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3.12 Safeguarding Guidance / Obligation for Caseworkers
This section describes the most common situation that you might encounter where you might be concerned about the safety of your client either through observation or by being informed by the client . In all the below situations, please follow the procedures in your organization’s Safeguarding Procedures. However, please remember that you always have a duty to inform the local authority Children’s Services if we consider a child is at risk and/or in need of protection.
In all cases where a child is thought to be at risk, you should try to discuss the concerns with a manager before the child leaves the premises, especially if you are unsure where they may be going afterwards.
Female genital mutilation (sometimes referred to as female circumcision) is practised predominantly amongst communities from sub- Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arab World, Malaysia and Indonesia. The most recent estimate from FORWARD (the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development) is that 20,000 girls are at risk in the UK, many in refugee communities.
The practice has its roots in cultural, moral and religious traditions (although there is, in fact, no direct link to any religious teachings) and failure to undergo the procedure can result in isolation for girls and women in their communities.
Nevertheless, as female genital mutilation involves extreme pain and trauma for the child and is a potentially life threatening procedure, it is an act of physical abuse likely to result in significant harm to the child. Its practice in the UK has been illegal since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it an offence for UK nationals/ permanent UK residents to carry out female genital mutilation abroad (as well as in the UK) and to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of female genital mutilation abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 was also introduced and made failing to protect a girl from FGM a criminal offence. It also introduced a mandatory reporting duty which requires regulated health and social care professionals and teachers to report ‘known’ cases of FGM in under 18s to the police. This came into force in October 2015. The first person to be convicted for this was sentenced to eleven years in prison in early 2019. Please see FGM practice guidance for additional information
If it comes to your attention or you have reasons to believe that a child/ young woman is about to undergo female genital mutilation, please discuss with your manager/ DSO and make a child protection referral to Children’s Social Care. They have a duty to investigate the risk to the girl as they would with any other allegation of abuse.
If you learn that a young woman has already undergone the procedure, particularly if this is quite recently, please discuss with your line manager/ DSO. It may well still be necessary to refer to Children’s Social Care or the GP so that they can assess the need of the child for follow-up medical services or perhaps appropriate counselling. Those responsible for this abuse would be charged with an offence.
Many of the asylum seekers we work with, adults and children, have been smuggled into the UK. ‘Trafficking’ however differs from smuggling in that, legally, it involves an element of exploitation and/or coercion or deception. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings has now been ratified in the UK and came into force in 2009, making trafficking a criminal offence. The police are responsible for making assessments of whether a person has been trafficked so if there is a need to report a suspected trafficking case, it should be done to the police and children’s services.
Trafficked children and their parents/ carers may have been told lies about what kind of life awaits the child in the UK, or parents may have been frightened or threatened into giving up their children to traffickers. Sometimes children are abducted or kidnapped and brought to the UK to be sexually exploited.
Most trafficked children will not come to the attention of your organizations. Their traffickers may be careful to keep them out of the reach of welfare or advice agencies and many never enter the asylum system.
However, in some cases traffickers will initially deliberately put people into the asylum system, before then transferring them to where they will be exploited, so we should always be aware of the possibility that any of the clients we see may be caught up in the world of trafficking and act accordingly.
- A child or young person attending our offices with an adult who is clearly not their parent or carer or a close relative (they may be unsure about the correct name of the adult, for example)
- A child saying that they are older than they look and/or dressed in a more ‘grown-up’ way than seems appropriate
- Confusion about nationality which might come to light, for example if a child cannot speak fluently the first language of their stated nationality
- A child who is visibly frightened by the adult he/she is with or by the prospect of returning to where they live.
- A child/ young person who has been engaged in sexual exploitation in another country before arrival to the UK. They may have young children of their own.
- Of course, the above may well be the result of several situations other than trafficking.
- If you have concerns that a child or young person may be the victim of trafficking, please discuss with your manager, and follow the set procedure to determine the most appropriate action to take. Try to talk to the child or young person on his/her own and ascertain if they are willing to wait in the offices until they can be taken to a place of safety. As in any of the above scenarios, they are likely to be extremely frightened.