Emerging area of practice
This is a child protection matter because tamariki harm to self and/or others requires us to respond. Adults connected to proscribed groups or indoctrinating tamariki or rangatahi to views that incite hatred and harm to others is also a child protection matter.
Tamariki and rangatahi spend significant amounts of time online. A small number have come to our notice for their online behaviour – for example, involvement in banned or proscribed extremist groups, viewing dangerous or objectionable material or making threats to bomb schools or carry out mass attacks.
Our work involves understanding for each tamaiti or rangatahi where belief and ideology shifts into threats or intent to act. For some, a youth justice response is required.
Oranga Tamariki is part of the group of agencies that respond to such threats or intent. He Aranga Ake, the national prevention and response strategy, sets out how we should:
- treat people with respect and compassion, and not judge or belittle them
- work with them to enhance their mana
- encourage them to:
- take personal responsibility
- be accountable for their actions
- develop a sense of citizenship
- act with autonomy.
He Aranga Ake focuses on building and strengthening protective factors and promoting cross-agency tools and resources to guide our mahi.
While most people do not act on extreme views, we need to take all threats seriously. When we become aware of a real or potential act of radical or extremist violence by tamariki or rangatahi, we need to carefully record and share all information with our colleagues and work together on how to address this. Being radicalised or becoming radicalised is not a common situation – additional practice advice and support will be needed so contact the national practice advice team.
What is extremism and radicalisation
Extremism is generally understood as a belief system underpinned by rigid and uncompromising beliefs outside the norms of community and society. For Aotearoa New Zealand, this might manifest in rejections of law, police and our elected parliament. Extremism can have different ideological underpinnings and manifest in a number of ways. Central to extremist belief systems is a desire to bring about change and overhaul the political, social or religious environment to conform to an idealised vision of society. Actions taken are designed to create the most fear and disruption.
Extreme ideologies can be based on faith, social or political beliefs that exist on the fringes of society, outside the more broadly accepted views and beliefs of most people. Violent extremists take these ideologies further and justify using violence to achieve radical changes.
Under Aotearoa New Zealand law, a terrorist act is defined as an ideologically, politically or religiously motivated act that is intended to intimidate a population, or to coerce or force the government to do or not to do certain things. A terrorist act could include acts causing death or serious bodily injury but isn’t limited to this. Aotearoa New Zealand does not currently have hate speech law – it is our work to understand when hate speech may indicate intent to act or to harm others.
It is important to understand that most people with extreme views do not act on these views through violence. The process through which an individual comes to see violence as a feasible tool to address their grievances is called radicalisation to violence. Radicalisation occurs through group connections and a sense of belonging. Vulnerability is an important consideration for social workers to hold in mind. We are seeing younger tamariki attracted to extremism, and research is pointing toward links between autism and social communication issues and attraction to extreme views. Views expressed in strong binary terms (‘us versus them’) or the use of dehumanising language are also indictors needing exploration.
Aotearoa New Zealand has a growing problem of far-right extremism. Far-right views promote racial separatism or dominance by one group over others. We need to be attentive to neo-Nazi insignia and promotion of this ideology. Islamic extremism, religiously motivated hate groups and far-left extremism (such as environmentalism and animal rights, anti-capitalism) are less likely to manifest in violence in Aotearoa New Zealand but they will attract some tamariki and rangatahi to their cause and then potentially to links to proscribed or violent extremism groups. The internet means we are always internationally linked.
It is easy to find online groups that promote worrying and dangerous views and share illegal material. These websites can be attractive, exciting and enticing. Abhorrent material, sometimes described as gore, includes beheading videos, torture and other forms of grievous harm, and footage of dismembered bodies as a result of war, accident and injury. The sharing of these with tamariki or rangatahi or sharing between tamariki and rangatahi is a child protection concern because it is often classified as objectionable material.
Unintentional exposure easily happens, and gaming sites can be opportunities for this. For both intentional and unintentional exposure to objectionable material, we need to consider the trauma impacts.
Using the practice framework
The practice framework helps us to organise our practice thinking and planning. It sets out and explains how we should approach practice issues (including emerging areas like extremism and radicalisation risks). The framework guides us and helps us to apply tools and models in our work. It reinforces the value of social work and the statutory and professional responsibilities we hold.
Our social work response to extremism cases is unique because many other agencies focus on adults. This means we are advocates for tamariki and rangatahi, and work with whānau and families to understand the situation and work closely with partner agencies.
The practice framework supports us to be open with how we feel about issues like terrorism and extremism. It encourages us to be self-aware and reflexive in our work and to be open to views and ideas held by others that we may disagree with. It helps us to understand and support those affected by or indoctrinated with harmful ideas or beliefs.
