5.24 Practice Guidance for the Effective Safeguarding of Children from Minority Ethnic, Cultural and Faith Communities, Groups and Families

Professionals should respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and other diversity factors “in a manner that recognises, affirms and values the worth of individuals, families and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each” (NASW, 2016)

It is crucial for professionals to work from culturally competent perspectives, particularly where a safeguarding assessment is required. “Cultural competence helps sort out which aspects of the family’s difficulties are ‘cultural’, which are neglectful, and which are a combination of factors.” (Korbin and Spillsbury: 1999 in Stevenson (2007).

‘Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children’ is defined as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment.
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health or development.
  • Ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
  • Enabling children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.

1. Purpose of this guidance and intended audience

This guidance has been developed to support clear insight and effective action to protect and promote the welfare of diverse ethnic minority children, young people, and their families – who may have distinctly different lived experiences because of their faith, culture, nationality, or recent history of having moved to live in Norfolk from abroad (including asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conflict or persecution).

This guidance is for use by all professionals (managers, staff, and volunteers) who have contact with children and young people living in families from diverse ethnic backgrounds, who all have responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting their welfare.

Dealing with the variety of needs that diverse ethnic minority children and young people in Norfolk may have, is best achieved by professionals understanding the underlying principles of good practice, showing professional curiosity, and developing the expertise and confidence to apply these principles consistently.  Professionals should act with knowledge, information and understanding of a child’s/young person’s specific circumstances, including their family’s culture and faith and their relationship with the local community and wider UK society.

This guidance is intended to help professionals apply these principles to all children fairly and equitably regardless of race, ethnicity and or cultural background.

2. Who do we mean by diverse ethnic minority children, young people, and families in Norfolk?

Norfolk has a significant ethnic minority population, including people of diverse faiths and beliefs. The 2018 Norfolk School Census identified that over 15% of primary school pupils were from ethnic minority groups.  This population is not a homogenous group. Black, Asian, Arabic people and other diverse ethnic minority people in Norfolk have distinctly different lived experiences and outcomes with respect employment, health & wellbeing and accessing services, although they may share experiences of racism, discrimination, and prejudice.

For many years, Norfolk has been a destination for migrant workers and their families. Some come to Norfolk to work on a short-term basis or seasonally while others have chosen to settle for the long-term.  There are believed around 58,000 non-UK nationals residing in Norfolk and 80 different languages are spoken. The most requested languages for interpreting are Arabic, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese and Kurdish-Sorani.

Norfolk continues to be a resettlement area for refugees, including unaccompanied children and young people, and has welcomed Kurdish, Syrian, Afghanistan, and most recently, Ukrainian refugees, all fleeing persecution and international conflict.

Norfolk has a sizeable population of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people (over 2500 people), some of whom live permanently in caravans/static homes on one of the 5 authorised Traveller sites across Norfolk, while others live in owned or rented houses, or pass through the county using temporary stopping places.

While Christianity remains the majority faith in Norfolk, numbers of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims have increased. All the major faith communities have established places of worship and community networks across the county.

The term “ethnic minority” refers to people from all ethnic groups, except people who would self-classify as being white-British. Ethnic minorities include groups such as Irish Travellers or people from Eastern Europe.   We no longer use the term “BAME” or “non-white” to describe people in accordance with the latest government guidance. This is because these classifications do not capture the diversity of ethnic groups; they are often used inconsistently; and these terms do not recognise the distinctly different lived experiences and/or cultures of people from diverse ethnic minority groups.

3. Understanding Faith & Culture

It is important to consider that people within different ethnic minority groups may have different nationalities and different cultures, faiths, and beliefs. Ethnic minority people may have recently come to the UK to live and work, or they may have been born in the UK and have a long history of living in the UK.

Culture can be understood as the social heritage of a group, organised community, or society. It is a pattern of responses developed during the group’s history which arise from interactions among its members, and between them and their environment. These responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think, and act, and are passed down to new members of the group through teaching and immersion.

Culture determines what a group believes is acceptable or unacceptable, important, or unimportant, right, or wrong, workable, or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit, or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behaviour, dress, and language.

Cultures change, reflecting a group’s responses to new experiences between each other and between them and their environment. This can take time because changes become embedded only through being passed on to new generations.

Cultural identity is not necessarily defined by ethnicity alone. People may identify themselves as British in some circumstances and as part of a particular culture (e.g., Gypsy/Roma, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) in other circumstances. They may also identify with more than one culture. Cultural identity is an important contributor to people’s wellbeing. Identifying with a particular culture helps people feel they belong and gives them a sense of security.

Parents and their children may have a different appearance and culture to each other, e.g., a single mother whose child has inherited their father’s appearance (and as a young person chooses their father’s culture). Having two cultural identities is common among the second and third generations and people may switch between identities in different contexts.

Faith is a belief system which forms attitudes and behaviours and may inform identity over time. It can be understood as ‘spirituality’ – defined as searching for purpose, meaning and morality, which can often, but not always, be expressed as a ‘religion’ – which may include regular public worship such as church attendance.

