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1.4.24 Safeguarding Children Returning to the UK from Syria

(With relevance to children returning from other conflict zones)

RELATED PROCEDURE

Safeguarding Children and Young People from the threat of Violent Extremism Procedure

See also: Safeguarding Children Returning to the UK from Syria - Workflow Diagram

This guidance was added to the procedures in August 2019, it has been drafted specifically in relation to British national children returning to the UK from Syria; it explains the role of the local authority - and other specialist agencies - in supporting and assessing such children as they return to the UK, including helping their integration back into their local communities, as well as identifying any risk of harm they may pose to others.


Contents

  1. Background
  2. Policy
  3. Procedures
  4. Information on the Circumstances of Children in Syria


1. Background

In recent years, a small but significant number of British children under 18 have voluntarily travelled to Syria or have been taken there by their parents. Travel to Syria is contrary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice.

The situation in Syria remains extremely volatile and dangerous. As it evolves, and as Daesh (also known as IS or ISIL) loses territory, there are likely to be more British children and families returning to the UK.

Children who have lived in Syria during the current conflict are very likely to have experienced trauma and have first-hand experience of traumatic death, including of other children. Therefore, children who return to the UK from Syria may be traumatised and in need of proportionate and targeted support to aid their reintegration into their families, schools and local communities. This will be dependent on the assessed needs of the individual child.

It is also likely that children will have been exposed to extremist ideology, with some children having undertaken military training, and /or been involved in terrorist acts during their time in Syria. In some cases, British children returning from Syria may pose a threat to others, including their families, classmates, and local community. The Police and Crown Prosecution Service may become involved and may need to interview children to determine the nature and level of any risk and, if any criminal offences have been committed, whether a prosecution is appropriate.

This policy and procedure has been drafted specifically in relation to British children returning to the UK from Syria. However many aspects of these procedures may also be relevant where children and young people are returning to the UK from other countries where they may have been exposed to extremist ideology and /or violent extremism in other conflict zones. However specific provision for children returning from Syria has been put in place, such as Catch 22 and Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which are not available for children returning from other conflict zones.


2. Policy

In Leeds, our aim is for all children have the best chances in life to achieve their full potential. For more information please see: Leeds Children and Young People’s Plan 2018 - 2023.

Our Vision

  • Our vision is for Leeds to be a child friendly city. As part of this vision we will minimise the effects of child poverty;
  • Our vision contributes to the wider vision for Leeds - By 2030 Leeds will be locally and nationally recognised as the best city in the UK;
  • We will drive change by using restorative practice, cluster and locality working and by extending the voice and influence of children and young people. The child is at the centre of everything we do. We have a relentless focus on improved outcomes.

Specifically in relation to British children who return to the UK from Syria, our policy is to take the actions necessary to support them to successfully reintegrate into their families, schools and local communities.

Given the volatility of the circumstances in Syria, returning children are likely to be Children in Need as defined under the Children Act 1989, and will require an assessment of their needs.

Key Principles of this Policy

For children returning to the UK from Syria, we will follow local safeguarding procedures and specifically assess their needs based on their experiences in Syria, to assess what support they will require. This will include:

  • Consideration of the child or young person’s welfare and best interests being at the centre of our work;
  • Assessing the child or young person’s experience of trauma;
  • Assessing the child or young person’s exposure to extremist ideology, including whether they have undertaken military training, or been involved in terrorist acts;
  • Assessing whether the child or young person may pose a threat to others, including their families, friends and local community;
  • Providing appropriate services to the child, young person and their family based on assessment of need. This is likely to include a clear focus on mental health and wellbeing and may include specialist services as required;
  • Carrying out a specialist assessment resulting in a clear plan prior the child or young person returning to full time education;
  • Working to maintain the child or young person within their own family setting, and facilitating services to support this arrangement, wherever this is possible and consistent with the child's safety and well-being and the safety of others.

Where a child cannot be cared for within their immediate family, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the child’s wider kinship network. If this is not possible we will make every effort to identify suitable alternative carers, reflecting the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background wherever possible and appropriate. We will seek to identify suitable local placements to provide educational and social continuity.


3. Procedures

3.1 Notification

Notifications about British children and young people returning to the UK from Syria may come to the local authority from a range of sources including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Child Protection Unit, Counter Terrorism Ports Police, the local Police force, the Metropolitan Police or another agency.