While we respect the right of people to hold beliefs and views that we may find offensive or even scary, we also respect the right for tamariki and rangatahi and their whānau or family to be safe and protected. Regarding online radicalisation, we need to consider these rights in conjunction with the risks associated with threats to harm self or others. There is a difference between strong and ideological belief. We all hold beliefs and values. A shared value base underpins the way we live, but ideological beliefs can mean a very narrow view is held toward others. This is one of the indicators we need to explore.
Holding tamariki and rangatahi in mind
The feelings associated with belonging and being validated are human needs. These needs can often be met by groups and being online. While rangatahi are vulnerable to extremism and radicalisation risk, the age of those involved is increasingly younger. Internationally, acts of violent extremism, including terrorism, are mostly committed by males aged between 15 and 25, with online activity as young as 10.
These trends are also seen in an Aotearoa New Zealand context.
Adults promoting ideological beliefs to tamariki and rangatahi is a concern when those beliefs dehumanise others or promote harm and violence as necessary to achieve the results desired. This is terrorism.
Tamariki and rangatahi have a right to live free of harmful influences that may attract them toward harmful behaviours. They also have a right to be cared for by people who love them and have responsibilities for them.
Our work is to understand the values and beliefs of whānau or family, tamariki and rangatahi and assess what this may mean. In most circumstances, strong views and ideas do not harm others. Acts such as showing beheading videos to tamariki and rangatahi is clearly child abuse. Direct and respectful conversations are an opportunity to challenge the views held by others.
The domain of whai mātauranga encourages us to find out more and ask, 'Who can I work with to help me understand the situation and implications?' and 'What do I need to know more about?' Whānau or family are our partners in the work. We work closely and relationally with them and tamariki and rangatahi to help us understand the situation, and why they may belong to online groups or access websites.
There are some behavioural indicators to hold in mind. Lone actors are not isolated people who act suddenly out of nowhere – they have social ties to people who think alike. Holding a grievance or perceived injustice are risk indicators to stay alert to.
Know the Signs is a new resource that outlines a range of vulnerability factors. This is a helpful resource for all kaimahi as it outlines the 7 areas that suggest radicalisation may be taking place.
When undertaking an assessment or investigation, in addition to our usual policy and guidance, we consider:
- the family networks and involve those who can influence through pro-social views and ideas
- who else we can engage with (wider whānau or family, other providers working with them) who may be able to encourage more pro-social attitudes and balance to the extremist or radical views
- how to build a community around te tamaiti or rangatahi
- how to open up conversations and talk about the issues, and understand the risks and the excitement that this may be generating
- how to collaborate with others – for example, if neurodiversity or communication difficulties are present
- how to collaborate with other child welfare agencies, iwi and community partners (see the section on information sharing below)
- if their parents or caregivers have been arrested – we may need to find safe whānau or family members they can go to.
We need to see the issue as a part of te tamaiti or rangatahi looking for ways to meet their needs and not as the defining aspect of who they are. Explore emotional and mental health and disability issues that may mean a more socially isolated life. Tamariki and rangatahi are experts in what their life is about and what pressures or issues may be driving them toward online extremism or attracting them to radical views or groups.
The National Contact Centre (NCC) has a separate phone line that Police use to make a report of concern or advise an intake for Youth Justice. The NCC uses the toolkit Know the Signs to help kaimahi understand the concerns and make sense of the indicators, if any, of possible extremism or radicalisation risks.
Think about how to build more pro-social connections for tamariki, rangatahi and adults:
- Work to help people be more connected with pro-social influences.
- Autism and social communication issues are a feature for some tamariki and rangatahi involved in online extreme groups. Living with autism is, however, not a direct correlation.
- The legal situation and case law developments are ongoing. Stay up to date with the help of your legal advisor.
- Practice research is also growing.
Intervention and support need to draw on whānau, hapū, family, friends, community, charities and non-government agencies in addition to the core government agencies involved. The church can be an important resource, as can sports clubs and youth clubs. We need to build pro-social networks that counter the harmful aspects of exploring or being part of extremism or radical groups.
Our approach to engaging with whānau or family is likely to differ depending on whether they share the same extreme or radical beliefs held by their tamaiti or rangatahi. If they do not share the same beliefs, this might be the first time that whānau or family are hearing these concerns. They may welcome support and assistance in better understanding their tamaiti or rangatahi and addressing the concerning beliefs.
If whānau or family share or reinforce the extremist or radical beliefs, our usual practices of engaging through hui ā-whānau or family group conference are likely to be complex, as we may be viewed as part of the system or order to be challenged. Continue to engage with extended family, whānau, hapū, iwi and community networks to seek supportive whānau or family members.
