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FGM: social workers should not take on the role of the police

As the Home Office analyses the response to a consultation on Introducing mandatory reporting for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), BASW has warned against blurring the boundaries between social work and other agencies such as the police and health.

BASW Policy Manager Allan Norman said: “We need to be clear about the role and responsibility of social workers in regard to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We should not confuse an abhorrence of the act itself with stepping outside of social work’s boundaries.

“An unusual issue about FGM as child abuse is that it is, for each child, generally a one-off horrific act. Social work's child protection brief is to protect children from present or future harm, or in the words of the Children Act in England "is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm", not to punish parents for past harm.

“Punishing parents for past harm is the role of the criminal justice system, and if that is the role of reporting, it should be to the police. While there are implications for child protection work, FGM is a crime, and rightly so, and more prosecutions would send this message but be completely outside of the social work role.

“Social work, meanwhile, is concerned to prevent this harm, and to address any emotional harm or trauma associated with this harm. None of which would make social work the first port of call to receive reports. If there are post-traumatic issues, they could be referred by the police. If there are concerns for other siblings, so could they. If it is about public education and awareness raising, that is not going to be done through social work's caseloads.

“So social work ends with emergency intervention where an act can be prevented, and with support in other cases. That is not a good basis for social work to be the place to receive mandatory reporting referrals.

“We have to ask if the police would welcome receiving the mandatory referrals of what is, after all, a crime or suspected crime. My perception is the police are no more willing to be forced to investigate significant numbers of referrals made through risk-averse practice that rarely lead to conviction despite being highly intrusive. Why would social work want to take on an investigative role that increases our brief to police society and decreases our potential to provide support?

“We should not blur the divide between support for families, carried out with consent, and compulsory intervention where there is no consent. I fear mandatory reporting risks further blurring that boundary."