3.1.1 FCO

Where the FCO becomes aware of the impending return of a British child to the UK from Syria, the FCO Child Protection Unit will notify Children’s Social Care service in the most appropriate local authority (i.e. the local authority to which the child is most likely to return, referred to below as the “home” authority). This will be based on the information provided to the FCO by the child and their family and is likely to be the local authority where the British child, and/ or their family, were previously resident.

The FCO will only be aware of children and families with British nationality and it is therefore possible that local authorities could come across non-British nationals who have also been involved in the Syrian conflict. In these circumstances, Leeds will follow local multi-agency arrangements and the guidance set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children which refers to the considerations which apply in relation to children with links to a foreign country.

The FCO Child Protection Unit can be contacted on 0207 008 1500.

3.1.2 Local Police or the Metropolitan Police

Local authorities could also additionally receive referrals about British children returning from Syria from the local Police force or the Metropolitan Police before or after they return to the UK, or from other practitioners who come into contact with children after their return.

3.1.3 Duty and Advice at the Front Door Safeguarding Hub

Notifications should be made to the Duty and Advice Team at the Front Door Safeguarding Hub. During office hours on 0113 3760336, and outside of office hours on 0113 3760469.

3.2 On arrival in the UK

On arrival in the UK, Counter Terrorism Ports Police officers will likely use their powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop any individuals (including children) if they are identified as returning from Syria to determine whether they may have been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of any act of terrorism.

The code of practice on this Schedule makes specific reference to the questioning of children. It recommends that children be questioned in the presence of a social worker (or other non-law enforcement agency employee). At all times, the safety and welfare of the child is paramount.

It may be appropriate for an allocated Leeds local authority social to travel to the port of entry to be present for questioning of a child. This will allow the social worker to follow usual procedures in assessing the needs of a child. However, if the questioning needs to take place before a Leeds social worker can be allocated, it is more appropriate for this to be carried out by the FCO Child Protection Team and to share information with Leeds to inform the assessment of needs.

Cooperative communication between the port and Leeds City Council will be important, particularly whilst the child and family are in transit. If emergency action is required to ensure immediate protection for a child, the FCO should liaise with Leeds Duty and Advice (including Emergency Duty Team) with regarding to making the most appropriate care arrangements, should this be necessary.

This might be because a child becomes known to authorities unannounced or arrives unaccompanied at a port. Leeds will follow the process clarified in Working Together to Safeguard Children. The local authority in in which a child is found is responsible for taking such emergency action and only when a second local authority explicitly accepts responsibility (to be followed up in writing) is the first authority relieved of this responsibility.

3.3 Initial Actions for Children’s Social Work Service including out of hours

3.3.1 On receipt of the notification

The Leeds Duty and Advice Team, as part of Children’s Social Work Service at the Front Door Safeguarding Hub, will respond to the referral and create the a child contact on the electronic database.

A discussion or meeting will take place as required at the Front Door Safeguarding Hub between a Duty and Advice Team Manager as part of Children’s Social Work Service, and the local authority Prevent Coordinator. This is to enable effective information sharing about the family and provide clarity about what should be considered in the assessment of need.

A Duty and Advice Social Work Manager will create a referral to the relevant cluster social work team based upon the family’s previous address.

It is the expectation is that the relevant cluster social work Team Manager will allocate the case to a social worker to determine whether the child or young person is a Child in Need (section 17 Children Act 1989) or a child suffering or likely to suffer significant harm requiring safeguarding (section 47 Children Act 1989) as part of the Child and Family Assessment and decide whether to carry out a Section 47 Enquiry.

Where there is an allocated social worker at the time of the child or young person needing to be questioned on arrival in the UK by the Counter Terrorist Port Police, the social worker will liaise with the FCO to discuss who would be best placed to be present. Due to urgency or the distance away, it may be more appropriate for the FCO Child Protection Team to carry out this work. If it decided that the Leeds allocated social worker is best placed to be present, they should make necessary travel arrangements to the port of entry to be present for questioning of the child.

Any information gained from the questioning of the child should be shared appropriately in order to inform the Child and Family Assessment.

3.3.2 Arrival in the UK Out of hours

If it is likely that the child or young person will arrive in the UK outside of usual office hours then a Children’s Emergency Duty Team (EDT) social worker will need to liaise with the FCO to arrange for the FCO Child Protection Team to be present at the questioning of the child.

