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Children’s services struggle to tackle radicalisation, says new study

New research in the UK has found that many children’s services lack the ability to effectively prevent or respond to the radicalisation of young people by extremists. Adrian Voce reports.

A study on Safeguarding and Radicalisation commissioned by the UK government’s Department for Education concludes that many professionals working in the children and young people’s sector struggle to respond to the threat of radicalisation of young people. Children’s services, says the report, frequently lack the skills and the confidence to make meaningful interventions where there are risks of young people becoming radicalised to extremist ideologies.

The research also reveals a wide diversity of views among children’s safeguarding and child protection staff about the extent of the risks to young people, represented by the activities and influences of radical groups.

It finds that although practitioners identify some parallels between radicalisation and other forms of harm, such as child sexual exploitation, there is a greater degree of difficulty in identifying children and young people at risk of radicalisation. This meant, says the report, ‘that this remained a distinctive and difficult issue for safeguarding professionals to grapple with’.


Sensitivities involved in determining an appropriate response to radicalisation made it “an uncomfortable area of practice for some staff, particularly for frontline staff who lack direct exposure to these types of cases”, the report states. The research, conducted among ten different local authorities last year, reveals that a key factor influencing staff confidence is whether there was an “internal consensus” within children’s services about how to respond to the issue. “This in turn was often influenced by the prevalence of cases of radicalisation within a local authority (area)” the report adds.

In areas with a high incidence of radicalisation, local authorities were united in their belief that it represented either a safeguarding or child protection risk to children, and were committed to responding proactively to the problem, either through early help or using statutory social care powers. In contrast, in areas of low prevalence, local authorities indicated that the response to radicalisation cases was more appropriately provided by universal services – such as schools in cases of low severity, or by the police in cases of high severity.

The report’s authors recommend that the government should increase the amount of knowledge sharing between local authorities, so that less-confident services can learn from those with more experience of radicalisation. It also highlights concerns that the police sometimes fail to share case information about ongoing criminal investigations, and that universal services are “deemed to be overzealous in their referrals”.

Adrian Voce

Photo: BigOakFlickr

Author: Adrian Voce

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