22 January 2019
VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK welcomes the latest data on child abuse cases linked to faith or belief (CALFB). Overall, there has been an increase from 1,460 mentions in safeguarding assessments recorded for 2016-17, to 1,630 in the most recent Children in Need Census 2017-18.
We have long urged that the recording of child abuse cases should include underlying concerns, to understand the context in which abuses occur. Victoria Climbié (2000), Khyra Ishaq (2008) and Kristy Bamu (2010) are all high-profile examples of child cruelty; where the belief system was not the presenting factor.
Child abuse linked to faith or belief is not a new phenomenon, however the recording of such data offers an invaluable insight into practitioner knowledge of a harmful practice that sits outside stated norms, albeit within the defined safeguarding categories; physical, sexual, and emotional harm or neglect. Accordingly, our work with children and families affected by faith-based abuse has highlighted significant gaps in understanding and support.
Since 2004, VCF has been empowering practitioners, through independent advocacy, assessments, or case reviews, to identify and appropriately respond to issues of child abuse linked to faith or belief, within their wider safeguarding processes.
Yet community engagement remains a challenge for those agencies with safeguarding duties that have demonstrated an unwillingness to change their approach. Any efforts to build trust between local communities and statutory authorities – to increase public reporting of child abuse – has increasingly diminished, as the services for children and their families become more hostile and punitive, in the face of reduced funding.
A national action plan launched in August 2012, provided a template for all local authorities tackling faith-based abuse. Yet, research undertaken by VCF and others in 2016, shows that only 12% of respondents were familiar with the National Action Plan, and further, 77% of respondents did not know if their Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) included policy and procedure on this form of abuse.
According to Mor Dioum, VCF’s Director and former Chair of the National Working Group on Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, “It is important that we do not shift the focus from this form of abuse, and to put the necessary measures in place to prevent child deaths or serious harm as a result of abuse linked to faith or belief.”
At VCF, we believe that the solution lies within the community; although this important factor is increasingly overlooked in strategic and statutory approaches to address related harm. There is a risk of only focusing on certain faith settings, where children are routinely accused of being possessed, as a means to exploit.
Without community involvement, or indeed perspective, we are gravely concerned that potential victims will continue to be missed, or remain unsupported within child safeguarding processes; including BME or migrant children in non-faith settings, as well as those arriving unaccompanied or being trafficked to the UK.
Click here to view Children in Need Census 2017-18 statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/characteristics-of-children-in-need-2017-to-2018