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Number of FGM concerns in children has more than doubled over past year

Council social work assessment figures published today show annual trends for the first time

Caroline White

Friday, 30 November 2018

The number of female genital mutilation (FGM) concerns in children in England has more than doubled over the past year, reveals an analysis of social work assessments published by the Local Government Association (LGA) today.

The assessments, which identified children as either having already been cut, or at risk of FGM, show that the increase is not just down to better detection rates and that FGM remains an ongoing national concern, says the LGA.

The figures also show that abuse of children, based on faith or belief, including witchcraft and spirit possession has risen by 12 per cent from 1630 cases in 2016-17 to 1970 cases in 2017-18, with councils dealing with more than 30 such cases a week.

The National FGM Centre, a joint initiative between the LGA and children’s charity Barnardo’s, which provides services for children and their families affected by FGM, describes the figures as “alarming” and probably not indicative of the true prevalence of this “hidden” crime.

And children’s services are under pressure, says the LGA. Social workers are starting new “episode of need” cases for more than 1000 children every day, more than half of which are for reasons of abuse or neglect.

In the Autumn Budget, the chancellor announced an extra £410 million for adult and children’s social care in 2019-20, with a further £85 million over five years to expand children’s social care programmes in 20 areas.

While councils were pleased to receive any extra funding, the LGA says this doesn’t go far enough to plug the £3 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2025 just to keep services running at current levels.

Counsellor Anita Lower, the LGA’s lead on FGM and chair of the National FGM Centre’s Advisory Board, said: “These figures show the worrying prevalence of FGM which is ruining lives and destroying communities. Social workers have become better at identifying the signs of FGM, but as this crime is under-reported, the true incidence rate of FGM is likely to be higher.

“At a time when they should be preparing for adult life and enjoying being young, no girl or young woman should be subject to the horrors of genital mutilation which is child abuse and cannot be justified for any reason.”

She added: “This is why councils are determined to tackle the practice of FGM and work alongside police, the NHS, and charities to make sure we do all we can to protect and support women and girls.

“To maximise the effectiveness of this prevention and intervention work, children’s services departments need further funding to address the scale of demand for help from children and their families.”

Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, said: “Whilst we are making progress in tackling FGM, these alarming statistics show it is still being practised in communities across England. Even more concerning is that these figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg because many cases of FGM go undetected.”

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