Oranga Tamariki promotes practice models for our social work: Te Toka Tūmoana, Va'aifetū and Signs of Safety. The Signs of Safety model has been used in child protection services internationally when working with extremism and radicalisation concerns. This model helps us:
- work collaboratively in multi-agency teams because it helps us discuss risk and risk of harm
- understand oranga and analyse risk of harm through a clear delineation of danger, existing strengths and protective factors
- understand what is working well, what we are worried about and what needs to change
- collaborate with other agencies who will be focused on risk and risk of harm – this helps us explain our analysis and our social work plan to intervene in ways that help restore oranga and address the very real risks of harm or threats of harm.
These are cases for experienced social workers – it is skilful work, and a range of tools are available to help. We need to have conversations about values, beliefs, a sense of belonging or validation of feelings through being online or connecting to online groups. Use the consult process to help understand the situation and make plans for next steps.
When engaging with tamariki or rangatahi, we:
- work in an intentional, collaborative and relational way
- are calm, gentle and patient – te tamaiti or rangatahi may:
- be stressed, distressed and traumatised by their experiences
- be angry and wanting to get a response
- have observed violence
- be worried about what their parents or caregivers are up to
- have been encouraged to be defiant towards social workers, police and other authorities
- reassure them that we are wanting to know more about what is going on so we can help
- consider how we work with people who have experienced marginalisation and stigma
- alongside the Youth Advocate, be an advocate for rangatahi who have been arrested
- question and challenge any beliefs tamariki or rangatahi have about extremism and radical groups and what this means for them and others – they may have been exposed to misinformation
- consult with our supervisor and Legal Services throughout the practice
- use exploration questions, such as:
- How open is te tamaiti or rangatahi or the adults to different views and ideas?
- Does autism or neuro-diversity feature?
- What social networks are in place?
- What meanings are associated with online groups? Explore the excitement of violence and terrorism and use this is an intervention opportunity
- How is social class, ethnicity, poverty or limited access to a wider range of views affecting rangatahi or tamariki?
- What areas of the ‘dark web’ are attractive, and why?
When engaging with parents and caregivers, we:
- are calm, reassuring and clear about what we are worried about
- emphasise that our concerns are about access to or promotion of ideological dogma or extremist views
- are aware that parents are likely to be distressed by these questions – we reassure them that we are wanting to understand what has happened for them and their tamariki or rangatahi and that we want to work with them to build more safety around tamariki and rangatahi as quickly as possible
- explain that information will be retained by security agencies and Oranga Tamariki as a precautionary measure under Aotearoa New Zealand law.
How we work in this area
This practice issue requires multi-agency planning and action. It is critical that we:
- respond to reports of concern or intakes made by Police, security services, professionals or members of the public about safety and wellbeing concerns for tamariki or rangatahi
- clearly record any threats of violence or perceived threats of violence and ensure these are shared with our supervisor and are reported to the Police
- undertake a comprehensive assessment and develop an intervention plan
- lead effective case coordination and are clear on our role
- plan for the care of te tamaiti or rangatahi where Police have used their powers to remove te tamaiti or rangatahi from an unsafe situation or if arrests are made
- consult with national practice advisors in Quality Practice and Experiences and our International Child Protection Unit
- work as part of the multi-agency response team
- advocate for tamariki and rangatahi – this is a provocative topic and easily conflated to be of ‘the very highest risk’ but we need to be proportionate to actions based on our analysis of each situation
- consult with Legal Services and our supervisor throughout the casework, particularly if we are experiencing resistance or challenge in our engagement with whānau or family.
If tamariki or rangatahi are arrested, we:
- follow the usual provisions of youth justice
- follow the agreed local arrangements
- work closely with Police
- talk to te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family, explaining our social work role and what will happen next.
Managing and responding to dangerous situations
Working with these cases is challenging work and may bring up issues for us. Supportive supervision is vital, and we need to be able to confidently share what this raises for us and work with our emotional responses in a way that helps us to keep our role and position clear. We need to:
- consider ourselves in this work – 'Ko wai au?' ('Who am I?') – in relation to extremism to develop an awareness of how our personal values, beliefs and biases impact our practice
- reflect on our practice and consider our emotional responses (both our own and those we work with) to the impact of harm (ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation) of tamariki and rangatahi
- reflect on our oranga when being exposed to these ideas and beliefs as some may be exceptionally distressing, especially if we are confronting extreme racism
- consider and discuss our safety, including physical, emotional and cultural
- consider our approach to engagement – do we need to visit with a co-worker or alongside Police?
