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  • Jumanah

Latifa Akay, Radical Approaches to Safeguarding

Jumanah: Can you briefly explain the Prevent duty?

Latifa: Prevent places a statutory duty on staff at public-facing bodies to report perceived signs of radicalisation. That duty is placed on nurses, doctors, nursery school teachers, teachers, any staff in schools – it's very far reaching. It became statutory in 2015 but was first launched in 2007, explicitly targeting Muslim communities. Prevent emerged out of a context of ‘concerns’ around Muslim communities and radicalisation, integration and community cohesion that constructed Muslims as more likely to be terrorists. Although today in the discourse around Prevent a lot of people will talk about referrals for far-right extremism, we even saw, in the last couple of years, the referral of someone in Extinction Rebellion. Prevent continues to disproportionately impact Muslim communities.

J: In terms of healthcare settings in particular, how would Prevent impact, for example, on a healthcare worker?

L: All healthcare workers are required to do Prevent training. The profiling of Muslims that happens in Prevent training will often be as explicit as including things like someone growing a beard, starting to learn Arabic, or starting to pray five times a day, under ‘suggested signs of radicalisation’, which are all ordinary signs of Muslim ‘religiosity’.

J: And what happens if a healthcare worker believes that somebody that they're treating is exhibiting signs of radicalisation, what do they have to do?

L: They would then be required to refer that person to Prevent through the designated safeguarding lead. There was a report in 2016 by the Open Society Justice Initiative around eroding trust in education and healthcare around Prevent. One of the big takeaways from that – and a really useful point to come back to when thinking about Prevent – is that Prevent fundamentally undermines the prospect of trust in care settings. Those settings require trust in order for positive outcomes to be realised.

For example, in a therapy setting, if you know a therapist might interpret what you say, to mean that you could be at risk of being radicalised, you're not going to speak openly, therefore your prospects of accessing and receiving care are really undermined. That is one of the big impacts of Prevent on some communities. There has been a breakdown of trust between communities and critical services.

J: You mentioned safeguarding as the umbrella Prevent sits under in public sector institutions. You've just launched a radical safeguarding workbook. Can you tell us what that's about and who was involved in developing it?

L: I developed the radical safeguarding workbook in my former role at the charity Maslaha in partnership with a transformative justice practitioner, Alex Johnston, with the support of a range of brilliant collectives and individuals, ranging from No More Exclusions, to The Radical Education Forum, to the Contextual Safeguarding Network, and also families and young people. The workbook will be released in March.

There were several motivations for creating the workbook. At Maslaha I was the designated safeguarding lead, and I was really struggling to find training that critiqued the ways that safeguarding mechanisms often criminalise and pathologise young people of colour and their families around issues such as knife crime, Prevent, [DD1] so-called honour-based violence and FGM. Little of the training available seemed as though it would have a realistic prospect of creating conditions of safety for young people from communities that disproportionately experience state violence, whether that’s working class Black and Brown communities, Muslim communities, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities, young people who have special educational needs, and young people who are queer and trans.

With the workbook, we focused on the education sector as a starting point, but a lot of the learning will be applicable to other sectors, such as the health sector. Essentially, we created it because we acknowledged that safeguarding training often leaves practitioners lacking in agency, and feeling fearful about what to do if they think someone that they work with is at risk. We wanted them to have access to pathways that they know won't cause that person further harm.

We felt that there were a lack of reference points that problematised safeguarding in these ways. The Contextual Safeguarding Network are doing incredible work in the social work field around this, and there's lots that we drew on from their approaches in the workbook. We were really applying an intersectional lens to that, as well as transformative justice methodologies. Transformative justice is in essence about responding to harm in ways that don't cause further harm, and acknowledging the root causes that lead to harm happening in the first place.

In the workbook, when we talk about problematising safeguarding, we're not just thinking about Prevent, but we're thinking about, for example, exclusions and the disproportionate impact that has on young Black people; we were thinking about knife crime, the gangs matrix, and the some of the measures that are being introduced now through the Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Bill; about the way that that ‘honour-based’ violence and FGM racialise and criminalise particular groups.

A big part of the workbook was also thinking about the construction of risk and how that frames and enforces a profiling of young people that actually takes away from what their best interests and their lived experience might actually be.

