Bournemouth University

Annual Review 2014

Educating social workers about terrorism

Educating social workers about terrorism

The research

The challenges facing social workers, whether newly qualified or with years of experience, are always immense. Supporting service users in already difficult circumstances can be made even more challenging when issues caused by conflict and terrorism are brought into the mix.

Social workers form a key part of the group of professionals and services providers who are called upon to deal with the aftermath of terrorism. However, the education curriculum for training social workers tends to include little on the impact of terrorism.

Dr Sara Ashencaen Crabtree and Professor Jonathan Parker have been investigating the need to prepare and educate social workers to deal with those individuals, families and communities affected by terrorism or conflict.

Conducted over a two year period and involving final year undergraduate students, their research looks at how trainee social workers are currently taught to respond to conflict and terrorism. A small qualitative study was undertaken using focus groups and in depth interviews to look at students’ knowledge and perceptions of terrorism. The idea was to identify the gap in education when it comes to dealing with the complex needs of those affected by terrorism.

The research showed that although specific teaching around social work and terrorism is a niche area there would be potential to include such teaching at a post-qualifying level. Despite the varied perceptions and definitions of terrorism within the group, participants in the study felt that community-based and therapeutic approaches would be more appropriate than emphasising social policing or focusing solely on assessment and safeguarding.

The findings suggested that there is a need for social workers to be politically aware, and refocusing the curriculum on transferrable practitioner skills and intervention tools is integral for dealing with situations arising from the impact of terrorism.

The academics

Our work has a wider focus than social work and terrorism, grounded as it is within cultural differences and understanding the meanings and processes of discrimination across global societies. Our promotion of social work owes much to the historical growth of individual and community engagement in the earlier days of social work and community development. This is something that has been lost or, at best, occluded, in English social work (the rest of the UK is slightly different in approach), being replaced solely by work to 'police' the families and individuals that make our society.

So, our work is important in highlighting hidden needs and voices, that puts the people who use social work services centre stage. Not cowering from controversy and not being afraid of stepping outside the expected norms of thought, practice and behaviour helps to illuminate a more inclusive and person-centred social work.

Professor Jonathan Parker and Dr Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

The student

My husband is a Royal Marine, and at the time of the research project he was due to go on tour in Afghanistan. My family, on my mother’s side, is also from Iran. This made the research question a particularly interesting one for me as I felt a personal connection to the topic of terrorism and the impact it is having on individuals’ perceptions of both Muslims and soldiers.

This interest led me to take part in Sara and Jonathan’s focus group. During the course of the discussion I began to realise how much the opinions of the participants varied and it was interesting to hear a number of different perspectives. Many people had strong convictions which allowed for a lively and engaging debate. I feel proud to have taken part in a study that hopes to forward our knowledge of terrorism as it is often a confused and misunderstood term that will benefit greatly from micro-level examinations of its impact.

Samineh Hallm, BA (Hons) Sociology and Social Policy

The impact

The research into the response of social work to terrorism by Professor Parker and Sara Ashencaen Crabtree makes a valuable contribution to discussion of the social reality of political violence in the UK and around the world.  There is considerable social worker experience of the response to terrorist incidents in the UK, such as the Irish bombings and the tube and bus bombs, much of it unresearched.  

Government policy requires Safeguarding Boards to engage with the Prevent programme, in the light of experience that some people with recognised vulnerabilities (especially mental health and learning difficulties) get involved in violent political action.  At first sight this appears to be unfamiliar territory for social workers and, as discussed in the research reports, it provokes ethical challenges.  There is a clear need for UK social work to embrace international research on the response of social work to political violence and for research into the dilemmas posed by this work to inform effective practice responses.

Dr David N Jones, Chair, Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children Boards


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