A comprehensive cross-agency strategy has already been put in place to speed-up the identification of cases by local agencies and deal with the perpetrators, as well as to help prevent cases happening in the first place. Prevention depends on Local Authorities having strong links with new communities.
These measures complement work already ongoing across the Government and by the police to safeguard children from abuse. These include using specialist police investigators, arrangements at ports to help identify and look after vulnerable children travelling into the country and new instructions from the DFES spelling out to local agencies how to better identify cases and making clear what they should do to ensure that the children concerned are safeguarded. A new project funded by the Government will also intensify efforts to tackle the problem in London.
A new report – Child abuse linked to accusations of “possession” or “witchcraft” – is published today. This provides a review of cases already known to the relevant authorities and was commissioned by the Government to look at the extent of the problem.
It is clear from the report that beliefs in “possession” and “witchcraft” have been a hidden problem in some parts of our society. We must act to ensure that society – including Government and everyone who works with children – actively roots out the problem and tackles it effectively.
The report states ‘the number of cases of child abuse linked to accusations of “possession” and “witchcraft” are small compared to the total number of children abused each year’ but that the nature of the cases is disturbing.
Children and Families Minister, Beverley Hughes said:
“Abuse linked with a belief in “witchcraft” will not be tolerated. While thankfully the number of cases is relatively small, the abuse children suffer in such cases is truly horrific.
“Child abuse can never be acceptable in any culture, any community, in any circumstance. We have already stepped up action to identify more easily and quickly those children at risk of abuse linked to belief in “possession” or “witchcraft” and help prevent it happening in the first place.
“It is a complex issue which must be tackled at local level through joint work between children’s services, police, community, and faith organisations.
“We asked for this research to be clear about how big the problem is. While the report states that the number of cases of child abuse linked to accusations of “possession” and “witchcraft” are small, they are very disturbing that’s why all agencies must do everything they can to tackle the issue.
“We have accepted the recommendations of the report and have already put in place a comprehensive cross-agency strategy to tackle this type of child abuse. The Met police have been working closely with local communities and training-up police, pastors and child care professionals on the issues. The Immigration Service has introduced a range of measures to safeguard children, for example training staff to identify a child who may be at risk and what action should then be taken. And we have made sure that every local authority has in place a Local Safeguarding Children Board to champion the welfare of children, including those children at risk from abuse linked to belief in “possession” or “witchcraft”.”
Detective Superintendent Chris Bourlet, in charge of Project Violet, commented on the report:
“We are working in partnership with communities to prevent ritual child abuse so that we can better understand and provide support. This report provides useful context and we welcome the call for better information collation.
“The number of cases we are aware of is very small in comparison to other areas of child abuse we investigate but we recognise the disproportionate impact these have on the individuals and communities they affect. We are taking all possible opportunities to prevent abuse occurring by building trust and engagement between communities and professionals. However where we identify criminal offences these will be taken extremely seriously and a full police investigation will be pursued.”
The Met police have also trained other forces around the country, and have forged closer links with London communities through Project Violet, including: working in partnership with the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service to provide child protection training to over 230 Pastors; setting up a witness support line; and advising specially trained child abuse investigators in the issues surrounding this type of abuse.
The Home Office has implemented a number of measures to improve the identification of children in need arriving from abroad. These include the development of specially trained teams of immigration officers at ports who will refer their concerns to the police and social services; more thorough checks on unaccompanied children entering the country, and work with airlines to highlight their awareness of the vulnerability of some children travelling to the UK.
The DfES has toughened the safeguarding system by making it statutory for local authorities to set up Local Safeguarding Children Boards and by instructing them to secure the involvement in their work of relevant local organisations, including faith groups. They will also help us to get a clearer picture about this type of abuse through a new data collection exercise.
Our new Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance on inter-agency working will be backed up and reinforced by specific good practice guidelines which will ensure that agencies are clear as to how to identify this type of abuse and what to do to safeguard the children concerned.
We have already provided funding for a Community Partnership Project, which will be led by the London Child Protection Committee and will encourage close collaboration between statutory agencies, community organisations and faith groups so that they can use their influence to stop custom and ritual related practices, which are harmful to children.