Skip to main content


View LCP Procedures View LCP Procedures

4.26 Southwark Children’s Services Practice Guidance on Safeguarding Children Exposed to Extremism


This chapter explores the issue of safeguarding children who might be subject or exposed to extremist behaviour and ideologies, and as a result might themselves be, or become, subject to significant harm. The chapter seeks to explore the features which support a ‘radicalisation process’ and some of the factors which increase and reduce risk. It is acknowledged that such a process is a dynamic and individual experience for each child. Children’s Social Care have a particular responsibility for children who are Looked After.

Note: Southwark is a Prevent Priority Authority.

Please see Section 7, References for additional reading and guidance.


This chapter was amended in September 2016 and Section 4, Referral and Assessment Route was comprehensively revised in line with the present organisational structure and inter agency roles. The amendments also reflect the issues with regard to children being educated at home (see Section 2, Identification) and to placements of children out of the borough where there has been a concern for a child/young person exposed to extremism, (see Section 4, Referral and Assessment Route).

The chapter also has a revised Referral and Assessment Route Flowchart and new Appendix 1: Local Authority SO15 (Prevent) Referral Form.

This chapter is currently under review.


  1. Government Strategy and Definitions
  2. Identification
  3. Southwark’s Thresholds Guidance
  4. Referral and Assessment Route
  5. Children Act Care Proceedings and Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

    Appendix 1: Local Authority SO15 (Prevent) Referral Form

1. Government Strategy and Definitions

The Terrorism Act (2000) defines terrorism as ‘the use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause’.

Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Calls for the death of members of our armed forces are also considered as extremist.

The government’s approach to reduce the risk from terrorism identifies the need not only to stop terrorist attacks but also to prevent people becoming terrorists. The Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism is CONTEST. The strategy is based on four areas of work:

  • Pursue – to stop terrorist attack;
  • Prevent – to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism;
  • Protect – to strengthen our protection against terrorist attack;
  • Prepare – to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack.

The Government’s Prevent Strategy is most applicable to social work practitioners and involves a wide range of sectors including education, criminal justice, faith organisations, charities and health.

Prevent defines radicalisation as ‘a process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism’. Prevent describes extremism as a vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs‘. Finally violent extremism is seen as ‘an endorsement of violence to achieve extreme ends.‘

The aim of Prevent is to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists by challenging the spread of terrorist ideology, supporting vulnerable individuals, and working across key sectors and institutions.

The Prevent Strategy sets out the following responsibilities for staff who engage with the public. They should:

  • Understand what radicalisation means and why people may be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism as a consequence of it;
  • Be aware of what the government means by the term ‘extremism’ and the relationship between extremism and terrorism;
  • Know what measures are available to prevent people from becoming drawn into terrorism and how to challenge the extremist ideology that can be associated with it;
  • Understand how to obtain support for people who may be being exploited by radicalising influences.

Work to safeguard children and adults, including the provision of early intervention to protect and divert people away from being drawn into terrorist activity, is central to the revised Prevent strategy.

Channel is a programme which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. Channel is modelled on other successful multi-agency risk management processes.

Channel uses existing collaboration between local authorities, the police, statutory partners (such as the education sector, social services, children’s and youth services and offender management services) and the local community to:

  • Identify individuals at risk of being drawn in to extremism;
  • Assess the nature and extent of that risk;
  • Develop the most appropriate support for the individuals concerned.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty on certain “specified authorities” in the exercise of their functions, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

The duties for staff working for these authorities vary according to the sector, but all include that they should:

  • Work in partnership to fulfil their duties;
  • Be provided with training to meet their responsibilities;
  • Ensure there are effective mechanism for identifying and referring vulnerable individuals to the government’s Channel programme;
  • Be aware of the information sharing agreements in place for sharing information with other sectors and know how to get advice and support on confidentiality issues when responding to potential evidence that someone is being drawn into terrorism.

Southwark is a Prevent Priority Authority.

2. Identification

This practice guidance summarises the responsibility of social care staff to intervene effectively to prevent the grooming of children for involvement in extremist activity. This will mean being alert to the ways in which young people can become vulnerable to radicalisation, the indicators that they are being radicalised and knowing how to respond to these concerns. For those with more specific safeguarding responsibilities, it will involve complex work to support victims and disrupt and prosecute perpetrators. For everyone, it will involve questioning attitudes and beliefs that may get in the way of recognising that children are being radicalised and providing the consistent, determined non-judgemental support they and their families need.

