UN concerns about children’s well-being urge the withdrawal of Prevent

prevent strategy UK children

Two main areas of concern in a recent UN report into children’s well-being and rights in the UK should initiate discussions about the withdrawal of Prevent: “children deprived of a family environment” and the overrepresentation of minority and autistic children in mental health. 

Prevent Watch have cases that show that these areas are implicated in problems associated with with Prevent.

This is because children are often caught up in Prevent as a result of family members who are either convicted of terror offences or, at an even lower threshold, are “of interest” to Prevent.

Because their parents have often declined to engage with Prevent officers – when Prevent is meant to be voluntary in the first place – these Prevent officers have approached their children. Children have been unnecessarily subject to social services interventions as a result.

Often parents are asked to agree to conditions which deprive the child of the right to family life, for example signing an agreement that parents will not reconcile once a father is released from a TACT offence, or adults being pressured into agreeing not to have contact with children when they are told they have “associations” with people deemed to be “extremists”.

The UN also raised concerns about the rights of children in areas of mental health (para. 43), and especially urged the government to “address the overrepresentation of children belonging to minority groups, children with autism and children with learning disabilities in inpatient mental health care.”

Prevent Watch has documented many cases where young people with a variety of special needs and mental health issues, including autism have been referred to Prevent by their practitioners rather than being supported as a result of their needs.

In its Response to the Shawcross Review, the People’s Review of Prevent dedicated an entire chapter to the harms of Prevent in mental health, in particular the establishment of “vulnerability support hubs” that feature counter-terrorism officers actively influencing care plans.

In his recommendations, Shawcross wishes to separate mental health issues from Prevent, however he does not shine light on the better option, which is underscored by another wider UN point, that being the government’s failure to spend on children’s broader well-being.

Prevent in itself – even when there is no direct referral – causes anxiety and even trauma to children, and we have documented the negative impact of Prevent on their well-being, often as a result of the erosion of trust in authorities such as teachers, medical practitioners and vital community support services.

It should be evident that serious harm can result when the mental health care plans of children and adults are influenced by counter-terrorism policy, and yet this acknowledgement has yet to gain traction in government.

This is especially the case when counter-extremism theories view normative Islamic and religious belief with suspicion, and thus see religious belief as a matter of securitization. Such an approach is similar to that of China, but in a more “humane” form, to use Shawcross’s term.

From our cases we have seen physical and mental effects of Prevent on children. These have included stomach pains from anxiety, being afraid to or refusing to go to school, bed-wetting and even the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Broadly, those referred to Prevent believed and have strong evidence to believe that they had been questioned or referred to Prevent because they were Muslim and that being Muslim was somehow wrong or bad.

On the other hand, Prevent has been abused in the mental health care context in several ways including by practitioners due to lack of funding for mental health; some have used Prevent to fast-track patients through the system.

This has perpetuated the narrative that those with mental health care needs and particularly children with autism are at higher risk of vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism even though the terrorism statistics do not support this notion, and even though mental health care should never be conflated with national security.


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