Children's services experience major increase in FGM cases

By Joe Lepper

| 30 November 2018

The number of children believed to have been victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) or at risk of it has more than doubled over the last year, government figures have revealed.

Leethen Bartholomew said cases of FGM that come to the attention of children's services are likely to represent the "tip of the iceberg". Picture: Barnardos

Analysis of Department for Education data by the National FGM Centre shows that FGM was a feature in 1,960 social work assessments by councils in 2017/18, compared with 970 cases the previous year.

The figures also show that abuse of children based on faith or belief - which includes witchcraft and spirit possession - has risen by 12 per cent, with councils dealing with more than 30 such cases a week. In 2016/17 there were 1,460 cases, rising to 1,630 in 2017/18.

The National FGM Centre, which is run by the Local Government Association (LGA) and Barnardo's, says the figures are "alarming" and probably don't reflect the true prevalence of the crime as services are gradually becoming better at identifying FGM concerns.

Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, said: "Whilst we are making progress in tackling FGM, these alarming statistics show it is still being practised in communities across England.

"Even more concerning is that these figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg because many cases of FGM go undetected.

The centre's work includes training social workers to become better at identifying girls who may be at risk of undergoing the practice, and to know how to report it.

This includes an online assessment tool, guiding them through the right questions to ask families.

The LGA said that the rise in cases involving FGM and religious beliefs adds to an already struggling children's social care system, which faces an estimated £3bn funding gap by 2025 to keep services running at current levels.

"These figures show the worrying prevalence of FGM, which is ruining lives and destroying communities," said Anita Lower, LGA lead on FGM and chair of the National FGM Centre's advisory board.

"At a time when they should be preparing for adult life and enjoying being young, no girl or young woman should be subject to the horrors of genital mutilation which is child abuse and cannot be justified for any reason."

"To maximise the effectiveness of this prevention and intervention work, children's services departments need further funding to address the scale of demand for help from children and their families," added Lower.

"Long-term funding for the National FGM Centre is also needed for its vital, specialist work in communities to prevent FGM in the first place, and to develop expert knowledge to build relationships with families which can safeguard against this horrific kind of assault."

In July last year the National FGM Centre received £2.1m funding from the Department for Education's Children' Social Care Innovation programme.

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