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Dr Jo Finch awarded Leverhulme grant to explore role of social worker in Prevent policy 

Dr Jo Finch says Prevent raises possible ethical concerns for social workers in the UK 

The experiences of parents and carers who have been referred to social services due to safeguarding concerns around extremism and radicalisation are explored in a new project by the University of East London’s (UEL) Dr Jo Finch. 

Dr Finch, a reader in social work and deputy director of UEL’s Centre for Social Work Research, was awarded a £7,000 British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant to carry out the work, which is also supported by The Victoria Climbie Foundation and Together with Migrant Children.

Dr Finch said that debates around Prevent – a government policy to identify and support people at risk for radicalisation and extremism – have become polarised. Advocates say the programme is needed to stop citizens from committing acts of terrorism, while critics say it legitimises state discrimination of Muslims. Amidst the conversation, those who have been subject to referrals from social care, such as parents and carers, have not been heard, according to Dr Finch.

She said, “I’ve written about Prevent and the possible ethical issues it might raise for social workers in both the UK and elsewhere.

“There is some research about the implementation of Prevent for some professionals, such as teachers, but there is currently no empirical research which looks at Prevent and social work. Given that social workers are key professionals in terms of safeguarding, I was surprised at the lack of critical attention given to it by social work practitioners and academics.”

Dr Finch said she hopes to find out how families have experienced social services intervention, what might have been helpful in these interventions, and what could be improved from a parent or carer perspective.

She said, “I’m hoping that this will begin a critical debate about the role of the social worker in the Prevent policy.” 

Director of Research for the College of Professional Services, Professor M. Siraj Sait said, “Jo Finch’s British Academy grant research provides an evidence-based approach to examine debates and assess interventions engaging with extremism and radicalisation.

In recording and analysing the experiences of parents and carers referred to social services, Dr Finch's research addresses community concerns and contributions to policy. In keeping with UEL’s commitment to relevant and local impact research. Cass School of Education and Communities is delighted that one of our top researchers will be making a significant contribution to the discourse and links with other similar impact work being done within the university.”

Dr Finch was supported in her application for the grant by the University’s Research and Development Support (ReDS) team and Grantcraft.