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New Statutory Guidance on Female Genital Mutilation - What You Need to Know

on Monday, 20 June 2016.

In April 2016, the Home Office published new statutory guidance on female genital mutilation (FGM) replacing Female Genital Mutilation: Guidelines to protect children and women (2014).

The guidance applies to proprietors of independent schools and governing bodies of maintained schools and colleges (amongst others) and is intended to provide information, strategic guidance and advice and support to front-line professionals on FGM.

Principles Supporting the Guidance

The guidance is clear that cases of FGM 'should be dealt with as part of existing structures, policies and procedures on child protection and adult safeguarding'. In relation to identifying and responding to those at risk of, or who have undergone FGM, and their parent(s) or guardians, the guidance states that 'accessible, high quality and sensitive health, education, police, social care and voluntary sector services must underpin all interventions' and 'all decisions or plans should be based on high quality assessments'.

FGM Mandatory Reporting Duty

Section 5B of the 2003 Act imposes a mandatory reporting duty on all regulated professionals working within health and social care as well as teachers in England and Wales to notify the police of FGM where, in the course of their professional duties, they either:

  • are informed by a girl under 18 that an act of FGM has been carried out on her
  • observe physical signs on a girl under 18 which appear to show that an act of FGM has been carried out on her, and they have no reason to believe that the act was necessary for the girl's physical or mental health or for purposes connected with labour or birth

The duty came into force from 31 October 2015 and applies to qualified teachers or persons who are employed or engaged to carry out teaching work in schools and other institutions. Reports under the duty should be made as soon as possible after a case is discovered. The guidance contains further detail on timeframes for reporting in exceptional circumstances.

The guidance states that cases of failure to comply with the duty should be dealt with in accordance with the existing performance procedures in place for each professional. FGM is child abuse and employers and the professional regulators are expected to pay due regard to the seriousness of breaches of the duty.

The guidance also notes that whilst the duty is limited to specified professionals, non-regulated practitioners still have a general responsibility to report cases of FGM in line with wider safeguarding frameworks. If a non-regulated professional becomes aware that FGM has been carried out on a girl under 18, they should still share this information with their local safeguarding lead and follow their organisation's safeguarding procedures.

Additional Considerations

The guidance contains a section on 'Additional Considerations for Schools, Colleges and Universities' which provides suggestions on how to raise awareness of FGM within schools and what to do if a student stops attending school.

Department for Health Guidance for Professionals

On 25 May 2016, the Department for Health published separate guidance intended to support an NHS organisation when developing or reviewing their safeguarding policies and procedures around FGM. This guidance can however also be used by health professionals from all sectors and makes specific reference to the responsibility of the school nurse to inform the GP of a family history of FGM where they identify that there is or are sisters of a girl with FGM.

What should you be doing now?

As FGM is a safeguarding issue, schools must be able to demonstrate compliance with the statutory guidance at inspection. As a minimum therefore, schools should:

  • Update existing safeguarding and child protection policies to refer to this updated multi-agency statutory guidance and remove any references to the former guidelines. The Department of Health guidance may be referred to in a school's child protection policy, although this is not mandatory.
  • Ensure that the school's designated safeguarding lead is booked to attend FGM training and that staff are in turn given training on FGM that includes an overview of FGM, the law on FGM and child protection, the potential consequences of FGM, what procedures to follow where FGM is suspected or has been performed, the role of different professionals and the importance of multi-agency working. E-learning is available for all professionals and can be accessed via the Home office website.

For more information, please contact Tracey Eldridge-Hinmers in our Independent Schools team on 020 7665 0802.

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