If you thought a young patient was at risk of FGM, where would you turn for advice on what to do next? Here John Cameron, Head of Helplines at the NSPCC, offers health professionals a dedicated 24 hour helpline.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a highly complex form of abuse. I’m sure, like me, you find it unfathomable that any parent would subject their daughter to such a violent practice, which has life-long physical and emotional repercussions. What we can fail to understand is that the parents who are subjecting their children to FGM think they are doing it for the right reasons – when they are actually making a mistake.
FGM is a cultural ritual in some communities in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt where it is believed that not to have a child ‘cut’ would harm their prospects of marriage and could even make them a bad parent. It is also a gender inequality issue and an attempt by men to control women within the small communities in which it is practiced.
Fulfilling your duty to report FGM
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 [PDF] but as yet no one has been found guilty in court. In England and Wales, it will soon be mandatory for frontline professionals, such as doctors, to report FGM of girls who are under 18. The government believes this will give professionals increased confidence to report disclosures of FGM.
In England and Wales, it will soon be mandatory for doctors to report FGM of girls who are under 18.
We know from our work at the NSPCC that the issue of FGM often poses a dilemma for health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and midwives. There are often no other child protection concerns within the family and a professional often debates whether to report what’s happened given that they think the harm has already been done.
When people come across a young person or adult they are concerned about they often have questions about what to do next and how best to support women and girls who have been subjected to FGM. To help with this we set up the NSPCC FGM helpline (0800 028 3550), which offers help and advice to concerned parents and professionals.
Seeking advice from the specialists
Our trained practitioners can be contacted for free, anonymously, 24 hours a day with any questions concerning FGM however big or small. Whether you want to report a case or are concerned about a child who is potentially going to be subjected to FGM – we can help. We can also talk through your concerns about what action is in the best interest of the child and family.
Recently our helpline staff received training, supported by the Department of Health, from FGM specialist midwives and we now provide an enhanced service for NHS staff to discuss any questions or concerns they have and what action to take.
Since launching at the end of June 2013, our FGM helpline has received nearly 900 contacts from the public and professionals. Over 300 have been so serious they have been referred to children’s services and the police.
Our FGM helpline has received nearly 900 contacts from the public and professionals. Over 300 have been referred to children’s services and the police.
One call involved a doctor who called anonymously with a concern about a patient. The patient’s father was preparing for his daughter to visit Somalia, but wouldn’t give the doctor any details about why she was going there. The patient and family’s details were passed on to local children’s services to follow up.
Taking the right steps to help those affected
At the NSPCC we believe that any parent who has allowed FGM to happen to their child needs their beliefs challenged and to be brought to account for their actions. FGM is traumatic for every victim and it is essential we provide psychological support for the women and girls who have gone through it. We must also ensure any further risks to children within the same family are identified.
If you think someone may be at risk of FGM and you need advice or want to report a concern please contact our FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – you can remain anonymous if you wish.
Alternatively, if you know a child who is concerned about FGM please encourage them to call ChildLine on 0800 1111 at any time.
Find out what advice the GMC gives and how others can support you in this area on our FGM resource page.
John Cameron is Head of Helplines at the NSPCC.
Dr Sharon Raymond deals with the challenges of managing children and young women who present with FGM
Deborah Bowman , Professor of Bioethics, Clinical Ethics and Medical Law, on ethical practice in medicine