Although it is too early to tell about the concrete long term effects of these family counselling programs it is nevertheless possible to deduce some early key lessons from the two models in Denmark and Germany. These lessons can be seen as inspirations or guidelines for other programs trying to work in the field of family counselling as well and are of course only very abstract. More in depth studies and practical guidelines need to follow.
A. Family counselling programs need to focus on the family as social unit and at the same time understand the internal family dynamics as well as individual driving forces behind violent radicalization. These programs need to address these individual factors through the family without compromising the family’s integrity. However, it should be clear that the ultimate goal of these programs is to avert dangers (e.g. acts of violence) and reduce risks to the family and society.
B. The family should no be seen as source of intelligence and information for the authorities but as partners in early prevention and even intervention work.
C. Clear and transparent procedures and standards are absolutely essential to gain the trust of the families achieve any impact.
D. As these family counselling programs are working in a potentially highly security relevant area a very close cooperation with every governmental agency responsible is absolutely necessary. This is built into the Danish model by design for example. In other models such as the German case government relies on the capabilities of the partner NGOs to make the correct risk assessments and follow the protocols in terms of when and which governmental partner needs to be brought in. In every case a key to success is to find the correct time for the counsellor to switch from preventative to intervention methods. Special expertise, training and experience based on a coherent methodology and theory are necessary.
E. Family counselling programs are no stand alone efforts but deeply rely on networks and partners in every level of society, e.g. religious authorities, probation services, social workers, youth agencies, schools. The role of the counsellor can in many ways be described as a communication and network broker, bringing in the targeted help at the right time.
F. The counselling needs to be flexible and able to work from a very early prevention phase until classical counter-terrorism. The necessary knowledge and expertise needs to be available.
G. Counselling should be available for every person concerned, not just the family. Multiple languages, freedom of charge, and anonymity need to be guaranteed if needed.
H. If the program is civil society based data protection and privacy are top priorities for the counsellor. However, there should be a mechanism or procedure in place to ensure that a correct risk assessment leads to the involvement of the responsible authorities at the right time.
I. Standards in training and evaluation need to be set and monitored.
Specifically designed family counselling programs within the area of de-radicalization and counter-terrorism are a very promising and innovative approach to tackle the issue of homegrown radicalization processes leading to violence and terrorism. The two best established field programs in Germany and Denmark have offered a great deal of insights into the key mechanisms necessary to make family counselling work as de-radicalization tool and the first numbers of cases as well as the visible impact has led to the creation of similar initiatives worldwide (e.g. Canada, Netherlands, Great Britain, Australia, Austria). However, a lack of coherent standards and methods has resulted in a wide variety of structural designs and approaches already. In addition it is still far too early to give academically sound evaluations of these programs’ impact and long term effects as only a few in-depth studies about family counselling have just started. Nevertheless, well designed family counselling programs can easily be seen as one of the most important innovations in counter-radicalization and counter-terrorism during the last years.