Many practitioners are unclear about an imminent new duty to report cases of female genital mutilation, according to a survey from Barnardo’s.
More than half of 340 social care, education and healthcare professionals surveyed online said they needed more information about the duty, and 17 per cent said they did not understand the duty at all.
The mandatory duty on professionals to report girls to the police will apply in cases where FGM is known to have occurred, either if it has been visually confirmed or revealed by a girl affected.
However, seven in 10 of those who said they understood the reporting requirements “very well” wrongly thought that the duty also covered girls at risk of FGM.
A third of those surveyed were unsure where a woman or girl should go for support and advice.
Speaking at a session on FGM at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, Jon Rouse, director general of social care, local government and care partnerships in the Department of Health, said the duty would be introduced “very soon”.
He said the government would also publish general guidance around the duty and it would be up to individual sectors to “interpret” it to aid practitioners.
Speaking to Community Care, he said there was “still a lot of work to do to raise awareness” of the duty. This would be done by working with professional bodies and unions as well as through local partnerships.
From early 2016 children’s social services will also be able to access a risk indication system where clinicians can flag up concerns on a girl’s electronic health record that she could be at risk of FGM.
“We will stay in close contact with the national data guardian to ensure that information is being shared in a safe and appropriate way,” Rouse said.
Working with men
Other contributors to the morning session highlighted the importance of attempting to stop FGM by working with men as well as women and girls, due to the influence over cultural and religious practice men had in some communities.
Discussions also addressed concerns that the duty could introduce an “unintended bias” among professionals working with communities where FGM was more prevalent.
Rouse shared figures showing that 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales had been affected by FGM, with 60,000 born to mothers who had undergone FGM.
There were 1,036 newly recorded cases of FGM in England from April to June this year, and nine of those identified were aged under 18.
The National FGM Centre, run by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, will host the first conference on mandatory reporting of FGM, on 20 October.
Celia Jeffreys, head of the National FGM Centre, said: “Every professional who works with children needs to know about FGM, so girls can be protected from this very harmful practice.
“But there is still a lot of confusion in the sector. Many have not had training or the support to know what the new duty means for them or how to protect and support girls.
“We are committed to fill this gap and will provide resources and training to professionals to know exactly what to do when presented with FGM.”