Children and young people can be radicalised in different ways

  • They can be groomed either online or in person by people seeking to draw them into extremist activity. Older children or young people might be radicalised over the internet or through the influence of their peer network – in this instance their parents might not know about this or feel powerless to stop their child’s radicalisation;
  • They can be groomed by family members who hold harmful, extreme beliefs, including parents/carers and siblings who live with the child and/or person(s) who live outside the family home but have an influence over the child’s life;
  • They can be exposed to violent, anti-social, extremist imagery, rhetoric and writings which can lead to the development of a distorted world view in which extremist ideology seem reasonable. In this way they are not being individually targeted but are the victims of propaganda which seeks to radicalise.

A common feature of radicalisation is that the child or young person does not recognise the exploitative nature of what is happening and does not see themselves as a victim of grooming or exploitation.

The harm children and young people can experience ranges from a child adopting or complying with extreme views which limits their social interaction and full engagement with their education, to young children being taken to war zones and older children being groomed for involvement in violence.

Factors that may influence the decision of an individual to become involved in extremism

  • Exposure to an ideology that seems to sanction, legitimise or require violence, often by providing a compelling but fabricated narrative of contemporary politics and recent history;
  • Exposure to people or groups who can directly and persuasively articulate that ideology and then relate it to aspects of a person’s own background and life history;
  • A crisis of identity and, often, uncertainty about belonging which might be triggered by a range of further personal issues, including experiences of racism, discrimination, deprivation and other criminality (as victim or perpetrator); family breakdown or separation;
  • A range of perceived grievances, some real and some imagined, to which there may seem to be no credible and effective non-violent response.

Children and young people may express support for extremist and/or terrorist organisations but it should be born in mind that, as with adults, they may express strong opinions without understanding those opinions and may also express entirely contradictory views at different times. The expression of strong and even offensive views on a range of issues can be a part of growing up – testing what it is ok to say/testing out ideas/provoking reactions/seeking to create a distinctive identity and rebelling against adults. For these reasons, it is important that professionals and volunteers consider a range of factors when assessing the risk in relation to a child who expresses or is reported to have expressed extremist views.

Concerns regarding a child may arise as a result of the following

  • The child expresses strongly held and intolerant views towards people who do not share his/her religious or political views;
  • The child expresses verbal support for extreme views some of which may be in contradiction to British law. For example, they may, from time to time, espouse racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudiced views and links these with a religion or ideology;
  • The child expresses intolerant views towards peers which lead to their being socially isolated.

Concerns may lessen where

  • The child is open to other views;
  • The child loses interest quickly;
  • They appear to have superficial knowledge of the issues;
  • Their behaviour has not changed;
  • The child has a range of friends who do not appear to share their views;
  • Their family challenge their views and/or behaviour;
  • The family holds sexist, homophobic or otherwise prejudiced views derived from an interpretation of their religion but they are not hate filled.

Concerns may increase where

  • The child has an association through family, friends and/or fellow students with members of extremist organisations;
  • Friends or family have travelled to conflict zones, such as Syria;
  • They went to support, or otherwise be involved in, extremist activity. There is no information as to why they went, or; Although the reasons given for travelling do not involve support of extremist activity, they lack credibility;
  • The child appears to have an in depth knowledge of extremist ideology for example from known extremist texts/websites;
  • The child has age inappropriate knowledge;
  • The child has seen violent videos;
  • The child refuses to engage or responds negatively when their views are questioned or challenged;
  • The child talks with fixed, scripted ideas that are un-swayed and won’t accept alternative views;
  • The child uses phrases or ‘soundbites’ from extremist websites/groups which appear to have been learnt by rote and are not necessarily understood;
  • The child’s behaviour has changed in accordance with the extremist views they espouse, for example, their dress has changed and/or they object to associating with people who don’t share their views;
  • The child tries to enforce their views on others – for example advocating separate spaces on the basis of gender or prioritising space on the basis of ethnicity;
  • The child’s friendship group shares their views;
  • The child’s family seem unconcerned and/or supportive of their child’s views and behaviour;
  • The child is home educated, (across London this is a key theme of children being exposed to extremism and thus needs to be seen as a potential risk factor during assessment). (See also Elective Home Education Protocol).

