The Home Office has published multi-agency practice guidelines (click here to see guidance) outlining the responsibility of each professional in protecting girls and women from FGM. Following consultation, these guidelines will become statutory in 2016. The guidelines clarify the responsibilities of local authorities to protect girls and women from FGM and provide information about relevant guidance and legislation. In particular, they clarify that:
FGM is not a matter that can be left to be decided by personal preference – it is illegal, extremely harmful and is child abuse. Social workers should not let fears of being branded ‘racist’ or ‘discriminatory’ weaken the protection that they give to vulnerable girls and women.
Local authorities have overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children and young people in their area. They have a number of statutory functions under the 1989 and 2004 Children Acts which make this clear, including specific duties in relation to children in need and children, suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, regardless of where they are found, under sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989. These duties are, in practice, discharged by local authorities’ children’s social care departments who, as part of their responsibilities, should work to prevent FGM taking place, and protect and offer support to any girls affected by the practice.
Local authorities are responsible for setting out clear arrangements for how cases will be managed once a child is referred into local authority children’s social care. The National FGM Centre can help local authorities meet their responsibilities by delivering specialist Social Care provision via delegated authority.