Faith very often underpins culture. However, people from different cultures can have a strong allegiance through the same faith.

4. A checklist of potential barriers experienced by ethnically diverse children, young people, and families

The following list is relevant in Norfolk, because of local Serious Case Reviews, Safeguarding Practice Reviews and Domestic Homicide Reviews which have involved and affected people from different ethnic minority groups. The learning from these reviews has demonstrated that professionals have not always got their approach right.

It should be noted that this list does not necessarily apply to everyone from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds groups and the list is not exhaustive. Professional judgement should always be applied to take account of individual circumstances as there may be additional factors in play which will need to be considered when making assessments.

Professionals should take account that the parent/carer/other adults in the family:

  • May be unable to, or lack confidence in speaking, reading and/or writing fluent English, and may struggle to access basic services, find legitimate employment, arrange suitable childcare, register with a GP/health provider, get support with an asylum claim, understand the law, talk to the school about their child’s progress/difficulties, call social services, or the police, if necessary, e.g., for help with domestic violence.
  • May lack trust and confidence in authorities, possibly because of previous experiences and/ or cultural understanding of state interventions, so they may not be willing to engage with or struggle to build positive relationships with professionals.
  • May feel socially isolated without an established community or family network and may have additional challenges coping with the stresses of child rearing and the tensions and emergencies of everyday living.
  • May live in insecure housing and/or have a history of transient living, e.g., B&B, and therefore feels unsettled, moving at irregular intervals to new and unfamiliar areas, and face challenges building a supportive social network.
  • May be living below the poverty line and unaware of the support systems on offer, e.g., foodbanks, and how to navigate the systems to claim allowances, vouchers, etc.
  • May be living in a community, where there is a tolerance for practices that present indisputable safeguarding issues including domestic abuse, sexual abuse/rape, repudiating female genital mutilation or spirit possession, or honour-based violence; and may not feel safe to speak out as a victim or recognise legislation as a perpetrator.
  • May put a very high value on preserving family honour which could result in putting their child at risk of harm rather than ‘exposing the family to shame’ in their community?
  • May have a perspective on parenting practices underpinned by culture or faith which are not in line with UK law and may put their child at risk of harm through e.g., leaving young children at home alone, exercising robust physical punishment or forcing a child into marriage.
  • May consider faith or community leaders and/or male figures as all powerful and may put their child at risk of harm rather than questioning the leader or speaking out as a female therefore creating a code of silence.
  • May have experienced racism or discrimination which has left them feeling isolated and more vulnerable to grooming, for example, radicalisation, criminal or sexual exploitation.

Professionals should take account that the child or young person:

  • May be a cultural broker’, due to their parent/carer’s lack of fluency in English or because they do not understand UK societal norms and laws. This may mean they are heavily dependent on their children’s assistance to navigate systems, and this may magnify a child or young person’s conscious or unconscious fears that their parents are unable to protect them.
  • May be compromised because they are not following the expectations, culture, and traditions of their family/faith/community, e.g., being sexually active (incl. teenage motherhood), having a girl/boyfriend not from the same community; or by having a stigmatising experience e.g., sexual abuse, mental ill health, or a disability, and may find it difficult to seek help to keep safe from the community or statutory and other services.
  • May have experienced adultification bias, where they are perceived by some adults, including some professionals, to be older than they are, leading to them being unfairly perceived to be more culpable for their behaviour than other children and young people. This can result in a break-down of trust and confidence in the professionals working with them.
  • May have experienced racism or discrimination which has left them feeling isolated and more vulnerable to grooming, for example, radicalisation, criminal or sexual exploitation.

5. The Professional’s Response

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023 provides the statutory framework for protecting children and young people and promoting their wellbeing.

This section outlines the competencies required to enable a professional to be clear about the risks from neglect and/or abuse to a child’s health and development. These competencies should be applied consistently so the professional can correctly identify the positive and negative factors in the child / young person’s and family’s lived experience which increase or decrease risk, which may be related or attributed to the culture and/or faith of the child or young person, their family, and the group or community within which they live.

These competencies should be applied to any case where there are concerns that a child or young person needs additional support or of protection from harm and the child / young person and/or his/her family are from an ethnically diverse minority culture, faith group or community.

The competencies should be re-applied continuously throughout the management of the case to enable professionals to maintain clarity about the different aspects of the child’s health and development and the factors in the other domains of an assessment. These competencies should be considered part of the process integrated within the local child safeguarding multi-agency policy manual.

Professionals should always be mindful that any assessments may be influenced by perceptions and/or bias towards the child/young person’s/family’s culture and/or faith. These perceptions and/or biases may obscure or exacerbate the potential indicators which should alert professionals to the risk of harm to the child.

The four competencies a professional should demonstrate are:

A culturally competent assessment

Professionals should have a basic level of cultural understanding and awareness when working with children and families. The absence of this may lead to an inaccurate outcome within the family and may result safeguarding issues being overlooked.

Professionals need not be highly knowledgeable about the diverse cultures of the people they work with but must approach people who are culturally different to them with openness and respect, and a willingness to learn. Self-awareness and rigorous self-scrutiny are the most important components of culturally competent practice.

