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Voices of the Community: exploring attitudes towards physical chastisment among African communities in Greater Manchester

An AFRUCA Community Research Project

• There is a growing number of children from African communities being referred into child protection systems under the category of physical abuse. From our experience, this is not just across Greater Manchester but seems to be a national trend in areas with a growing numbers of African families..

• Most African parents love their children and want the best outcomes for them. The use of physical chastisement to instil discipline in children is regarded as both a cultural and religious child-rearing practice to build moral values, strong character and respect for others. For most parents, this is how they were raised as children back home in Africa. However, within the context of UK laws, this practice can unwittingly lead to children being abused and harmed.

• Parents recognise the long and short term harm to children posed by physical chastisement, which overrides any usefulness or benefits of this form of parenting. This requires that parents are supported to gain and employ new tools to enable them to achieve the above outcomes without breaking the law or putting children at risk of harm.

• The principles of “reasonable chastisement” as enshrined in Section 58 of the Children Act of 2004 is ambiguous and subjective. Many parents report being confused in relation to what they can or cannot do under this legislation. Non-contact physical chastisement like stress positions harm children but theoretically do not fit the definition of reasonable chastisement. There are a number of grey areas which can lead to a lack of effective protection for children in ethnic communities, including African communities.

• There is a lot of pressure on African women on whom the bulk of child upbringing depends, with little or no support from partners and agencies. Women caught up in domestic violence situations are especially vulnerable, and can unwittingly put their children at risk of harm as a result of their own emotions and experiences.

• Some parents feel alienated by schools, especially when there is limited language capacity to communicate effectively. This prevents an effective joint-working by both schools and parents to intervene as early as possible when issues occur, which can lead to parents taking extreme measures in the home to address the situation.

• Some parents feel that their language difficulties prevent them from effective communication with their children, leading to physical chastisement as a key mode of communicating with them.

• Some cases of physical chastisement might have other underlying causes including domestic violence and the branding of children as witches. It is possible that a lack of cultural understanding by practitioners means such cases are misdiagnosed or are totally missed.

• There is a strong role for faith organisations to become strong channels of support for parents to better understand religious concepts about child discipline and provide opportunities for training on child protection for faith workers and members of the congregation

• The impact of physical chastisement on children is well recognised by most participants. Many participants also have strong ideas of alternative tools to use in place of beating or smacking. The challenge for agencies is how to work closely with parents to help change behaviour in the best interests of children.

• Local authority child protection workers in areas with a high proportion or a growing number of ethnic communities need to improve their capacities to intervene successfully in families by gaining new skills in cultural intelligence.