However…there is no single route to violent extremism nor is there a simple profile of those who become involved. For this reason, any attempt to derive a ‘profile’ can be misleading. It must not be assumed that these characteristics and experiences will necessarily lead to individuals becoming violent extremists, or that these indicators are the only source of information required to make an appropriate assessment about vulnerability.

3. Southwark’s Thresholds Guidance

This Guidance includes ‘Indicators of Possible Need’ which are designed to provide practitioners with an overarching view of which tier of support and intervention a child or family might require. These tiers start with children who have no need for additional support and move on to identify those children whose circumstances mean they require an immediate referral to Children’s Social Care or the police. These indicators highlighted in the table below specifically include key indicators that a child or young person is at risk from extremist ideology.

Click here to view the Indicators of Need Matrix.

4. Referral and Assessment Route

This guidance recommends that London Child Protection Procedures, Core Procedures is followed in relation to cases where children are at risk of involvement in extremist activity.

The grooming of children for the purposes of involvement in violent extremist activity is child abuse.

Children at risk of harm as a result of involvement or potential involvement in extremist activity should be referred to Children’s Social Care and the normal processes of checks and information gathering, assessment, strategy discussions and review processes should be followed in line with the risk level identified.

The MASH will share the details of new referrals with the Prevent lead police officer and LA Prevent Co-ordinator at the point the referral is received. If a case is already allocated, the allocated social worker will send a referral through to the Prevent lead police officer and Prevent Co-ordinator (see Appendix 1: Local Authority SO15 (Prevent) Referral Form).

(There may be instances where the Prevent lead police officer has received a referral. In this instance they will pass the details to MASH).

The Prevent police officer will make a referral to the Channel practitioner if there are sufficient concerns. The Channel practitioner will proceed with further information gathering. This will include receiving feedback from MASH regarding the outcome of its enquiries. Each will chare the outcomes of their checks with the other and decisions reached about the next course of action. The outcome is shared with the Prevent lead.

If the Channel practitioner does not judge the matter to reach the threshold for Channel Panel, they will refer back to the Prevent Co-ordinator for case management if appropriate. If the matter is considered appropriate they will refer the case to the Channel Panel. This panel is police led and should include the allocated social worker.

The Channel Panel is a multi-agency panel that assesses the risks and draws up an intervention and support plan to minimise these risks. It ensures collaborative working between partners with the relevant expertise. Cases discussed at the panel will be reviewed at 6 weekly intervals whilst the case is live with the Channel Panel and 3, 6 and 12 months after closure.

Children’s Social Care options at this stage would be in line with the risks presented:

  • Step across to Early help or Specialist Family Focus; or
  • Allocate for a child and family assessment.

For young people who are already subject to a Child Protection or Child in Need Plan or Looked After, their plan will be reviewed in light of the concerns raised.

Where radicalisation is identified as a potential risk, Children’s Social Care will carry out an assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to identify the child’s level of risk and need from service provision and will advise the referrer of the outcome.

This assessment may identify the child to be at risk of Significant Harm and in need of protection. This may necessitate a child protection enquiry under Section 47 CA 1989. Child protection procedures may be more useful when the parents are thought to be neglectful or collusive with the radicalisation. The reason for making a decision should always be recorded.

Where child protection processes are not needed but the child in need threshold is met, the child should be made subject of a child in need plan. The CiN plan should be reviewed at 3 monthly intervals until no longer needed. Alternative post assessment decision may be to step down to Early Help services for a team around the child approach.

The final decision should be taken by a Practice Group Lead and the decision should be clearly recorded on the child’s case file.

Children’s Social Care holds the lead responsibility for safeguarding children at risk as a result of extremist activity. The police hold the lead responsibility for the disruption and prosecution of perpetrators. The work to support children and young people at risk of, or being exploited for the purposes of involvement in extremist activity should be carried out in conjunction with the work to disrupt and/or prosecute perpetrators.

It is crucial that social workers and the prevent team keep an open dialogue throughout the process and share information through each stage. For example, the Prevent officer should be invited to Strategy Meetings and child protection conferences. Similarly the social worker should be invited to the Channel Panel.

