Brian Sims

Pandemic realises significant decrease in Prevent referrals

THE COVID-19 pandemic has caused the number of referrals into the counter radicalisation programme Prevent to fall to their lowest level for five years at a time when extremist grooming presents a growing risk to the nation’s youngsters. Counter-Terrorism Policing (CTP) is therefore calling on parents, friends, family and young people to ACT Early and report any concerns.

According to new Prevent statistics published by the Home Office, the number of people being supported through the Government’s anti-radicalisation programme fell to 4,915 in the year ending 31 March 2021. That figure represents a drop of 22% compared to the previous year. This is largely due to school and college closures caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns, with the proportion of referrals received from the education sector (at 25%) having fallen to its lowest level since 2016.

Despite this, young people under the age of 20 continue to make up around half (48%, in fact) of Prevent casework, with these new statistics showing that the proportion of young people adopted for Channel counter radicalisation intervention has increased year-on-year. The largest increase was seen in those aged between 15 and 20, a group which made up 38% of Channel cases in 2020-2021. This is up from 33% on the previous year.

CTP has warned for months that the closure of schools during the lockdown periods, coupled with the restriction of support services like social care and mental health provision, could lead to fewer people receiving support from Prevent, which places protection around those vulnerable to radicalisation and aims to stop them from being drawn into terrorism.

Trend “likely to continue”

CTP’s national co-ordinator for Prevent, namely Detective Superintendent Vicky Washington, believes this trend is likely to continue.

Washington stated: “At CTP, we have long warned that a ‘perfect storm’ of factors would potentially lead more young people to engage with extremist content online and potentially follow a path towards terrorism. The increase in extremist material online, and COVID-19 leading to vulnerable people spending more time isolated and online and with fewer protective factors around them, meant that we were always concerned those individuals who needed our help would not be receiving it.”

Washington continued: “Unfortunately, that prediction appears to have been proven correct, with child arrests for terrorism offences reaching an all-time high at the same time as the numbers of young people being protected against radicalisation by the Prevent programme fell to their lowest total since comparable data began.”

According to Washington: “We can stop young people from following a path towards terrorism before it’s too late, but we are once again calling for parents, friends and family to learn more about the signs and dangers of radicalisation. They are the people most likely to spot when their child is being groomed by extremists and act early enough to stop it.”

Safeguarding website

The low level of referrals from parents, friends and family led CTP to launch ACT Early 2 months ago. This is a dedicated safeguarding website and advice line which provides guidance and support. It has already achieved early success in driving referrals from friends and family.

This month, CTP is also launching new videos, assets and activities aimed directly at young people in order to help drive more awareness of the ACT Early campaign.

“We need parents, friends and family to help us by acting early, by talking to their children about what they view online and sharing their concerns or seeking support if they fear someone they know is in danger of being radicalised,” concluded Washington. “Asking for help is a difficult and emotional step, but we must see it for what it is. It’s action that will not ruin their lives, but may well end up saving them.”

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