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Children being targeted to join terror groups in UK are the focus of an intervention program.

Children being targeted to join terror groups in the UK are the focus of an intervention program.

During the 2015/2016 fiscal year, a program in the UK meant to curb radical extremism received 7,631 referrals. The program is called “Prevent,” and the purpose is to restrain people from being drawn into terrorist groups.

This program started in 2003 and asked both public workers and citizens to refer men, women, and children that are at risk of participating in some type of terrorist activity. While that number is alarming alone, it is even more disheartening to know that 2,000 of those referrals were for children. The youngest of the 2,000 kids referred to the program was 5.

In 2015, laws changed that made the reporting of this type of risk mandatory for city councils and schools. For Americans, this requirement is much like the mandated reporter laws for child abuse in schools. It is now against the law and a risky legal liability for these professionals not to report both children and adults who may as a risk of being pressured into joining a terror group or already connected to that kind of group.

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Referrals to this program included 2,127 children under the age of 15. Another 2,147 teens and young adults between 15 and 20 were also referred. These two groups combined made up for the most significant age group for referrals. The next age group with a substantial number of referrals is the 21 to 30 with about half as many reports. This type of concern for possible involvement with terrorist activities drops off significantly with age. The other age groups added all together did not equal the totals for either of the younger groups.

The youngest of the referrals are usually tied to some family involvement with a terror group like ISIS. This might include an older sibling joining the organization or other family members talking about supporting their efforts. For example, one of the boys referred to the program at 9-years-old stood up in class and shared that he supported ISIS.

Many may assume that this type of program would only target males since this is who we usually see joining a group like ISIS. In the UK there is an emerging group of females also being targeted for membership. Of the roughly 2,000 kids under 15 referred, 500 were female. It is not clear how the female recruits are used by a group like ISIS.

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When the new mandates went into effect in 2015, the number of new reports jumped significantly. At that time there was also a push to teach those who are required to report how to identify the risks. According to a report about the program:

“More youngsters are being reported than ever before after teachers were given specialist training to identify the signs of radicalization, although some mentors involved in the scheme said increasing numbers of autistic children are being referred.

The numbers have raised questions about how children and teenagers are being affected by access to online extremism including terror videos on YouTube.”

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Of the 7,631 referrals, there were a total of 1,072 they were deemed in need of services and intervention. Many others were referred to other programs or social services. While each of the 1,072 was referred for some mental health support or treatment to try to keep them from getting involved with a radical group, only a total of 381 got actual services and supports.

An interesting sidebar to the program is that even though reporting in mandatory for the program, any services that the individuals may get access to are all voluntary. There is no penalty for not participating. Of the 381 participants that started some level of treatment, 60 dropped out before completing their program.

Beyond the fact that the treatment after the initial referral is not mandatory, there also seems to be a disconnect with what happens after the treatment. There appears to be little tracking of the individuals who have left the program. There is no information tracking what impact the 60 people dropping out of the program had on the terrorist activity in the region. These individuals are not being tracked long term to see what impact the program is having either.

Before the Paris attacks in 2015, there were many complaints about this program focusing too much on only certain types of terrorist groups. This public opinion shifted dramatically after the attacks, for the most part, the program is publicly supported.