Assessment of, and planning for young people at risk of, or being exploited for the purposes of involvement in extremist activity, needs to be flexible and take account of each child’s individuality, the uniqueness of his / her circumstances and the changes that may occur for him / her over time. This kind of exploitation is dynamic; the young person’s circumstances can change and on occasions deteriorate very rapidly. All professionals should be aware that assessments need to be continual and display vigilance.

Click here to view Referral and Assessment route for safeguarding concerns related to Radicalisation and extremism flowchart.

Children in Care or already subject to a Child Protection Plan:

When a referral is received regarding a child in Care or subject to a CP plan the same procedures should apply – i.e. an updated assessment and consideration whether Section 47 investigation is required. The IRO or CP co-ordinator and Link worker should be included in relevant meetings.

Although the case is already allocated the case should be referred into MASH, so as to allow for updated multi-agency checks in a 4 hour turn-around. This will allow MASH to have an overview of all cases where radicalisation and extremism have been highlighted as a concern.

Where a strategy meeting for a child in Care is convened the meeting should consider:

  • Risk of flight overseas;
  • Whether there is foster carers and/or their relatives/friends risk present any risk;
  • Whether the child should remain in their placement;
  • Risks to other children in the placement;
  • The appropriateness and method of informing the child's parents. If children are Accommodated, parent/s must be informed of all significant matters. When a child is subject to a Care Order, generally their parent/s should be informed of such a significant matter. A decision not to inform the parent/s should be recorded on file;
  • The child's social worker and the carer/s should put in place a written strategy which balances the need for assertive action and the need to not unduly increase the likelihood of the child running away in response to the action being taken, and possibly placing themselves at even greater risk;
  • Any consideration of restriction of liberty or confiscation of property needs to be agreed by Practice Group Lead and Head of Service responsible for the child's case;
  • Active work should be undertaken with the child to address issues of their self-esteem, relationships, sexuality, sexual relationships and health;
  • Whether or not the child is moved from their placement, the other children in the placement should be monitored to identify whether they are also at risk of harm from, or are in some way supporting, the radicalisation.

If the child is in a residential unit or a foster care placement

The staff or foster carers should be asked to take positive action to clarify and record suspicions. The following steps should be taken:

  • The child should be recognised as a victim of grooming and not seen as making their own choices;
  • All relevant information is recorded in the child’s file – concerning adults and identifying information (e.g. appearance, cars etc. telephone activity, the child’s patterns of going missing etc.) - together with decisions and clear directions for action;
  • Making every effort to dissuade the child from leaving by talking to them, involving them in alternative activities, and ensuring they have the resources to attend, including escorting where necessary;
  • Ensuring that the child is aware of the legal issues involved, including advice that staff cannot safeguard money which is reasonably suspected to have been gained through being groomed for involvement in extremist activities. When staff do acquire such money, they must retain it and seek legal advice;
  • Monitoring telephone calls and letters by preventing the child from receiving some incoming calls, being present when phone calls are made, confiscating a mobile phone which is being used inappropriately, opening some letters in the presence of the child and withholding letters if necessary; reasons for intercepting letters and calls should be included in the Care Plan;
  • Monitoring callers to the home, or adults collecting children by car. This may involve turning visitors away, or passing information direct to the police, monitoring any suspicious activity in the vicinity of the home and informing the police;
  • If a child has left their foster home or residential unit and staff/foster carers are concerned that they are at risk, they should inform the local police and pass on relevant information. They should also inform the child’s social worker;
  • Offering sensitive and welcoming responses to children returning home.

If the child is in foster care, the social worker and fostering link worker should meet with the foster carer to discuss the outcome of the Strategy Meeting and the steps to be taken by the foster carer. This needs to take place in consultation with the fostering Practice Group Lead and Advanced practitioner.

The child's behaviour and attitude may be challenging, and carers and staff will require ongoing support, advice and training in knowing how to respond. These needs must be considered and resources identified, either by the manager of the residential unit or the fostering link worker.

When a young person is placed outside of the Borough

  • A risk assessment should be carried out and the receiving local authority notified of the move and provided with the risk assessment. Risk assessments should be informed by information from the local authority where the child is going to be placed and this may include liaising with the prevent co-ordinator;
  • The placing Local authority Prevent lead officer will receive and act on any new concerns about a child placed out of borough and ensure co-ordinated response with their counterpart in the host authority. They will agree on which borough Channel Panel should deal with the matter if the threshold is met.

