The Influence of Culture and Socioeconomic Status on the Mandatory Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by Health and Social Care Professionals and Teachers

Fatoumata Jatta

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The Influence of Culture and Socioeconomic Status on the Mandatory Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by Health and Social Care Professionals and Teachers:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is described as a traditional and cultural practice of a number of countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It comprises various procedures which alter or injure the external female genital organs for non-therapeutic reasons, potentially resulting in damage to both physical and mental health.

Increasingly considered as child abuse, in 2015, the United Kingdom introduced the FGM mandatory reporting duty, requiring all health and social care professionals and teachers to report known cases of FGM (i.e. where a girl discloses she has undergone FGM) in under 18-year-olds; arguably in order to break down professionals’ concerns regarding cultural sensitivity.

Research suggests that cultural factors and social factors such as socioeconomic status (SES) are some of the many variables influencing professionals’ decisions to report child abuse. This research employs an experimental design using hypothetical case scenarios (hereafter vignettes) to examine how cultural sensitivity and SES may influence professionals’ decision to report FGM. Professionals’ variables and their relationship to reporting behaviour were controlled for and examined for exploratory purposes. Both direct questioning and indirect questioning techniques (to reduce social desirability bias) were employed.

Results indicated that whether asked indirectly or directly, the majority of professionals sampled said that they would report a known case of FGM in just under 80% of instances. Moreover, direct questioning suggested that professionals were slightly less likely to report to the police when the family was described as being both well acculturated and of high SES. Implications for professionals’ practice and training, and for future research and policy directions are discussed.

Cultural Competence: A Systematic Review on the Role of Cultural Factors in Professionals’ Decisions about Child Maltreatment:

Child maltreatment is a serious worldwide problem. However, there remains insufficient guidance on how to interpret and implement child protection legislation. Current definitions of child maltreatment do not properly account for cultural differences, and the extent of professionals’ cultural sensitivity or bias in decisions about child maltreatment remains unclear. Despite ongoing migration leading to increasingly ethnically diverse populations, Western-based professionals’ cultural bias has not been systematically investigated. We aimed to conduct a systematic review of the literature to address this gap.

The review was conducted according to guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Peer-reviewed articles published in English which used quantitative methods were reviewed. We sought evidence about how cultural factors might influence professionals’ decisions about child maltreatment.

Of 390 unique articles, 16 met inclusion criteria. The methodological quality was mostly moderate. Study participants included social workers, teachers and psychologists. Studies were mostly conducted in the United States and Canada, with one in the United Kingdom and another conducted in Sweden and Croatia. All studies were cross-sectional, with the majority employing indirect vignette methods. 81.25% of studies measured race/ethnicity variables, while two investigated faith-related factors, and one was concerned with country of residence. 62.50% of studies found evidence of cultural bias concerning child maltreatment decisions among professionals of different disciplines, regarding both case and professional variables. However, the extent and nature is unclear. A recent study suggests that professionals lack confidence in their ability to identify and respond to this form of abuse.

This area remains under-researched. This review highlights the need to continue developing practitioners’ cultural competence so that professionals are trained and supported to recognise, acknowledge, and where appropriate, mitigate cultural biases. Continued research is needed to determine knowledge gaps, and requirements for training and resources.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Efferson, Charles, Supervisor
  • Vosper, Jane, Supervisor
  • Liao, Dr Lih-Mei, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Female genital mutilation/circumcision
  • culture
  • socioeconomic status
  • mandatory reporting
  • cultural competence
  • child maltreatment

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