In recent weeks, the NSPCC reported a spike in the number of children requesting counselling sessions for race or faith-based bullying following the recent terror attacks. Around the same time, there has also been a rise in reported Islamophobic incidents.
Muslim children as young as nine-years-old are said to have faced violent bullying and been accused of supporting the Islamic State. While the horrendous attack at Manchester Arena directly impacted innocent young children and parents, this is a sombre reminder that terror attacks can have a profound effect on young people wherever they are.
Following each of the recent terrorist attacks, we realised that our local schools were going to need extra reassurance and be equipped to deal with the complex questions children would inevitably have. Our Prevent education officer spoke to all our local schools to offer that much needed reassurance, share advice and resources about managing difficult discussions with pupils. He also shared guidance on conducting risk assessments for school trips, and shared the latest updates from the police.
Parent coffee mornings were also scheduled to share advice with worried parents and school assemblies were organised to enable students to raise any difficult questions in an open and safe space. In my book, taking the time to reassure a worried child is never a waste of time. This isn't the work that Prevent is known for , and far from the myth that Prevent operates in the shadows, my team is always available to support parents and teachers and participate in these vital discussions.
The good working ties we have established with local community organisations and faith groups means that not only are we made aware of concerns around radicalisation which community members might have, it has also enabled us to escalate any concerns or incidents within the community which might otherwise have gone unreported.
Following the Finsbury Park attack a month ago, my team were able to ensure that local police were made aware of security concerns raised by our local mosques, all the while sharing guidance on venue security provided by central government. During these times of heightened tensions, we have hosted round-tables within local organisations encouraging the reporting of concerns and hate crimes, and have offered reassurance and an opportunity for open dialogue at a time when worrying hearsay and misinformation was doing little to allay community concerns. Much of these conspiracy theories were being shared on the internet, a place where poisonous and extreme ideologies are also being spread. Every teacher and parent knows how vulnerable children can be to what they watch and read online. Thinking about how we respond to this threat is daunting but vital work.
When both the extreme Far Right and Daesh supporters do their best to pit us against one another, ensuring those who are vulnerable to radicalisation are offered support is key; my team and I see the positive outcomes of this on a daily basis. Whether it involves offering online safety advice to parents, linking an isolated child to a local youth club, building up a close relationship with a mentor or counsellor, or speaking openly and frankly about sensitive and concerning issues, there are many ways in which the work of Prevent impacts on people's lives for the better.
For those that doubt the necessity of protecting children from radicalisation, consider that Daesh is now producing children's cartoons to spread its hateful ideology. Daesh sees vulnerability as an opportunity, an open door. We need to shut that door by having a critical debate about the content of Daesh propaganda videos or an open discussion about anti-Muslim sentiment with a trusted mentor. These are just some of the essential components of how we can stay safe together.
The unified and collective response which we have seen emerge following these attacks has been an inspiration and of crucial importance as there is, indeed, much that we can all do. For what it's worth, the UK's counter-terrorism strategy has the maturity to recognise the complex and multifaceted nature of terrorism, and to respond accordingly. I am proud that the support which Prevent offers to schools, although far removed from the police sirens and arrests we see on the news, has become integral to how we respond to this threat.