Urgent need for training on faith-based child abuse

Research by the Victoria Climbie Foundation highlights the need for professionals to access training on faith or belief-linked child abuse


Only one third of professionals and members of community and faith-based organisations are confident that they could identify indicators of faith or belief linked to child abuse, The Victoria Climbie Foundation has warned.

Although nearly two thirds of respondents were confident they could define child abuse linked to faith or belief, only one third were confident that they could identify indicators of this form of abuse, the study carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University with VCF and the and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service found.

Dr Lisa Oakley, research lead, said: “There are relatively small numbers of recorded cases and this could be due to underreporting and a lack of recognition of such cases. The respondents reported wide variety of definitions and understandings of child abuse linked to faith or belief – from witchcraft and spirit possession to female genital mutilation.”

In the UK, high profile cases such as 15-year-old Kristy Bamu who was tortured and murdered after being accused of witchcraft, and the murder of eight year old Victoria Climbié who was tortured by her guardians, have raised awareness of the need to develop child protection in this area.

The research found:

  • Just over half of respondents were confident that they would know how to respond professionally to faith or belief based child abuse
  • Only 25% had received training on this issue
  • Many had a limited experience working on abuse cases, limiting effective identification of incidents
  • Only 12% of respondents stated that they were familiar with the National Action Plan on the issue
  • 77% did not know if their Local Safeguarding Children’s Board included policy and procedure on this form of child abuse.

The results showed there was a clear call for specialised training in this area. Respondents stated that they had limited experience of working with child abuse linked to faith or belief, this could be argued to affect confidence levels and again emphasises the need for targeted training.

The results also highlight the need for frontline professionals to be properly prepared and equipped to respond and deal with cases.

Dr Lisa Oakley and Dr Kathryn Kinmond, Senior Lecturers in Abuse Studies and research leads, said that the study is extremely timely and important in providing a foundation on which to build more effective identification of abuse cases, policy and intervention.

Dr Kinmond said: “Professionals and faith communities are keen to engage with the issue of child abuse linked to faith or belief and recognise and work with child protection agencies to prevent it. This study shows that raising awareness of faith or belief linked child abuse is crucial.”

Understanding how to deal with faith or belief linked child abuse was seen as essential. There was a call for information on procedure to become more readily available. The results also illustrated the need for frontline professionals to be properly equipped.

Among respondents, there were multiple requests for a toolkit and resources that enable the early identification of this form of abuse and detail the effective response and intervention.

The survey questioned over 1,300 professionals including social workers, teachers and the police as well as members of community and faith-based organisations on their understanding of faith or belief linked child abuse specifically looking at their ability to identify instances of this type of abuse and their ability to respond and deal with cases professionally.

An Exploration of Knowledge about Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief

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