If emergency action is required to ensure immediate protection for a child, the FCO should liaise with Leeds Children’s Emergency Duty Team with regarding to making the most appropriate care arrangements, should this be necessary.

3.3.3 On allocation in the Cluster Social Work Team

On allocation, the social worker should consider making a referral to:

  • Catch22 - Key Worker Support; and
  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust – Mental Health Wellbeing and Treatment

In addition, the social worker should ensure that an assessment of education needs and risk is carried out prior to (re)admission into education. See Education of Children Looked After Procedure.

3.4 Catch 22, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and Education

3.4.1 Catch22 Key Worker Support

The Home Office have commissioned Catch22 to provide a key worker service for children returning from Syria. The service will provide support and advocacy for the child and their family, to help them to reintegrate back into the UK. Catch22 is available to provide immediate support to local authorities.

The service is available to help any UK family with children that returns from Syria, regardless of the threshold for a statutory intervention, and will be able to:

  • Help facilitate communication with different local services and agencies;
  • Help the family access support to which they are entitled;
  • Help the children to access local education provision and GP services;
  • Represent children in meetings about their welfare;
  • Work intensively with the family over the longer term, to encourage a protective environment for children and reintegration into the community.

The Home Office recommend that when local authorities are notified about a returning family, Catch22 are contacted and invited to any multi-agency safeguarding meetings to provide advice on the support they can offer for specific cases and agree potential next steps. Their work will complement the mental health support provided by Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, (see below) as well as any other local interventions to safeguard children.

Support, assessments and any interventions from Catch22 are funded entirely by the Home Office and do not incur any costs for the local authority.

Catch22 can be contacted on Returning.Families@catch-22.org.uk or tel: 0207 336 4853.

3.4.2 Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

The Home Office has also funded the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to assist local authorities and local NHS trusts to conduct comprehensive mental health and emotional wellbeing assessments of all British children returning from Syria.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust will ensure coordination for the provision of mental or emotional health interventions for the child and family as identified by their assessments. This may include direct provision of treatment, referral to another appropriate specialist service or supporting local NHS providers. This will be dependent on both expertise and practical considerations.

If an assessment determines that a child returning from Syria requires statutory services, and the local authority children’s social care team utilise the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the child’s social worker should coordinate the access to the provision of these services.

If a child is assessed as not requiring statutory services, they can still be referred to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the assessing social worker should coordinate the referral to these services. The local authority should also contact the Home Office to understand what key worker support can be provided to the child and their family and how this can be coordinated.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust will work closely with the returning child and family over the long term to provide support, for example, diagnosis and treatment for latent mental health conditions suffered by those returning from a conflict zone. Should safeguarding concerns arise during the course of their engagement with a child, centrally funded organisations will make the appropriate child contact referrals to local authority Children’s Social Care Service.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust can be contacted at ReturningFamilies@tavi-port.nhs.uk or tel: 0208 938 2226.

3.4.3 Education

Assessment - overview

The law requires all children in England to continue in education or training until their 18th birthday. It is essential that the child’s educational needs are assessed at the earliest opportunity prior to them returning to full time education alongside a risk assessment. This should be carried out for all of the children individually in the family to assess their specific needs.

The assessment should consider:

  • Their education prior to leaving the UK – where did they go to school; what was their attainment; how long did they attend there?
  • How long they have been out of the country; what education (if any) have their received whilst in Syria?
  • Any risk associated with the child’s (re)admission to education including:
    • Any extreme conditions they may have experienced whilst in Syria;
    • Any trauma experienced;
    • The short, medium and long-term impact on their physical, mental and emotional development;
    • Their vulnerability on returning to the UK; and
    • The potential risk that they may pose in terms of radicalising others or carrying out terrorist activity.

Applying for a school place for the child

In addition to the assessment, work should commence immediately on allocation to the social worker to identify a school place by making an application for either a primary or secondary school (depending on the age of the child) directly to the school. This should be carried out through the In Year Common Preference form (ICPF).

If the child attended a school in Leeds before leaving the country, and it is still considered appropriate, an application should be made to the same school. If the child has been away from school for less than 4 weeks, it may be the case that they are still on that school roll.

