safeguarding professionals to their children. By providing families with a clear explanation of what was being done and why, it was possible for staff to gain buy in and support with safeguarding children. At the same time, effective education and outreach programs were able to inform communities about the purpose and intention of the Prevent agenda, and begin to demystify and detoxify the brand.
Working effectively with partner agencies is central to the response to radicalisation across many local authorities – and a source of key challenges. Barriers arose relating to information sharing and some partner agencies being over-zealous in their referrals. Safeguarding and child protection thresholds were another key sticking point in relationships with partners, who sometimes lacked a clear understanding of which cases were appropriate for safeguarding or child protection intervention.
Where the perceived legitimacy of interventions is questioned, this presents challenges to staff confidence. Staff also reported internal anxieties about the appropriateness of interventions, with staff in areas with less experience of working on radicalisation cases often less confident about how they should best respond. Staff who had built up experience of working on these cases, and who were provided with clear guidance from their managers about the most appropriate interventions, were the most confident about the legitimacy of their work in this area.
The report recommended that local authorities should:
“There is appetite for a central resource of information and guidance that could help build capacity and capability within the safeguarding and child protection system to respond to these cases,” the report concludes.