For the past 8 years I have been delivering training sessions on ‘Safeguarding Children’ and ‘Harmful Practices’ to BAMER community, faith groups and supplementary schools in Camden. These sessions are delivered as part of the Community Partnership Project, funded by Camden Council’s Children Safeguarding Board. The project has been running since 2007 to address issues of child safeguarding amongst Camden BAMER communities.
In this time I have met a variety of people, mainly older women, attending these sessions in groups, many of whom are initially wary of Social Services and the Police and their role in protecting children in the community. But recently a young couple with their baby attended my session. It was the first time I have ever seen a young couple attend one of my sessions.
They were part of a group of local BAMER parents who organised the training for themselves and had asked a local Primary School for a space to deliver it. I was pleased to acknowledge that all efforts to hold the session and invite me to facilitate had come through word-of-mouth. But, conversely, I have come to learn that messages passed through word-of-mouth can have far more catastrophic consequences when myth and stereotyping is passed unchallenged between communities, including the myth that Social Services is only good to remove children from their families.
This young couple were new to the country and along their journey to the UK had acquired a firm mistrust of Social Services. In their view, the power of Social Services to take away children from BAMER families correlated to punishing parents because of their ‘alien culture’ in upbringing BAMER kids in the UK.
Despite their preconceptions, this couple were actively engaged in the session. In all my experience of delivering sensitive sessions of this sort the couple genuinely raised more questions than any other participant has or would dare to ask about ‘Harmful Practices’ such as FGM, Honour Based Violence and radicalization vis a vis the law of the land.
During the session there was a specific exercise I conducted with the group on why Social Services or the Met Police may intervene behind family walls. I drew a job advert for the post of a ‘good parent’ and asked the group to look out for all required skills and qualifications for any successful ‘parent’ job applicant.
Dispelling the Myth
The couple then probed this further with the group and after more discussion the group acknowledged that sometimes parents may in fact lack the required skills of being good parents and that some parents who believe themselves to be devoted and caring parents can find this difficult to swallow. This led to the recognition that sometimes parents may call for further support on how to be a good parent. By comparing the good parenting qualities with inadequate or inexistent parenting skills the group agreed that intervention by the local authorities was sometimes necessary where parental skill was lacking.
They recognised that Social Services or the Met Police may intervene in certain situations because of a concern around the lack of parental skills that would usually manifest in children being abused or neglected.
This in itself helped demystify why the Local Authority is invested with the role of taking care of children, which sometimes would require the removal of children from families. The perception that all kids, including their own were subject to British law made clear that no matter the ethnicity, culture or creed, children are equally protected from ‘harm’ within family walls or outside.
What stood out about this session, even with the firm held views of the couple at the outset, was the willingness and eagerness of the young couple to open up and learn about UK laws on child safeguarding and to use this to challenge and dispel the myths and mistrust of the roles of statutory child service providers that are passed unabated between community members.
It made me realise how vital young people are in tackling generational and cultural attitudes towards child safeguarding issues and in particular of harmful practices, and in spreading these messages further within communities through word-of-mouth.
Sessions like this are one of the many reasons why the Community Partnership Project is such an important bridge between communities and statutory bodies in helping organisations work better together (particularly statutory bodies, local community organisations and faith communities), and in supporting communities to be aware and responsive to child protection issues and procedures and building knowledge in areas of violence to children that affect particular communities e.g. honour violence; forced marriage, abuses linked to belief and female genital mutilation.
To find out more about the project or if you would like VAC to deliver a session for your community or group, please get in touch with:
Community Partnership Advisor, Voluntary Action Camden
Project website: https://vac.org.uk/projects/safeguarding-children/