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BASW: Witchcraft abuse action plan positive, but must be backed by more training for social workers

BASW has welcomed moves to empower social workers and other professionals to confront cases of “witchcraft abuse”, following the publication of the government’s national action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief.

The guidance was prompted by a number of high profile child abuse cases involving beliefs in witchcraft and children being possessed by evil spirits, including that of 15 year old Kristy Bamu, who was tortured and murdered by his sister and her partner.

However, despite comments by government minister Tim Loughton that the problem is rooted in a “politically correct” fear of upsetting BME communities, BASW believes the chief issue is a lack of awareness amongst professionals that the problem of witchcraft exists – meaning that the true extent of the scale of abuse is unclear.

Commenting on the action plan’s publication, BASW professional officer Sue Kent said: “This is an extremely difficult area of child abuse for social workers and other professionals to deal with, and we are pleased to see the government taking positive steps to tackle such ritual abuse. However, the constant ministerial refrain about political correctness is misleading, when what is really required is more understanding of this subject.

“Social workers often cry out for further training in cultural differences, particularly ritual abuse, and it is hoped with this announcement that resources will be offered to assist in their professional development to help identify and protect such vulnerable children.

“These children are often kept behind closed doors with little interaction from anyone outside of the household. The police, health and education must share responsibility with social workers in identifying and protecting children deemed to be ‘witches’ by so-called carers.”

The broad thrust of the new guidance, empowering professionals to act, won support from the police, as well as social workers. Detective Superintendent Terry Sharpe of the Metropolitan Police, who led the Kristy Bamu murder investigation, told the Daily Telegraph: “It might be very difficult for the children themselves to come forward or, if it is a rogue pastor scenario, for people to report their religious leaders. Our big push has been to empower the professionals: social workers or others, to raise awareness of the signs.”

Practical steps suggested in the action plan to “ensure that all social workers develop greater understanding of culture and faith safeguarding issues” include encouraging education providers to raise understanding of this issue within initial training.

The action plan can be read in full here