The Department for Education's recent report on safeguarding and radicalisation paints a picture that is familiar to Cafcass in our work representing children in family court cases. The number of radicalisation cases is growing and there is an increasing expectation of a confident and informed response from professionals.
The report shows how the response of children's services to radicalisation varies in quality and consistency, but at Cafcass radicalisation is becoming ever more integrated into our safeguarding work. We've done this by ensuring staff have the right training and structures in place to assess the threats posed to children by radicalisation.
Confidence of practitioners
Radicalisation cases present a unique challenge to Cafcass. The report shows that radicalisation cases are particularly prevalent in certain priority areas, but our 1,200 family court advisers are spread throughout the country. Many of our practitioners have therefore never encountered a radicalisation case.
We have integrated how we approach radicalisation into our National Child Exploitation Strategy so that all practitioners will be well informed when they come across radicalisation risk factors. A network of ambassadors promotes the strategy across our workforce and provides expertise and training when they are needed.
I feel that despite the new focus on radicalisation cases, the age-old structures help us remember that a 'back-to-basics' approach can still help. The Children Act and human rights legislation compel us to identify the risks, collect the evidence and make the right judgments. While we focus on the child, the courts stand ready to listen and to intervene.
We're also encouraged by the response of the courts to cases involving radicalisation. Where once these difficult cases were met with a level of uncertainty, the system is now able to offer a reasoned, nuanced response, recognising the complexity of these cases.
Our work is fundamentally grounded in representing children in the family justice system. That gives us a clarity of vision which means we can focus entirely on the needs of the child. With this clarity, it's easier to see radicalisation as a safeguarding risk and assess the needs of the child no matter how complex their circumstances are.
In some of the cases we work on, children at risk of being radicalised are not particularly vulnerable or neglected. This presents a particular challenge to practitioners who are used to working with children subject to care proceedings for these reasons. Work on identifying all safeguarding concerns starts at the earliest possible stage, so any risks can be identified, assessed and prioritised.
Our National Psychology Service enables practitioners to discuss any concerns in a consultation with a clinical child psychologist. This is particularly important with radicalisation cases; what complex needs are leaving children susceptible to extreme views?
The report recognises that expertise in radicalisation cases varies between local authorities. We also encounter challenges when local authorities have different thresholds for unacceptable risk, but this is often mitigated by the readiness of the court to accept our assessment of safeguarding concerns.
Approximately a third of our radicalisation cases are in private law, where we identify radicalisation as a safeguarding risk during our assessments of a child's separated parents. This is when our ability and readiness to share our evidence with other agencies become crucial.
The DfE's report shows that some communities see Prevent as a 'toxic brand', but our experience with them has been positive. Their guidance is clear and presents a uniform, nationwide approach to confront radicalisation cases.
The findings of the report is a useful addition to informing our ever-evolving programme of assessment and improvement. It highlights the challenges facing the children's services sector, but reinforces a lot of the good work already being done to tackle radicalisation as a children's safeguarding issue.
An abridged version of this article appeared in the September 2017 edition of Children & Young People Now.