In June, following a suicide attack in Iraq by 17-year-old Talha Asmal – a radicalised teenager from West Yorkshire – a UK-based Islamic organisation (Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) took the initiative to confront ISIS head on.
The community group start using the texts that the terror group misuses to radicalise and recruit young British Muslims. It launched a “counter-terrorism curriculum” targeting schools and universities across the UK. Its campaign was aimed at deterring further ISIS recruitment in Britain and dissuading vulnerable teenagers from travelling to Iraq or Syria to join the militant group.
The National Police Council figures indicate that almost 40 young people in Wales have been identified as at risk of radicalisation. In the past three years, 37 under 18s, including four under the age of 12, have been referred to a UK government intervention programme. In total, 834 young people in England and Wales were identified as at risk.
As each week brings news of young men and women leaving their homes in the UK to travel to Syria and Iraq, we need to ask ourselves how can we better protect and support families where young people become victims of radicalisation?
Prashan de Visser from Sri Lanka believes that adult mentorship and friendships across ethnic and cultural boundaries is key. See him speaking here.
As this is such a topical issue I have been reading articles lately in which proposed solutions range from the stripping of citizenship and increasing online surveillance, to increased engagement with young people and their parents.
Areas to focus on:
The parent/child relationship is the foundation of keeping children safe and supporting their social development and educational attainment. Parenting can be a challenging task. Maintaining a positive relationship can sometimes be difficult as children grow and develop and seek an identity that may be different from their own family. Children and young people have a natural curiosity that parents need to encourage. But as children grow up parents have to take different steps to ensure their safety.
The internet provides entertainment, connectivity and interaction. Children may need to spend a lot of time on the internet while studying and they use social media and messaging sites such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or Whatsapp. These can be useful tools, but we need to be aware there are powerful programmes and networks that use these media to reach out to young people and communicate extremist messages.
Young people at risk may display extrovert behaviour, start getting into trouble at school or on the streets and mixing with other children who behave badly, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes those at risk may be encouraged by the people they are in contact with not to draw attention to themselves. As part of some forms of radicalisation parents may feel their child’s behaviour seems to be improving: children may become quieter and more serious about their studies; they may dress more modestly and mix with a group of people that seem to be better behaved than previous friends.
TV and media
The media provides a view on world affairs. But this is often a simple version of events that is in reality very complex. Therefore, children may not understand the situation fully or appreciate the dangers involved in the views of some groups.
The Counter Terrorism and Security Act (2015) is in the process of being fully embedded in practice. It requires “specified authorities”, including local authorities, schools, colleges, hospitals and universities to promote “British values”, identify people at risk of extremism and report such concerns to the police. Alongside PREVENT, CHANNEL uses existing working arrangements between agencies to:
- identify individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism
- assess the nature and extent of that risk
- develop the most appropriate support plan for the individuals concerned.
I am concerned that the Government is using the term “safeguarding” as a catch all for front line workers, including social workers. While we work with partners, which include the police, and we have the skills for safeguarding assessments, in my view we need the specialist knowledge and training to “identify” those at risk of engaging in terrorism.
Likewise, education in particular will need to be supportive and supported in this.
If social workers and their partners are now being tasked and held to account, the Government and key decision makers in the partnership world need to ensure we all have the appropriate skills to make the appropriate identification at the earliest opportunity.
We also need to start building relationships with communities, not just Muslim ones. We need to make them feel comfortable so that if there are concerns, they can have a quiet word without finding armed police breaking down their neighbours’ doors.
There should be a multi-agency response that includes community leaders, and not just the core partners, for example, in MASH set ups.
I am very uneasy about how the Government has cut funding. We simply cannot continue and do the task at hand without the necessary support.
The UK needs to reinvest in people. It needs to tackle the root causes of radicalisation in communities through more community cohesion, employment opportunities and a way out of the communities people are trapped in. There’s no middle ground. The real voices aren’t coming out and that’s what needs to be tackled.
This follows on from my blog written earlier this year.
By Marisa De Jager