The social worker should ensure that on the ICPF, the Fair Access section is completed, detailing any relevant criteria.

Where the ICPF is sent directly to a school, the schools will notify the family if they are able to offer a place. Schools can refuse to offer a place if they are full or if they have taken a disproportionate number of children who meet fair access criteria already. In the latter situation, the school would refer the application to the Admissions Team.

If the child becomes Looked After following re-entry to the UK for whatever reason, a Children Looked After ICPF should be obtained from the Admissions Team. This must be completed by the social worker who will need to consult with the Virtual School prior to returning it to the Admissions team, virtualschool@leeds.gov.uk.

For secondary schools, the Admissions Team holds monthly panels attended by all local schools where children meeting Fair Access criteria are considered.   Reintegration Officers (RIOs) and the Area Inclusion Partnership Coordinator would be aware of cases going to Fair Access Panel; as such, if schools wanted additional support they could liaise with them about any support that could be offered. In some high schools, there may be staff who would be better placed to support this process if it was required.

For primary schools, the Admissions Team works with the schools, RIOs and the Area Inclusion Partnership Coordinator to identify suitable schools. There are no panels and applications are usually dealt with on an individual basis.  If schools wanted additional support they could liaise with RIOs and the Area Inclusion Partnership Coordinator about any support that could be offered. In addition, primary schools may have welfare staff who are able to support the child.

Educational needs assessment and risk assessment

Best practice would start with a conversation to be held between the social worker and the Educational Psychology team to discuss the needs of the child. Then, the social worker and one of the Educational Psychologists could meet with the parents and the child to discuss what the child will need in school.

Based on the conversations and assessment so far, including any assessment of the child’s mental health needs as appropriate and the school application, a clear and comprehensive plan should be developed by the school in consultation with the family and appropriate practitioners to facilitate the child taking up a school place. This would normally be through a SEN Support Plan.

With regard to risk, the social worker should also contact the school to initiate an Individual Pupil Risk Assessment (IPRA) to assess and minimize any risk(s) that may present. These risks may be to the child themselves in relation to self-harm or physical/emotional harm from others, staff members and/or other pupils at the school. The IPRA should detail any potential or foreseeable risks and identify appropriate control measures. To best inform the IPRA, any mental health needs assessment should have already been carried out.

The Leeds City Council School’s Health Safety and Wellbeing Team (SHSWT) are prepared and available to support with advice and guidance in this area and should be contacted on tel: 0113 3788298 in the first instance. They will be able to provide the necessary paperwork to assist and complete this process. Some schools will not have a service level agreement with the council for this support for example, Academies and Free Schools. In these circumstances, the individual school would need to contact the School Health Safety and Wellbeing Team to discuss payment arrangements.

A meeting should be held to discuss the IPRA and would normally include the school and the social worker at a minimum and other practitioners identified as required. Others might include an Educational Psychologist and the relevant Reintegration Officer (RIO). Risks and control measures will be discussed and the school decides if any risks can be managed.

Where there is additional support required, this will be discussed with the relevant Area Inclusion Partnership Coordinator. Some children may end up on a school’s roll but are educated in alternative provision offsite as required.

Planning meeting

Prior to the child taking up their school place, a planning meeting could be held with the school to confirm the overall plan needed to facilitate the child taking up their school place based on the SEN Support Plan and IPRA. The meeting could include the following:

  • Social worker;
  • Educational Psychologist;
  • School’s’ Health Safety and Wellbeing Team Adviser;
  • Reintegration Officer;
  • Safeguarding Lead;
  • Inclusion Officer;
  • SENCO;
  • Safer Schools Officer; and
  • Other relevant practitioners or agencies involved with the child e.g. Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Catch 22 or other local practitioner.

Children Missing Education

Where a child or young person returning from Syria is identified by the Children Missing Education (CME) Team through a referral to them and where the child may have not been picked up by other routes identified in Section 1 of these procedures, the team should contact Duty and Advice and liaise with the social worker on allocation. The CME Team would discuss with the social worker any necessary role in the reintegration process for the child.

