Working with faith communities to protect children: special report

The difficulties faced by professionals seeking to protect children from faith-based abuse were highlighted today at a Community Care conference.

Social workers must beware of “compounding risk” by “ill-judged attempts to work with parents” in some such cases, warned Hannah Miller, director of adult social services at Croydon Council in south London.

Standard social work practice including case conferences and family mediation can lead to children being pressurised to withdraw allegations, or simply disappearing – possibly abroad, said Miller, who has spoken widely on religious/cultural based abuse for the Assocation of Directors of Social Services.

Professionals dealing with allegations of faith-based abuse may encounter experiences “totally beyond” previous practice, she told delegates at the conference in London today.

Hannah Miller praised a new government consultation on abuse linked to spirit possession but said more advanced guidance will be needed, particularly for child and adolescent mental health services.

Social workers need to understand the “cultural practices” and “key beliefs” of the communities they work in, said Miller.

She cautioned against stereotyping communities and of professionals being “over-zealous,” seeing faith abuse where there is none.

Her own council, Croydon, has forged links with over 100 faith communities, she added.

Solutions for dealing with faith-based child abuse come from within communities and statutory services must engage with them, said Bob Pull, consultant to the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service.

Gaining the trust and confidence of closed communities cannot be done quickly, but is achievable, he added.

A trainee Baptist minister, Pull has worked extensively with the Congolese community. He said, as an outsider, his Christianity was the key to forming strong relationships with Congolese pastors.

Only 0.1 per cent of all child protection inquiries are connected to a belief in “possession” and “witchcraft”, government-commissioned research has found and Bob Pull urged that the issue should be “put in context”.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said Muslims are in denial about child abuse within their communities. An extensive awareness-raising campaign explaining the harm child abuse causes is needed, he added.

A report, Child protection in faith-based environments, was published last year by the Muslim Parliament.

It warned of an “avalanche of sex abuse scandals” unless child protection procedures in madrassas, (mosque schools) are strengthened and called on the government to set up a national registration scheme.

Child protection specialist Perdeep Gill emphasised that both statutory agencies and faith communities have much to learn.

Agencies have cultures of “imposing not empowering” the communities they work with, using a “secular Western dialogue,” she said.

In turn faith groups “must accept” that child abuse occurs in all communities, including their own, Perdeep Gill concluded.

Related items

Issues and inhibitions that confront practitioners when dealing with child protection in faith communities, includes interview with conference speaker Perdeep Gill

Essential child protection information


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