The recent Children in Need Census 2017-18 — that delivered for the second year a set of figures for abuse linked to faith or belief — offers an insight into the prevalence of such abuse across the country. However, with varying figures across local authoriites, the devil (pardon the pun) is in the detail.
Professor Stephen Briggs, Chair of the BME-Migrant Advisory Group (B-MAG) for the safeguarding of children and young people, highlights that “the census data obscures as much as it reveals; it also raises questions as to how the data is collected.”
The current government definition for abuse linked to faith or belief is primarily focused on witchcraft and spirit possession, with the measure based on child safeguarding assessments for children in need of support, including those that go on to be placed on a child protection plan.
The statistics show an 11% increase in witchcraft and spirit possession cases, which when compared to a 3% reduction in FGM cases, suggests a significantly greater issue for statutory agencies with duties to protect children from harmful practices.
Public-interest cases linked to witchcraft and spirit possession have previously focused attention on London and Birmingham, yet the census highlights a shift to other regions; 36 of the 152 authorities represented, 4 of which are showing more than 50 cases.
It is inevitable that these findings will generate questions as to the significant risk of the abuse recorded – which from our own knowledge base can range from mere mention of a belief system through to harmful practice linked to such beliefs, across ethnicities and cultures, and not always based on religion or faith.
Whilst witchcraft and spirit possession still accounts for a small percentage on the spectrum of abuse cases, the impact of abuse linked to faith or belief is significant as it is often subject to multiple categories of defined abuse. Consider also the varied safeguarding contexts within which this abuse is placed e.g. parental and child mental health, domestic abuse and neglect. For children and families from BME and migrant communities, the issue of language has increasingly become an established barrier to support, pushing more of these children onto child protection plans.
Recent research (*) including an online survey completed by 1,361 respondents with backgrounds in social work, teaching, counselling, police, medicine, faith organisations, or other professionals suggests that 61% of respondents were confident that they understood the term child abuse linked to faith or belief (CALFB), 33% of respondents were confident of being able to identify abuse linked to faith or belief, and that 52% were confident that they knew how to address this abuse within child safeguarding.
From community-based organisations addressing accusations of witchcraft or spirit possession, we know anecdotally that social worker awareness has increased across the country, albeit we are still seeing a lack of confidence and understanding, leading to differing approaches in practice.
B-MAG offers a series of seminars annually to promote practitioner learning around issues facing BME and migrant communities. Information is available here: https://bmagsafeguardingcyp.com/events/
Our most recent annual report, including updates on culture and faith within child safeguarding will be published shortly: https://bmagsafeguardingcyp.com/publications/
(*) Oakley, Kinmond, Dioum & Humphreys (2016) An exploration of knowledge about child abuse linked to faith or belief.
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