3.5 Child and Family Assessment and Section 47 Enquiry if required

3.5.1 Particular consideration

In addition to usual practice when undertaking the Child and Family Assessment (and a Section 47 Enquiry if required) for a child returning to the UK from Syria, particular consideration will need to be given to the following:

  • The outcome of any referral to Catch22;
  • The outcome of any referral to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust;
  • The outcome of the education assessment of need and risk and proposed plan prior to (re) integration into education;
  • The extreme conditions which a child or young person and their family experienced whilst in Syria;
  • The trauma experienced;
  • The short, medium and long-term impact on their physical, mental and emotional development;
  • Their vulnerability on returning to the UK; and
  • The potential risk that they may pose in terms of radicalising others or carrying out terrorist activity.

A child returning to the UK from Syria could require the assistance of multiple agencies and professionals to safeguard and promote their welfare. Therefore, early and effective information sharing between and within agencies, and effective multi-agency working will be crucial.

This should include Children’s Social Work Service working with the local authority Prevent Coordinators, the Police, Catch22, Education, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust as well as other local services such as housing, health, school, legal and community relations as appropriate for each child and their family.

3.5.2 Outcome of the Child and Family Assessment

If the outcome of the Child and Family Assessment is that the child or young person should be subject to a social work led plan, usual procedures apply for involvement and timescales.

If the assessment finds no reason for continuing social work involvement, consideration should be given to Catch22 coordinating support for the child and their family. As with any other family, consideration will also be given to whether support could be accessed in Early Help.

3.5.3 Consideration of seeking to remove a child from their parents

When considering the need to accommodate a child, or take other action through the family courts, senior police officers should be involved as appropriate and consulted as part of the deliberations ahead of submitting the application. They may have additional information, such as intelligence, and be able to advise the local authority on conditions that should be considered as part of the application.

3.6 Tackling the Risk of Radicalisation

3.6.1 Prevent Referral - Ideological Intervention Providers (IP)

Through the Prevent Duty and Channel Panels, some local authorities will be familiar with the work of Home Office’s Office of Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) approved Ideological Intervention Providers (IP) who understand the ideology of extremism and who seek to steer a vulnerable person away from it.

Depending on the outcome of the child’s assessment by the multi-agency Channel panel, it might be deemed appropriate to commission an IP to work with a child returning from Syria.

The Channel panel should take views from other providers, such as Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, on the appropriate timing of introducing an IP as there is research which suggests that ideology can initially provide a protective mental factor. Where appropriate, the local authority should contact their local Prevent Police Practitioner to commission a suitable IP.

Information about Channel is available from the One Minute Guide on Radicalisation and Preventing Extremism.

Channel also provides access to support as required

3.6.2 Desistance and Disengagement programme for adults

The Home Office has a new programme, ‘The Desistance and Disengagement Programme’ (DDP) which seeks to address the drivers of radicalisation through a range of intensive, tailored interventions and practical support. Many of the parents returning from Syria will be on this programme and the Police will be able to provide confirmation. Where parents are on this programme, the multi-agency panel should ensure there are clear lines of communication between the DDP and the multi-agency planning meeting.

If a parent is not on the DDP, local authorities may want to consider encouraging a returning parent to take part in it, as a measure to help safeguard their child. More information on the programme can be obtained from the Home Office at D&DProgramme@homeoffice.x.gov.uk.

3.6.3 Preventing further travel

To reduce the risk of the child leaving the UK again, the local authority may wish to consider asking the parents to surrender the child’s passport to the Police.

If parents do not comply, the local authority should discuss this with the Police and take legal advice on how best to proceed.

3.6.4 Identifying other vulnerable individuals

Under the Prevent Duty, when engaging with a child or young person and their family the local authority should consider whether friends and family are vulnerable to being radicalised, and if appropriate, a referral to Prevent should be made, by contacting: prevent@leeds.gov.uk.

3.6.5 Working with other Local Authorities

It is possible that a returning child or family’s footprint may straddle across two or more local authorities, requiring local authorities to agree responsibilities, share information, and review actions.

In these cases some local authorities may have more experience of working with and supporting children and their families returning from conflict zones such as Syria. For local authorities who require assistance with cases involving British children returning from Syria contact can be made with the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division (DDCED, 020 7340 7264 counter.extremism@education.gov.uk) in the Department for Education. The DDCED will be able to help identify the nearest experienced local authority to enable the sharing of expertise.


4. Information on the Circumstances of Children in Syria

There is wide ranging open source and academic coverage which provides an insight on the circumstances children in Syria face, for example the report of the UN Secretary General on Children and armed conflict.

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