All children and young people can find it hard to tell someone if something isn’t right. But for children and adults from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities there may be additional barriers to asking for help.
Fear of speaking out
Speaking out about experiencing abuse doesn’t always lead to getting the necessary support. Some adults who experienced sexual abuse in childhood have reported being shunned by their communities after disclosing the abuse. The risk of being cut off from family and support networks can deter children from asking for help (IICSA, 2020).
Children might also worry that they won’t be believed or will be blamed for the abuse.
Honour and reputation
Some communities place high importance on female honour, linked to virginity and marriage. Girls who have been sexually abused might worry that family and community members would consider them to be “damaged”, or that they will be blamed for behaving in a way that is perceived to be immodest or provocative.
Boys might feel ashamed if their culture places value on male strength, or has a strong belief that only girls experience sexual abuse. Some adults who experienced sexual abuse in childhood have reported that they felt unable to speak out about their experiences because they felt they needed to uphold their family’s honour (IICSA, 2020).
Children may also be worried that speaking out about abuse will result in their community’s reputation being damaged. This may be because they have experienced racist stereotyping in the past (IICSA, 2020), or because there is a strong sense of honour in their community (Community Care, 2020a).
In any community, people might believe that problems should be dealt with in the community or their families. This can make people less likely to report concerns about abuse to child protection services and feel wary about bringing in ‘outsiders’ such as the police.
Taboos around sex and relationships
Within some communities and cultures, there are taboos around discussing sex, relationships and abuse, either within families or the wider community. This might include topics such as:
- puberty and periods
- what healthy relationships look like
- anything related to sex or sexual relationships.
Not all communities have the language to describe sexual abuse or the language they use might not distinguish between consensual sexual activity and abuse.
If these issues are not discussed openly, children might have less understanding of what is abuse and what is not. They might also feel less able to speak out if something happens to them they’re not comfortable with.
Adults who have been raised in communities where sex, relationships and abuse aren’t spoken about might also be unaware of how to identify or raise concerns about abuse. As a result, practitioners might find it challenging to start conversations about keeping children safe.
Different perceptions about abuse
Some communities may have different perceptions of what constitutes child abuse. Children may not realise they are being abused, for example if they are growing up in a culture that routinely uses physical punishment. Or they may feel that there is no point in speaking out because the adults around them are unlikely to stop the abuse.
“I misbehaved at school today and when my mum found out she shouted at me and hit me. My mum’s done this before when I didn’t get a good mark at school. I’ve told other members of my family but they told me that this is African culture so they won’t do anything to stop it.”
Childline counselling session with a boy aged 10
Adults might not realise some practices are illegal in the UK, particularly if their culture considers that practice to be protective. An example of this is the harmful practice of breast ironing or breast flattening, a practice which aims to delay the development of girls’ breasts to ostensibly protect them from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage and keep them in education (National FGM Centre 2021).
Sometimes a difference in cultural values can make it challenging for practitioners to build trusting relationships with children and families. This can make it difficult to speak out about sensitive issues. For example, it may not be considered appropriate for a male practitioner to work directly with mothers and children, and women may not feel comfortable discussing parenting practices with a man.
If practitioners have a bias based on stereotypes, they might view certain groups as ‘other’ or intrinsically different. This might lead them to treat some communities differently. In turn, this might create mistrust between the agency and the community and make people in that community less likely to speak out about abuse (IICSA, 2020).
Interpretation and translation
When practitioners, children and families do not share the same language, interpretation is vital to gain an understanding of need and risk. But interpretation does not automatically lead to understanding. Practitioners need to be aware of issues surrounding interpretation.
Children and families may have concerns about confidentiality if the interpreter is a community member, particularly if the community is small and there are notions of shame and honour. This might lead to them not speaking openly about what they have experienced.
Sometimes interpreters might inadvertently leave out important information because they do not realise its significance. And if the interpreter has perpetrated abuse or is trying to protect a perpetrator, they might withhold information from either the family or the practitioner (SCRA, 2017).
Some languages have several different dialects. If parents, carers, practitioners or interpreters do not speak the same dialect, they might not fully understand what is being said. This can make it challenging for practitioners to fully understand a family’s situation (Community Care, 2020c).
Interpreters are not always present when a practitioner is having informal contact with communities. This can make it more challenging for practitioners to form trusting relationships with families from certain communities, understand child protection risks and be available to hear parent concerns (SCRA, 2017).
Sometimes, practitioners might feel overwhelmed and perceive language barriers to be an insurmountable obstacle. This may lead to the misconception that some communities are ‘insular’ and practitioners might perceive it to be too challenging to engage with a particular group.
Learning for practitioners: improving communication
Talk and listen to the families and children you work with, directly or through an appropriate third party. Aim to understand the lived experience of each family and child.
All families and children have different barriers to speaking out. Through building an understanding of their lives, you can find out if there are any specific barriers that might affect the children and families you are working with. You will then be better placed to consider how you can overcome these barriers.
Think about how to build trust with individuals in a culturally sensitive way. For example, if you’re a male practitioner who needs to speak to a mother and it’s not appropriate for you to do so alone, you could arrange a suitable chaperone. If you’re working with a child, it might help to meet them with a trusted non-abusive adult, such as a school counsellor, youth worker or a family member.
You could also ask people to suggest a meeting place or activity, on their terms. This may help them feel more comfortable and help to develop a trusting relationship (Community Care, 2020b).
Acknowledge the challenges that children and young people might face and ask them about their lived experience.
> Find out more about talking to children about racism on the NSPCC website
When you’re working with any community, make sure children and families know who to contact if they have any child protection concerns. This might include:
- your organisation’s nominated child protection lead
- local child protection services
- the NSPCC helpline.
The helpline can be contacted on 0808 800 5000 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure children also know about Childline and how they can contact them for confidential advice and support. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also get support and advice via the Childline website. You can also download or order our Childline posters and wallet cards and display these across schools, encouraging children to contact Childline if they need to talk.
When working with families and children who do not share the same language as you, it’s important to use an appropriate interpreter. It’s best practice to choose an interpreter who:
- has safeguarding and child protection training
- the child or family feel comfortable with and can speak freely with
- you can trust not to withhold information or breach confidentiality
- has experience of interpreting on the same or a similar subject matter
- can sensitively ask probing questions.
You should brief the interpreter in advance to clarify the level of detail you’re looking for and the type of questions you will be asking. Agree whether there are any cultural insights the interpreter could offer and how best they can share this with you.
If interpreters are unavailable or verbal communication is difficult, consider how to use body language to establish some communication and gain some understanding of the community you’re working with.