(See also Out of Area Placements Procedure.)

Young Care leavers

The same procedures as above should be followed in cases of young Care leavers are considered to be at medium or high risk of abuse through radicalisation.

The Pathway Plan for any young person where there are concerns about radicalisation should specifically identify their vulnerability to extremist ideology, and address the factors known to impede successful recovery from radicalisation (e.g. homelessness, poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities and lack of supportive social contacts).

5. Children Act Care Proceedings and Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court

In some cases where agencies are aware of imminent travel plans and that children are likely to be taken into conflict zones, or where there is a significant risk of harm through radicalisation, it may be necessary to take swift action through the courts to protect children.

In a small number of cases, the courts have made orders under the Children Act 1989 to protect children who are suffering, or are likely to suffer, Significant Harm as a result of radicalisation occurring within their families or of travel to a conflict zone. In those cases the effect of the orders is to protect (and remove) children from their parents. An application can be made to the court for an Interim Care Order under the Children Act 1989. Where immediate action is necessary to protect a child an Emergency Protection Order can be sought, with or without notice to the parents.

In other cases, action has been taken under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to radicalisation and/or travel to a conflict zone. An application can be made to the High Court without notice to the parents, and even when the child has already been taken out of the country as inherent jurisdiction orders are recognised by many other countries. Wardship is one part of the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction and offers immediate protection. Under the inherent jurisdiction the courts have very broad powers to protect children, including imposing conditions on others both within and outside a child’s family.

The conditions that may be imposed include:

  • Confiscation of travel documents;
  • Prohibition from leaving the country or making travel arrangements;
  • Asking the UK Border Agency not to issue new passports;
  • Prohibiting individuals from association with a child; and
  • Restrictions on movement within the UK- electronic tagging and curfew of the parents.

Section 100 of the Children Act 1989 limits the ability of local authorities to make applications under the inherent jurisdiction. It makes clear that proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction can only be commenced where local authorities cannot use powers under the Children Act 1989 to achieve their goal. In cases involving local authorities, the court can only grant leave if it is satisfied that the child is likely to suffer Significant Harm if the court does not exercise its inherent jurisdiction. The police can also apply directly under the inherent jurisdiction but should do so in discussion with the local authority.

When considering court applications the local authority should ensure that they contact the police at the earliest opportunity and consult with them at a senior level. The police may have additional information and be able to advise on conditions that should be considered as part of the application.

In all cases, the child’s welfare will be the court’s paramount consideration. The exercise of the inherent jurisdiction is discretionary, so the court may refuse to exercise its powers where it considers it inappropriate to do so.

In some cases, action has been initiated under the Children Act 1989, but subsequently taken under the inherent jurisdiction where it was judged that it was in the best interests of the child to remain with their parents.

The President of the Family Division has issued guidance for judges and advocates involved in radicalisation cases in the family courts.

See President of the Family Division Guidance.

6. Conclusion

Our social justice and rights based approach combined with our expertise in working with vulnerable people and disaffected communities means that social work has an important contribution to make in this area. Not all cases will require statutory intervention. Importantly and in all cases, rigorous assessment and respectful intervention should be our guides for ethical social work practice. Whilst there is a risk to our national and international communities from terrorism and violent extremism, we need to continually question assumptions, stereotypes and myths surrounding this issue. We need to be politically aware and able to debate risk.

7. References

Local Southwark Contact details

Southwark MASH
Tel: 0207 525 1921

Faizal Hakim | Prevent co-ordinator
Tel: 0746 048 7641

Grant Bones | Metropolitan Police Prevent Officer
Tel: 0782 536 6187

Russell Gardiner | Channel Police Practitioner
Tel: 0775 729 0418

So 15 Reserve
Tel: 999

Extremism Helpline

The DfE has recently launched a helpline for anyone concerned about a child who may be at risk of extremism, or about extremism within an organisation working with children and young people.

Tel: 0207 340 7264

Appendix 1: Local Authority SO15 (Prevent) Referral Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: Local Authority SO15 (Prevent) Referral Form.