Professionals should seek to understand the experiences of the child, young person and their family within the wider community and where possible draw information from different sources, including faith and community-based experts. Professionals should also take account of the experiences of other practitioners working with the child, young person, and family.

Professionals should take account that children, young people, and their families from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds may experience different barriers to accessing support, including barriers because of racism, discrimination, and prejudice.

Professionals should be aware that their own biases and prejudices (conscious or unconscious) may influence their assessments, judgements, and decision-making. Professional should also take account that they may have gaps in their knowledge about culture, beliefs and lived experience. Professionals should be encouraged and feel able to ask for help and advice from their managers and other professionals and actively invite challenge on their assessments and decisions.

Professionals should be mindful that in some specific safeguarding circumstances; for example, when dealing with honour-based abuse or female genital mutilation; they may need to seek advice or expert views outside of the child or young person’s network. This is because close connections may be involved or implicated in the abuse. This is not to say that anyone from that culture would condone this type of abuse.  Links to the NSCB Practice Guidance on Honour-based Abuse and Female Genital Mutilation can be found at the end of this guidance under USEFUL LINKS.

Understanding and supporting cultural identity

Effective safeguarding means brokering trust and building relationships. This is essential not only with the majority population but also with and between minority ethnic culture and faith groups and communities.

Professionals should respect and value the child, young person and family’s cultural identity and heritage, and acknowledge the positives of diversity. This will enable, children, young people, and their families to feel safer and more open to building positive relationships with professionals, and for them to feel able to talk about the difficulties they experience and seek help and support.

Professionals should help children and young person to develop a positive sense of their cultural background, so that they feel confident and proud of who they are, and where they come from. This also allows children and young people to maintain and develop their sense of “belonging” rooted in their background and culture which is essential for safety and wellbeing. Professionals can do this through supporting a healthy and positive interest in spirituality, in family, community groups and history, and by providing strong role models from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds.

Professionals should always be sensitive to the importance of culture, language, religion, food, and hair and skin care to a child or young person.

Trauma-informed practice

Professionals should recognise people may have experienced traumatic events in their home lives (e.g., domestic abuse, honour-based abuse, female genital mutilation, they may be fleeing persecution, or have lived under authoritarian or extremist regimes) which may shape their experiences and their responses to professionals.

Professionals should also recognise that people may have experienced trauma relating to experiences of racism and discrimination, including systemic and/or inter-generational experiences of bias which may impact on the way they respond to offers of advice and support.

Making sound holistic assessments

Listening to and taking time to understand the lived experiences, beliefs and values of children, young people and families and taking account of their views is essential to a sound holistic assessment. A working knowledge and understanding of culture and faith is key to effective assessments of harm through neglect and/or abuse.

Sensitivity toward other cultures does not imply unquestioning acceptance of patriarchal, faith based or generational definitions of cultural identities and behaviours. The challenge for professionals is how to preserve sensitivity and respect for others and their cultural differences while working to achieve family functioning which accommodates women’s, children, and young people’s rights.

An individual’s beliefs or behaviours, which may be informed by their cultural experience, heritage, or beliefs, must not be used as a justification for abuse.

6. Poverty and the effects on diverse ethnic minority children, young people, and their families

In the UK, poverty rates vary enormously according to the ethnicity of the household. 67% of children in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households and 51% of Black and Black British children are living in poverty (based on analysis of official data in 2022). Black children are now believed to be more than twice as likely to be growing up poor as white children, based on government figures.

Although the ethnic minority employment rate in Norfolk is higher than the rate for White British people, worklessness and insecure employment are key drivers of poverty. Across the UK, 72% of white women are economically active compared with just 27% of Bangladeshi and 30% of Pakistani women.

Asylum seeking families and their children, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are among the most disadvantaged groups and have some of the poorest health and socio-economic outcomes.

Poverty and financial hardship are known to be linked to:

  • Increased incidence of racial, and religious prejudice and hatred.
  • Increased risk of violence in the home and domestic abuse.
  • Exacerbated stress, anxiety and tensions and declining mental health
  • Higher rates of infant mortality.
  • Poorer outcomes in childhood (developmental, social, health and education).
  • Problems associated with poor quality and insecure housing including increased risk of homelessness.
  • Higher incidence of criminality and tensions in communities, including higher risks of exploitation of vulnerable people.

There is a correlation between poverty and neglect. The 2016 Joseph Rowntree Foundation review The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect found that 98% of the families whose children were at risk of emotional maltreatment or neglect were characterised by the extreme poverty of their material environment – reflected in the fact that 59% lived in over-crowded housing conditions, with 56% of parents reporting high levels of emotional stress. It should be noted that some ethnic minority children are less likely to experience childhood abuse than white-British children, so professionals should not make assumptions about this but consider the individual circumstances of each case.

A new study published by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, Public Health Policy Research Unit, and School for Public Health Research has found a link between increasing numbers of children and young people going into care and child poverty, with poverty contributing to more than 10,000 young people entering care over the course of five years (around 8% of cases).

Useful Links