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Social workers set to be given ‘ominous’ duty to identify and report extremism

Home Office consultation proposes councils should do more to prevent terrorism, with potentially huge implications for social workers

Photo: REX/WestEnd61

Social workers may have a responsibility to identify and report extremism in what has been described as “ominous” draft guidance from the Home Office.

The Prevent guidance consultation, which closes at noon today, would place a duty on councils to “have due regard, in the exercise of its functions, to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Local authorities will be expected to ensure frontline staff have a good understanding of Prevent, are trained to recognise a child’s vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism and are aware of programmes that can deal with this issue.

Appropriate referrals

“We would expect local authorities to incorporate the duty into existing policies and procedures, so it becomes part of the day-to-day work of the authority.

“The duty is likely to be relevant to fulfilling safeguarding responsibilities in that local authorities should ensure that there are clear and robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk,” the draft guidance stated.

Staff will be expected to make appropriate referrals to Channel, a programme providing support to those at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

Referrals to children’s social care from schools could rise as part of the duty. Schools will need a safeguarding policy that can identify and intervene with children at risk, with referrals to children’s social care and Channel being the two interventions offered as an example.

The secretary of state will be able to take “whatever action is deemed expedient to achieve necessary improvement” in cases where they feel the local authority is failing to perform any function relating to education or children’s social care to an adequate standard.

The duty would also apply to independent fostering agencies and children’s homes.

What could this mean for social work?

“If this is taken to the letter of what is written, then how much would this change the role of many professionals, including social workers?” asked Nushra Mansuri, a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

“Will social workers in effect become another strand of the Home Office apparatus?” she queried. She described this guidance as having the potential to bring “a whole different dimension” to the work that social workers do.

The draft begs a lot of questions about the safeguarding agenda, Mansuri said, and what role the Department for Education (DfE) would play if the agenda was reconfigured in the way suggested by the draft proposals.

“It surely cannot just be the Home Office unilaterally declaring this,” she said. “It’s a baton that also has to be taken up by the DfE because it is the DfE that issues the statutory guidance for safeguarding children.

Huge implications

“Therefore, this would require amendments to Working Together [to Safeguard Children]to accord with these new safeguarding duties; likewise, LSCB local child protection procedures would need to follow suit.

“My concern is that these proposals give rise to social workers and others being drawn into a very different agenda of surveillance and intelligence gathering for the purposes of countering terrorism which would completely distort their role,” Mansuri warned.

The implications of the proposals are huge for frontline practitioners, she concluded, particularly if the regulator is also given the mandate of sanctioning those who fail to comply .

“If you throw into the mix, ‘oh keep an eye out for any signs of terrorism going on’, I don’t know where that will take us,” she said.