Local safeguarding boards should map all churches which operate in their area as a means of combating the child abuse associated with some witchcraft and spirit possession beliefs according to a report from Trust for London.
Researchers from the Centre for Social Work Research evaluated the work of agencies funded by the Trust for London, such as the Victoria Climbié Foundation, the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, the Congolese Family Centre and African’s Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA).
It concluded there were many small African churches and faith community groups of which local authorities were not aware. It was often in these that parents were most vulnerable to those faith leaders attempting to exploit a belief in spirit possession.
“Statutory and independent funders and commissioners should support community-led activities to promote understanding of child development and child protection, especially among newer communities. Funding is critical for community organisations which act as alternative sources of support for new migrant communities affected by poverty,” the report stated.
The report also found that other faith leaders had the most success in engaging such churches in child protection. “Faith leaders have a pivotal role to play in developing children’s rights within African communities. A shared faith has been very valuable in engaging these leaders – cutting across ethnic and national boundaries.”
These approaches should be accompanied by the offer of an ongoing programme of traning and education for African faith leaders about child development, children’s rights and UK child protection law.
Current child protection assessment methods were the most appropriate way to investigate possible abuse resulting from such beliefs although social workers should have a better understanding in the belief of spirit possession, the authors added.
“Training ensures knowledge, rather than partial knowledge or misinformation, which usually increases anxiety in professionals and inappropriate responses. The focus should therefore be to increase knowledge and include this within assessments. There is a strong demand for knowledge of these contexts from frontline workers as evidenced in the take up of training courses [offered by the agencies funded].”
Interestingly the report found that using discussions about “human rights” or the rights of the child was often the most effective method of engaging parents and communities. “There are tensions between children’s and parents rights in all communities. Parents present conflicted states about notions of parent rights and require containment of their distress and confusion. These disucssions involve generating discussion about child protection, understanding UK laws and allowing debate to follow.” Often parents were then more open to talking about witchcraft and spirit possession than if they were used in the first approach, the report found.
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