The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the number of referrals into the U.K.’s counter radicalization program Prevent to fall to their lowest level for five years – at a time when extremist grooming presents a growing risk to children.
Counter Terrorism Policing 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-radicalization program fell to 4,915 in the year ending March 31 2021 – 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 (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%) of Prevent casework, with these new statistics showing that the proportion of young people adopted for Channel counter radicalization intervention has increased year-on-year. The largest increase was seen in those aged 15-20 – which made up 38% of Channel cases in 20/21, up from 33% the previous year.
Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP) has warned for months that the closure of schools, and restriction of support services like social care and mental health provision during the lockdown period could lead to fewer people receiving support from Prevent, which places protection around people vulnerable to radicalization and aims to stop them from being drawn into terrorism.
CTP’s National Coordinator for Prevent, Detective Superintendent Vicky Washington, believes this trend is likely to continue:
“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”, she said.
“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 that people who needed our help would not be receiving it.
“Unfortunately that prediction appears to have been proven correct, with child arrests for terrorism offenses reaching an all-time high at the same time as numbers of young people being protected against radicalization by the Prevent program fell to their lowest since comparable data began.
“We can stop young people from following a path towards terrorism before it is too late, but we are once again calling for parents, friends and family to learn more about the signs and dangers of radicalization. They are the people most likely to spot when their child is being groomed by extremists and act early enough to stop it.”
The low level of referrals from parents, friends and family led CTP to launch ACT Early one year ago – which 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, and 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.