Government urged to do more to help foster carers spot potential terrorists

Steve Bird
Isil has a following in countries including Syria and Iraq - EPA

A leading adoption charity is urging the government to train foster carers to spot the signs of radicalisation among young asylum seekers from countries like Syria and Iraq who are living in their homes.

John Simmonds, from CoramBAAF, which represents foster carers and adopters, is writing to the Department for Education calling for a review of whether enough is being done to help those on the frontline caring for children from countries where Isil inspired extremism has been prevalent.

While local authorities are required to ensure key staff undergo Prevent training, the Government’s counter terrorism course, it is feared that foster carers are often ignored because it could undermine the “parent/child” relationship.

However, the Parsons Green Tube bombing which culminated in the arrest and charge of an Iraqi teenager living in foster care has raised questions about whether foster carers are getting enough help to identify those being inspired by Isil propaganda.

“There are issues where children in this country are identified as at risk of radicalisation and may be moved into foster care,” Mr  Simmonds, the director of policy, research and development at CoramBAAF, said. “All foster carers should be trained in what they need to do to meet the needs of the children in their care. There are well known issues with unaccompanied asylum seeker children who may have had an extraordinarily traumatic journey from their home country.

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014 Credit: Reuters

“I think the issue around training should be explored by the sector as a matter of urgency.”

Home Office statistics show 11 per cent of all asylum applications are from children aged under 18 who arrive here alone. The vast majority are placed in foster care until adulthood.

In the year up until June 2017, there were 2,944 asylum applications from unaccompanied children. The Arab Spring uprisings in countries like Syria and Libya sparked a rise in the number of young asylum seekers coming to the UK.

There were 1,376 applications for asylum from Syrian nationals in 2016, a marked incease compared to the 125 who applied in the year ending March 2011 before the impact of the Syrian civil war was felt.

Surrey County Council had placed Ahmed Hassan, the 18-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker charged with planting a bomb on a District Line train, with foster carers Penny and Ronald Jones at their Sunbury-on-Thames two years ago when he arrived in the UK unaccompanied.

Spelthorne Council, the local authority covering Sunbury, has called for an independent inquiry into whether authorities acted on any concerns that may have been reported to Prevent.

Hassan appeared in court last week charged with the attempted murder after it was alleged he took a homemade bomb onto a packed commuter train earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Hussein Yusef, another asylum seeker who had been in foster care, was jailed for six-and-a-half years on Friday for posting Isil propaganda on Facebook. Yusef, now 21, arrived in Britain aged 14 and applied for asylum before going into care.

Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network, a charity supporting foster carers, is concerned that making foster carers undergo Prevent training could undermine their relationship with youngsters in their care.

“The fact that there are lone asylum seeker children coming to the UK from war torn countries who have witnessed dramatic events is not new for foster carers.

“Foster carers are well trained in supporting traumatised children, because all children coming into the care system are traumatised.”

He added foster families and asylum seekers have supervising social workers, many of whom have had Prevent training.

“We would not advocate individual foster carers undertaking Prevent training. I think there could potentially be a backlash from either young people or the foster parents themselves,” he said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “All fostering organisations must abide by the Prevent duty, which makes clear they have a responsibility to provide advice and support to all of their foster carers on how to spot the signs of radicalisation. Any carers who have any specific concerns can then liaise with their assigned social worker for additional support.

“We have also provided extensive advice and resources for parents - including foster parents - on how to discuss concerns about radicalisation with children on our Educate Against Hate website. Foster carers should raise any concerns they have about a child in their care with the local authority and the police as appropriate.”

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