Advocacy group CAGE has said it has seen legal documents which prove that Muslim families could lose their children to the state because of their beliefs and political views.
CAGE says it has seen documents from a number of cases dated from 2016 until today, where “the academically debunked” ERG22+ framework has been used to assess risk of children and parents in Prevent-related child removal cases.
The framework identifies 22 “risk factors” for gauging whether individuals are vulnerable to engaging with terrorist groups or posing a security risk.
The risk factors, which have become known as the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+, form the basis for the “vulnerability assessment framework” carried out under Channel, a strand of the Prevent programme that aims to identify and engage with people believed to be at risk of radicalisation.
Referrals to Channel can come from teachers, social workers, healthcare workers and police. Each year, 1000s of people (mainly Muslims) are referred for assessment, including young children.
CAGE says Prevent practitioners have been giving guidance to the government and the courts based on the ERG22+ methodology in order to assess future risk to children. This is despite government guidance conceding the limitation of the ERG22+, in that it is not based on verifiable science.
CAGE says parents have faced questioning by social workers and Prevent officers employing the “highly subjective and unscientific” method of assessing radicalisation and extremism.
CAGE produced a report in 2016 critiquing this framework, citing evidence that its very authors say the method cannot predict risk with any certainty. In addition, over 150 academics signed a joint statement raising doubts about its validity.
In 2015 CAGE was accused of scaremongering when we said the Counter Terrorism Bill would lead to families facing the prospect of losing their children to the state based on their beliefs and political views. But it says the evidence it has seen demonstrates this is now a reality.
CAGE research director, Asim Qureshi, said: “The simple fact is, the ERG22+ is being employed in the family courts, meaning that Prevent is seeking to remove children based on subjective and inaccurate perceptions of ideology and not on actual abuse.
“This is clear evidence that Prevent is discriminatory and abusive, and is far from safeguarding as its pundits claim – in fact, such claims do far-reaching damage to the principle of safeguarding itself.
“We cannot allow for a process to continue where families are being judged by a false science – our communities are not lab rats to be experimented on.”
In 2015 the current “extremism tsar” Sara Khan gave testimony in Parliament in which she reserved her most trenchant criticism for advocacy group CAGE.
She said: “We know CAGE have been going around the country delivering information to Muslim communities about the CTS Bill and it was widely reported in the media for example that Asim Qureshi from CAGE claimed the government would consider taking Muslim children away as young as seven if their children attended demonstrations by the Stop the War group.
“They also argued, for example, that if you don’t consent as parents to de-radicalisation programmes the state would take your children away. Nazir Afzal, the former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the North West, even argued that this was fear-mongering of the very worst kind.”