That the Scrutiny Commission approves the current plan to work collaboratively with the communities affected by FGM.
Officers Presenting Report : Anne Farmer and Ann James
Anne Farmer (Service Manager, Care and Support - Children and Families), Bristol City Council delivered a presentation.
Anne Farmer chairs the FGM safeguarding and delivery group, which oversees the
development of knowledge, training and services amongst professionals and communities to raise awareness and tackle the practice of FGM.
The following are some of the key discussion points:
• Anne Farmer took over the group in October 2017 and there were issues of practice that needed reviewing, in order to move the agenda of tackling FGM forward
• A need to change practice and do things differently was identified, including join up datasets. The data sets which record FGM are either the Health based or individual LA data sets. They record different information.
• Many of the families referred to Children’s services by schools were done so via ‘static risk factors’, not necessarily caused by FGM.
• A new assessment tool (risk assessment) has been developed which is more sophisticated than previous tools, including written agreements which are no longer used. The risk assessment tool helps understand additional factors and provides increased confidence for professionals.
• There is now a group of social workers who have become specialised and have expertise regarding FGM, and will be able to officer advice to colleagues.
• Referrals to children’s services dropped significantly. This reduction shows more proportionate intervention, although there needs to be more analysis of reasons, so as to ensure girls and young woman are properly protected.
• The work in Bristol is nationally recognized by Central Government and has been viewed as a model of good practice.
Layla Ishmael (Refugee Women of Bristol) delivered a presentation from the perspective of the African communities.
The following are some of the key discussion points:
• The overwhelming feedback from women is they felt unsupported.
• Refugee Woman of Bristol worked with African communities and Forward.
• 500 women being supported by Refugee woman of Bristol. Forward project lost funding but still needed to support them.
• After the criminal case collapsed women reported feeling vulnerable and being attacked on social media.
• Research shows that there are low rates of trust between local communities and professionals.
• FGM community programme to take action to stop FGM and enable community to have a voice and to be listened to. Woman are coached and trained for leadership, and provided with 1:1 support, advocacy; direct engaging in schools, and workshops delivered locally.
Cabinet Member welcomed response the Council has made. There are community members who report feeling vilified due to perceptions and policies relating to FGM. The change of approach is among other things a good recognition that FGM is not only an issue for Somalian community. Thanks to officers and wider engagement, more groups have been meeting. FGM policy is funding via Safer Bristol – this needs to be reviewed.
A Member stated that there is an understanding of safeguarding and of institutional racism, although there is less an understanding of how these relate; and so it should be recognised that institutional racism can affect statutory working. The FGM safeguarding and delivery group membership should be wider and more diverse, including gender and race.
• One of the Group’s main objectives is to raise awareness of FGM. The challenges are wider than this, including statutory responsibilities (mandatory reporting) and multi-agency working (getting partners on board and sharing information).
The Chair asked what help is available from religious leaders to explain FGM is not a religious practice.
Officer and Layla Ismael response:
• FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is working with 500 mosques. People have different understandings which can produce some confusion. This is part of the raising awareness and education process.
A Member commented that schools, within the context of safeguarding duties, need to be supported to include FGM in pupils and teachers learning; and how primary schools can safely and appropriately include FGM.
A Member asked if women are put off accessing services, including GPs, due to concerns about disclosure or being asked questions, or perceptions about FGM.
• There isn’t evidence of this occurring. Layla Ismael stated that she has not heard of anyone withholding information from a GP.
• There are challenging conversations in schools.
A Member asked whether the significant reduction in referrals means that there is a risk that some girls and young women are being missed and not protected.
• One of the reasons for the significant reduction is due to how the data is now recorded. Some of process changes will give us opportunity to have more accurate data going forward. Out of the previously high amount of referrals, most of these did not progress and did not need intervention.
The Chair asked if, due to the focus on Somali community and upset caused, is there a risk that we are missing girls and young women at risk within other communities across Bristol.
• The FGM Delivery group includes representatives from across wider African communities.
The Chair asked why, within the Declaration on the Group’s Terms of Reference, the signatories have stated ‘Female Genital Mutilation is not a religious requirement. Causing harm and distress is not condoned by our faith’ , suggesting there is only one faith across communities who have interest in the group. Is this appropriate as FGM is not linked to any faith.
• Somali community is a large community group, and it is the biggest group out of all African groups. There are example of Christian groups who said that they felt ignored. This will be reviewed.
The Chair thanked Layla Ismael for attending and for her good work.
ACTION: Officer to circulate link to the information about the work undertaken into tackling violence against women which includes FGM
ACTION: Officer to review the Declaration on the Terms of Reference