J: The opposite of safeguarding…

L: Yes! And a big part of it was also acknowledging that racism is never acknowledged as a safeguarding issue, and that a lot of safeguarding responses – for example, school exclusion – become considerable safeguarding issues in themselves. Zahra at No More Exclusions refers to exclusions as ‘institutional abandonment’, which sums it up. Casting the most vulnerable children and young people out of the education system is inhumane, and has devastating impacts on their lives. People speak about the ‘school to prison pipeline’ as a US thing but it’s very much here. Government statistics in 2018 showed that 89% of detained and imprisoned children and young people aged 12-18 had been excluded from school.

J: Who are you hoping is going to use this resource, and what do you want it to achieve?

L: We hope the resource can be used by anybody who has safeguarding obligations or responsibilities. We have framed it specifically for people working in education, but we believe that a lot of the content is adaptable. We hope that the workbook can be a starting point, a spark that people can take in different directions. We hope it can, first and foremost, give permission to people, allow them to have agency in the way they're thinking about safety for the people that they're working with.

Our starting point was thinking about how we can centre what we know to be the conditions that will create safety for communities, alongside statutory obligations. We’re not saying ‘turn your back on statutory obligations’, we’re saying, ‘within the statutory obligation to safeguard, there is room for discretion’. Among the tools we offer in the workbook are suggestions of how to expand definitions, for example, around something like a child’s best interests, or this idea of discretion and thinking about the space that we have, and giving ways to step into that.

J: You have experience of supporting institutions in the community with safeguarding. What was the impact of Prevent in some of those settings on building trust with communities?

L: I think we can’t underestimate the impact that Prevent has had on communities, including the huge sense of isolation. It has severed communities from services that people need to access, whether it’s mental health services; being able to go to your doctor and be honest; being able to grow up in a classroom and feel like you are able to give your opinion, that you’re not constantly feeling like you’re going to be framed or seen in a particular way. When you sit with the impact of that, it’s really profound. You can't really talk about building relationships with communities when things like Prevent exist. Prevent fundamentally undermines the possibility for communities that are racialised to feel a sense of belonging that is not conditional.

J: You’ve raised the issue of the racialisation of certain types of violence against women and girls in communities through the invention of subcategories of crimes like FGM and so-called honour based violence, at the same time as specialist services have been having their funding cut. How do you see this playing out in the work that you’ve done?

L: We address that in the workbook. When we’re thinking about problematising safeguarding, over the past 10 years we’ve seen a huge amount of funding pushed into particular schemes for FGM and so-called honour based violence. We’ve seen these issues framed as cultural phenomena instead of issues of violence against women and girls. Organisations like Imkaan have come out saying that these issues need to be framed as issues of violence against women of girls and not as cultural issues, so that there is more chance that people who are experiencing those issues can receive the support that they need.

The reason that this falls under thinking about safeguarding is because, just like knife crime being framed as an issue that affects young Black boys, so-called honour based violence is a go-to when an issue comes up facing, for example, a young Pakistani girl. That means it is less likely for the issues that the young person is experiencing to be seen as they actually are, thereby undermining the possibility she might get the support she needs because she’s being racially profiled. At the same time, the government has been haemorrhaging funding from specialist domestic violence services that are actually equipped to support communities and are trusted because they have the relationships with those communities. If there was a genuine care for the wellbeing of women and girls from racialised communities, those services would be invested in and not run into the ground. Instead what we see are issues like forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence being conflated in government policy and discourse with terrorism, extremism and ‘illegal immigration’, adding to a context of wider surveillance and criminalising of Black and Brown communities and meaning that state involvement could risk criminalising loved ones.

If you peel all of that back, what you see is that the best interests of those young women are not actually at the heart of this. What is at the heart of this is profiling communities, policing, surveillance; of seeing communities as risk.

Fundamentally, all these interventions around safeguarding issues that construct risk around particular racialised identities mean that that young people who have those identities are less likely to get the support that they need because they’re being profiled. An issue that might be better addressed as something around consent or domestic violence might be funnelled into looking at forced marriage or so-called honour-based violence. When you take a step back and look at the harmful impact of these safeguarding measures it becomes clear that we urgently need to resist this approach and continue to work towards alternative sources of safety.

J: It probably is worth noting as well that this is happening in a wider context where, for example, healthcare workers are also being asked to act as immigration officials. So at the same time as Prevent introducing another element of surveillance, the legal obligation on healthcare workers to check immigration status and to charge for access to services for people who are not British is another layer to this transformation of relationships that are supposed to be about confidentiality and care into relationships that are about surveillance and policing.

The Radical Safeguarding Workbook will be available in March 2022 at

You can read about the work of the Radical Safeguarding Workbook co-writer Alex Johnston at

For more from Latifa, follow @LatifaAkay.


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