- draw on our team and peers as supports, promoting the values that we share as a society – do challenge harmful extremist views promoted online
- draw on the Code of Ethics (ANZASW) and our Code of Conduct to guide us
- discuss any concerns with our supervisor or seek EAP if necessary.
Information sharing and intelligence are particularly important for this area of work. Each of the He Aranga Ake agencies has a unique role and remit, some having mandate to gain access to internet activity and online access. Where tamariki and rangatahi are involved (either as persons of interest, by virtue of residing with or having contact with a person of interest, or more generally as potential victims of violent extremism), Oranga Tamariki contributes views and actions that are focussed on the oranga (wellbeing) and best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family, whānau, hapū, iwi and family groups.
The He Aranga Ake agencies are:
- Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children
- Ministry of Social Development
- Ministry of Heath
- Ministry of Education
- New Zealand Police
- Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections
- New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).
Although not included in He Aranga Ake at this stage, iwi and community organisations and professionals may be able to contribute to the mahi of disengagement – for example, by providing pro-social networks and opportunities to reconnect and develop a sense of self and community.
To understand and support a tamaiti or rangatahi who we believe is involved with extremism or radicalisation, we may need to:
- share relevant information, including personal information, with other He Aranga Ake agencies
- share relevant information with other agencies and individuals who may be able to provide support
- request and receive relevant information from other agencies and individuals and use that information to achieve our role.
Sharing and using information within the child welfare and protection sector
In general, the most appropriate way to share and use information in this context will be through the information sharing provisions of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.
Section 66C of the Oranga Tamariki Act allows child welfare and protection agencies and independent persons (as defined in section 2) to share and use personal information for purposes related to the wellbeing and safety of tamariki. It is designed to put tamariki and whānau at the centre of decision-making and enable the right support and services to be provided to them.
All He Aranga Ake agencies, except the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, can share and use information in reliance on section 66C. We need to confirm whether other agencies, iwi and community organisations, and professionals are covered before sharing information with them in reliance on this section. Our legal advisor can help. More comprehensive guidance is available on the Oranga Tamariki website and Practice Centre, including scenarios, quick reference cards and optional forms for requesting information.
Sharing and using information outside the child welfare and protection sector
Where we need to share with or use information from agencies and individuals who are not covered by section 66C, we may be able to rely on:
- one of the authorised disclosure grounds in the Privacy Act 2020 – we consult with our manager, supervisor or legal advisor, and we can also seek advice from the Privacy Team or National Office Legal Team
- section 66 of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which allows Police and Oranga Tamariki to demand information for certain purposes – note, however, that information obtained under section 66:
- must not be used for the purposes of investigating any offence, and
- is not admissible in any proceedings other than proceedings under Part 2 of the Oranga Tamariki Act.
Due to these limitations, section 66 is unlikely to be used in the context of He Aranga Ake.
Sharing and using information from NZSIS
NZSIS will share information with He Aranga Ake agencies, and we will use that information and share information with them, in reliance on one of the authorised grounds for disclosure in the Privacy Act 2020 (Information privacy principle 11). In this context, the most relevant grounds are likely to be:
- the sharing is one of the reasons the information was collected (IPP 11(1)(a))
- the sharing is necessary to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of offences (IPP 11(1)(e)(i))
- the sharing is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to public health or safety or the life or health of an individual (IPP 11(1)(f).
We can seek advice on the application of these grounds from our manager, supervisor or legal advisor, or the Privacy Team or National Office Legal Team.
How to deal with classified information
Some information shared for the purposes of He Aranga Ake may have a New Zealand Government Security Classification, such as ‘In confidence’, ‘Restricted’ or higher. Care should be taken when considering sharing and recording classified information. We consult with our supervisor, manager or legal advisor if we are unsure about requesting, sharing or recording classified information.
Other considerations relevant to information sharing and privacy
Privacy is an ethical duty. Stigma easily follows unnecessary disclosures of information or sharing outside of the ethical framework of collaborative practice.
Some information must not be disclosed regardless of which legislation the information is requested under:
- whakapapa should not be shared — this should be obtained directly from the whānau if they consent
- information that is covered by legal professional privilege
- documents that are the property of the court, including Family Court and Youth Court — if we are uncertain about these, we talk to Legal Services
- youth justice and family group conference proceedings
- information that relates to youth justice proceedings that resulted in a discharge of the charge under section 282 of the Oranga Tamariki Act.
Contact for additional advice and support
Being radicalised or becoming radicalised is not a common situation – additional practice advice and support will be needed so contact the national practice advice team.