Audience participation

When social workers make contact with ethnic minority families
in child protection cases they are often ill-equipped to deal with
cultural and linguistic differences. A new video aims to break down
barriers on both sides. Henrietta Bond reports.

A young Bangladeshi girl is frightened to go home because her
father slapped her for failing to concentrate on her studies. The
family is visited by a social worker who tells the father that
physically punishing his daughter for falling behind at school is
making her too afraid to concentrate. With his consent, she
recommends that he finds other ways of communicating his concerns
to his daughter.

This is one of the scenarios acted out in Protecting Our
Children, a video produced by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
social services department and NSPCC in east London. Primarily
targeted at the Bangladeshi community, it features professional
Bengali actors and local social workers talking in the Sylheti
dialect of the Bengali language. English subtitles are used to
encourage broader use among non-Sylheti speaking Asians and other
black communities and as a training tool for social care

The video idea came from Nadira Osmany, manager of the Tower
Hamlets ethnic minorities child protection team. ‘Child abuse is a
problem in all communities but it needs to be communicated in ways
which are accessible and culturally appropriate for particular
communities,’ she said.

According to Osmany, when child abuse takes place in the
Bangladeshi community, it tends to be handled within the extended
family and doesn’t really become a police concern. ‘Bangladeshi
families would say to me: “Why do you need to bring the police into
our home? Surely it is up to us what we do with our children?” I
wanted to find different ways of getting the right message across,’
she said.

Another factor behind the video’s inception was a number of
child abuse cases where people had ‘befriended Bangladeshi
families, helping them to fill in forms and acting as interpreters,
as an opportunity to get closer to the children’, claimed

The NSPCC east London agreed to work with Tower Hamlets to
produce the video. Funding came from the NSPCC, Tower Hamlets and
Camden Area Child Protection Committees. Osmany, along with Ruma
Saha, a child protection officer at NSPCC East London Children and
Families Unit, produced the script.

Drawing on cases they had been involved in, Osmany and Saha
focused on the four main areas of abuse: physical, emotional,
sexual and neglect. They also included racial harassment, which is
treated as a specific child protection matter by Tower Hamlets
social services. Consideration was also made for problems distinct
to immigrant communities such as isolation, racism, language
difficulties and the fear of bringing shame upon the family.

The video begins by setting the topic of child protection within
a religious context with quotes from the Koran to remind Muslims of
their duty to protect and safeguard children. Osmany claimed that a
religious message makes it more acceptable to Bangladeshi

‘We had to produce the material in a way which would be well
received. We didn’t want to shock anybody. Initially, some members
of the community were worried that we might actually portray acts
of sexual abuse.’ To reduce these fears, the script outline was
sent to the Imam of the East London Mosque. In return, he
identified useful statements from the Koran.

The scenario where a girl is punished for not doing well at
school, claimed Saha, is very relevant for immigrant families who
want their children to succeed in order to compete within the white
community. Another case study is of a recently widowed mother who
neglects her children, highlighting how isolated women can feel
when they have no relatives in this country.

But the main theme underlying all the case studies is that
social services are there to support families through difficult
periods. It points out that social workers don’t just barge into
their home to take their children away.

Steps have been taken to make sure the video reaches a wide
audience. There is a pilot scheme in Tower Hamlets to encourage
video shops to hire it out free of charge to families who come in
for commercial films. It will also be shown to childminders and
parents’ groups in schools. Community workers and other
professionals working with Bangladeshi or other black communities
can use it as a training resource.

Saha uses the video for training on the Children Act 1989 with
Camden Bangladeshi organisations, and has produced a discussion
pack to accompany it. Community workers and practitioners are asked
to look at how they assess families from different cultures and how
they can ensure their child protection services are accessible to
different communities.

With parents, the focus is slightly different and identifies how
abuse can begin to be more widely uncovered in the Bangladeshi
community.Saha explained: ‘One of the questions often raised by
parents is about the impact of religion on their family life. We
want them not only to consider the way religion can provide
strength and an identity for immigrant communities, but that it may
also be used as a cover by an abuser.’

Protecting Our Children is available from NSPCC East London, 38
Wager Street, London, E3 4JESara HannantNadira Osmany, manager of
Tower Hamlets ethnic minorities child protection team with the new

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.