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Top tips for social work practice in cases of female genital mutilation

Posted on 2/06/2016 by Aminul Hoque

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How to spot signs that a girl may be at risk, and good practice when visiting families and working with affected communities

Almost 140,000 women and girls in the UK are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation and social workers are now under a mandatory duty to report cases of FGM involving girls aged under 18 to the police. The following tips are aimed at helping you to identify when FGM has occurred and how best to work with affected families and communities.

This advice is taken from Inform Children’s Guide to female genital mutilation for social work professionals, produced by Hekate Papadaki of the National FGM Centre. The guide is part of Inform Children’s FGM Knowledge and Practice Hub

  1. Social workers must notify the police when, in the course of their work, they discover that FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl who is under 18. Failing to comply with the duty will be dealt with via existing disciplinary measures. The mandatory duty only applies when FGM has been verbally disclosed by a child under 18 or visually confirmed by a professional. The duty is personal, i.e. the professional who receives the disclosure or identifies FGM must make the report.
  2. Unlike other types of child abuse, there are no physical signs that can be observed on a child to alert a professional to the potential risk of FGM. Signs that a girl could be at risk of FGM include that one or both of her parents come from a community affected by FGM, her mother has already undergone FGM, one or both parents or elder family members consider FGM integral to their cultural or religious identity, and the girl/her family have limited level of integration with the wider community.
  3. The risk of FGM occurring changes during a girl’s/woman’s life. For example, it is possible that new risks are introduced when she reaches puberty or at the time of marriage.
  4. When first visiting a family to assess risk, it is good practice to ensure an accredited female interpreter who is not known to the individual and does not have influence in the individual’s community is present at the meeting. Also observe family members for signs of coercion and control, and, unless there is an immediate risk of FGM to a child, it is preferable not to conduct joint investigations with the police as this can be perceived as threatening.
  5. Local authorities should have an understanding of which FGM-affected communities live in their area and of their attitudes and awareness of FGM. One approach to achieve this is participatory ethnographic evaluation and research (PEER), developed by Options Consultancy in collaboration with Swansea University, in which members of a community (PEER researchers) are trained to carry out in-depth conversational interviews with friends in their social networks. This can generate insights into sensitive issues among hard to reach groups, where stigma and marginalisation makes traditional research methods difficult.