FGM: Council to do more to protect girls at risk

Hackney Town Hall

More than 3,000 young girls in Hackney are thought to be at risk of female genital mutilation and although the Council is helping lead the way in protecting them more work needs to be done, according to a report by the Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Commission.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) - the partial or total removal of the external genitalia - has been illegal in the UK since 1986, but it has only recently entered the national spotlight following a number of high-profile campaigns.

The practice, carried out by some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities, causes significant health problems, ranging from severe pain, emotional and psychological shock, to chronic infection, damage to the reproductive system, complications in sex, pregnancy and childbirth, and death.

The Commission talked to FGM survivors and campaigners during a one-day investigation based at Hackney Community Voluntary Services in February.

The Commission heard how the Council has been working with campaigners, clinicians, schools and police since July last year to develop a joint action plan around prevention, protection and supporting survivors.

Under this new plan, IT systems are being designed to record all cases of FGM; at-risk communities are being talked to; money is being invested in a consortium of local voluntary groups; and FGM is being included in PHSE classes in some schools.

The City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board (CHSCB) has also provided multi-agency training, produced a short film using local survivors and a faith leader to increase awareness of FGM and delivered training at primary schools and presentations for head teachers.

Chair of the commission during the investigation, Cllr Louisa Thomson, said: “This investigation was a way of increasing knowledge and understanding of what is taking place across the borough to tackle FGM in Hackney and learn how we can develop and coordinate further work with our partners.

“Hackney Council is helping lead the way in terms of how councils respond to FGM and whilst considerable progress has been made in the borough over the last year, the Commission did have concerns that new protocol had not been fully implemented yet and referrals to children’s social services had not been increasing despite the number of girls identified as potentially at risk.”

The Commission has now made seven key recommendations, which will be presented to the Council’s Cabinet next month. These include:

  • Stronger senior leadership to oversee the implementation of new protocol
  • Involvement of more survivors, men and faith leaders in future work
  • Creation of a directory of statutory support, specialist services and voluntary groups for all relevant professionals
  • Ensure clear guidance is in place for teachers and that training is given to primary schools
  • Increase in training for a wider-range of stakeholders
  • FGM to be made a priority, among others, in health and wellbeing funding
  • Consideration by the Council to provide ‘safe spaces’ for support groups

“We were incredibly moved to hear directly from survivors and were humbled by the bravery of those campaigning and working in this area,” said Cllr Thomson. “FGM is a serious form of child abuse, and we are determined to break the cycle of FGM within a generation. The roles of councils in eliminating it is critical.”

Around 70 women have been identified as having been subjected to FGM by maternity services in Homerton Hospital since May, and 245 since 2008

The commission heard from: clinicians and nurses from Homerton Hospital, the headteacher of Haggerston School, representatives from the Metropolitan Police and Children’s Social Care, as well as the Community Adviser from City and Hackney Safeguarding Board.

The commission also met campaigners and women living with FGM, and heard from the Christopher Winter Project about its whole-school pilots about FGM running in two Hackney primary schools.

The draft FGM strategy and action plan and the protocol between children’s social care and health is in its final stages of being developed.