Victoria Climbié Foundation: Protecting children across faiths

Victoria Climbié Foundation: Protecting children across faiths

First published in Caring Magazine (March 2016) by CCPAS – Churches Child Protection Advisory Service 

In November 2015, Mor Dioum and Stephanie Yorath of The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK (VCF) were awarded Honorary Doctorates for Education by the University of East London (UEL) for their work to protect and safeguard vulnerable children. Here, they talk about their work to encourage more effective engagement of communities and families by agencies with a statutory duty to protect children from abuse, including harmful practices linked to faith or belief…

When Simon Bass, CEO at CCPAS, invited us to write an article about the work of VCF, we had recently finished a joint letter challenging a report in The Economist. That report raised important points about how children can be protected against faith-based abuse, yet it significantly understated the work that is currently being done in the UK to combat it. This is just one of a number of ways VCF and CCPAS have joined forces. We seek both to communicate and to raise awareness of the work done to protect children who may be harmed by practices linked to faith or belief. We also deliver, separately and jointly, learning for practitioners, community and faith groups, which looks to meet shared safeguarding aims and objectives.

Together, we have raised important safeguarding issues on child abuse linked to faith or abuse. We have also challenged decisions by the Metropolitan Police and other statutory agencies which  impact directly, or indirectly, on children.

VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation – was established by Mr and Mrs Climbié (Victoria’s parents) both to campaign for improvements in child protection policies and practices and to ensure effective co-ordination and links between statutory agencies and the community.

We are the leading independent organisation advocating for children’s rights, care and protection, locally, nationally, and globally to support children and young people abused by families, communities, or by the inaction of governmental or statutory agencies.

Whilst the organisation is best known for its media and political campaigns, its focus has been led by the needs of families. These needs include legally-based advocacy casework associated with supporting users, in order to raise child protection awareness, and to challenge poor practice and thus failings to protect children.

VCF is committed to its campaign against child abuse, working to eradicate child maltreatment, child exploitation and child trafficking and encouraging good child protection practice. We want to see a pluralist society, where children’s human rights are prioritised and are paramount – and where nobody is allowed to use religion or culture as cover to harm them.

When looking to achieve best practice, it is essential that we learn lessons from the past, so that history does not repeat itself.

In November 2012 VCF and CCPAS therefore raised their concerns about the proposed merger of the Child Abuse Investigation Command (the Metropolitan Police’s response to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry) and the Homicide division into a single Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse unit, as part of a restructuring exercise, to Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe. Our worry was that statutory or community agencies had not been consulted as to the impact of that decision, and the consequent loss of expertise and supervision in this specialist area of policing around inter-familial abuse.

VCF has been addressing issues of child abuse linked to faith or belief since 2005, after we completed a pilot study (commissioned by the Metropolitan Police) to address issues of child abuse in two London boroughs. A key output of this work was the introduction of a community partnership model to assist statutory agencies to engage more effectively with the community. This was adapted by the London Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) in 2006. VCF continues to lead on the community-based model, for example with the LSCB Strategy for engaging minority ethnic (often socially excluded) communities, families and groups (2010).

From 2007-2010, VCF was one of four community-based organisations, including CCPAS, that was asked to input into a special Safeguarding Children initiative, funded by Trust for London, to explore the issue of witchcraft and spirit possession in London’s African communities. This work was evaluated by the Centre for Social Work Research.

In 2011, former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP, initiated a Religion, Witchcraft and Child Safeguarding roundtable event at Parliament. This led to the formation of a National Working Group; a multi-agency response to faith-based abuse in the wake of the most recent cases of child abuse linked to accusations of witchcraft. The National Action Plan was launched in August 2012. It provides local authorities with a template for delivery and implementation across four themes. These are engaging communities; empowering practitioners; supporting victims and witnesses; and communicating key messages.

The tragic cases of Victoria Climbié, Khyra Ishaq, and Kristy Bamu, the most recent high-profile case of faith-based abuse, all demonstrate why agencies need to work with specialists, such as VCF and CCPAS, to ensure that health and social care practitioners (as well as other safeguarding professionals) are able to both identify and respond appropriately to cases involving witchcraft and spirit possession, within current child protection and safeguarding practice.

In 2012, VCF worked with the Metropolitan Police to support family victims and witnesses during the criminal investigations into the sad death of Kristy Bamu, receiving praise from both the investigating officer and the presiding judge. The support for the family extended to guiding them through the media minefield, so as to avoid overly sensational reporting of this sensitive case.

The role of the media within child protection was the subject of our Kristy Bamu memorial event in 2013. Then we introduced the Bamu project; a Pan-European initiative between London and Paris to tackle witchcraft and spirit possession across borders. This also highlighted that media reporting should embrace many different perspectives, in order positively to encourage safeguarding sector involvement.

In June 2014, VCF took up the leadership of the National Working Group on Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief, sharing secretariat duties with the Department for Education (DfE), which  currently oversees this important policy area. The group comprises representatives from statutory, voluntary, community and faith sectors, as well as individuals with specialist knowledge and expertise.

VCF also contributed to the production of a training DVD for professionals, jointly issued by MPS and CCPAS, and participated in its launch event at City Hall that resulted in much positive media coverage for the initiative.

Despite all the work taking place at national level, we still have a way to go to ensure that the issue of child abuse linked to faith or belief is not overlooked by children’s services or Local Safeguarding Children Boards. This is especially important in areas where the focus may have shifted to more topical forms of child abuse, such as sexual exploitation or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

VCF’s experience results from our working alongside the statutory agencies to address harmful practices linked to faith or belief from a community perspective. We are now keen to see the VCF Protocol for protecting children across culture and faith firmly embedded in child protection and safeguarding procedures and practice nationwide.

VCF casework plays an important part in the work of the Foundation. Its unique independent advocacy service aims specifically to help local authorities resolve difficulties within families at an early stage, where resolution is still possible, without resorting to the courts. Engaging Children and Families; the Role of Advocacy within Child Protection – a Pilot Study (2015) offers an evaluation and evidence of the quality of work undertaken. It also shows how VCF works with individual cases to improve the experiences of individuals and families.

Today, the prevalence of faith-based abuse is still largely unknown, although police figures show an increase in cases linked to this form of abuse. Previously they may have been hidden within families, communities or in faith settings, or had gone unrecorded by statutory agencies, which may not be aware of the indicators to assess child abuse linked to faith or belief.

VCF is now collaborating with CCPAS and high-level researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University as part of a two-year project to determine practitioner knowledge of child abuse linked to witchcraft and spirit possession. This work also seeks to develop the practical tools needed to identify and support those working with children, who may be harmed by such practice. This includes updated guidance around this type of abuse within wider safeguarding procedures.

So, for VCF, the work continues…

As a practitioner working with children, how much do you know about child abuse linked to faith or belief?  Take our 10 minute confidential survey now: exploration of practitioners’ understanding of child abuse linked to faith or belief – in search of effective intervention – to assist with related research from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Abuse Studies Team, together with VCF and CCPAS .

See also:

National Working Group on Child Abuse linked to Faith or Belief – and related resources
Engaging children and families; the role of advocacy within child protection – a pilot study (2015)
LSCB Strategy for engaging minority ethnic (often socially excluded) communities, families and groups (2010)

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