Call to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief

24 November 2017

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NEW data on the prevalence of child abuse linked to faith or belief (CALFB) should prompt the Government to re-commit itself to tackling it, the executive director of safeguarding at the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), Justin Humphreys, said last week.

Data released for the first time by the Department for Education this month indicates that there were 1460 cases of CALFB reported in the year ending 31 March. Mr Humphreys believes that, since the launch of a national action plan in 2012, ministers’ commitment has faded.

“The Government needs to bring greater attention back to this issue,” he said. “The data, provided by local authorities, is likely to be an underestimate of the scale of the problem, he warned, given “limited understanding” of the signs of the abuse.

The national action plan to tackle the problem was published by the Department for Education in 2012, after the murder of Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old boy accused of witchcraft (News, 24 August 2012). It lists a number of manifestations, including belief in concepts of witchcraft and spirit possession, or in demons or the devil, acting through children. Abuse often occurs when an attempt is made to “deliver” the child.

In March, CCPAS published the findings of an online survey of 1371 respondents working in policing, teaching, social work, or in faith-based communities. The survey, An Exploration of Knowledge About Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, produced in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Victoria Climbie Foundation, found that, while most respondents were aware of CALFB, many were not confident that they could identify its signs.

Of the police respondents, only 35 per cent were confident that they could identify indicators of CALFB; and 49 per cent were confident that they could respond professionally. Social workers reported higher levels of confidence, but most respondents in all categories had not received any specific training, and almost 90 per cent of all respondents had not heard of the national plan.

Mr Humphreys said that the findings were not surprising, given that the Government had “pretty much withdrawn any tangible support” for delivering the national plan. He believes that a toolkit for professionals needs to be developed, alongside a consortium of organisations able to offer approved training, as part of the mainstream training of social workers and teachers.

The Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet is dedicated to tackling CALFB. In 2015, it reported at least 60 cases (News, 16 October 2015). Together with CCPAS, it has produced a training film to raise awareness among professionals, including social workers and teachers (News, 10 October 2014).

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