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In the Health section we identified that female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation) was linked to some African tribal communities as well as other areas throughout the world. 

This section expands on some further areas of concern that professionals should be aware of. 

Children at risk

Below is a checklist of categories of ‘at risk’ children. 

Identify which categories may be relevant to migrant children and think about why. Then click the button for further information.

Children living away from home

Disabled children

Children whose behaviour indicates a lack of parental control

Children living in households where there is domestic violence

Children of drug misusing parents

Children whose carers believe in ‘possession’ or ‘witchcraft’

Children of families living in temporary accommodation

Migrant children, in particular child victims of trafficking and unaccompanied asylum seeking children


The sections below will give you an overview of some of the specific vulnerabilities faced among migrant populations. 

Other factors are covered within this module as separate issues, such as housing, trafficking and being an unaccompanied child. 

There is an audio option for each of these sections.

Exploitation and sexual exploitation

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about exploitation.


Exploitation involves ‘a persistent social relationship where a person or persons are being mistreated or unfairly used for the benefit of others’. 

Both men and women from migrant communities can experience exploitation by employers in the UK. This can involve working excessively long hours, having pay docked unfairly, earning less than non-migrant workers, paying excessively for overcrowded accommodation and working to pay off ‘debt’ that doesn’t reduce. 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation defines ‘modern slavery’ as comprising three essential elements of the exploitative relationship: 

  • severe economic exploitation;
  • the lack of a human rights framework; and
  • control of one person over another by the prospect or reality of violence. Often the nature of the relationship – appalling working and housing conditions, the withdrawal of passports or ID documents, deceit and abuse of power, and the use of physical intimidation – renders the possibility of flight remote.

Undocumented migrants are particularly vulnerable. See the resources and useful links sections for more information on undocumented workers and destitute migrants. 

People can experience exploitation working exclusively for a single person or family. This is sometimes termed domestic servitude. They may also be exploited by unscrupulous companies. 

The UK organisation, Migrant Rights Network is a good contact for signposting or supporting a person or family you are concerned about. 

Some migrants take work as domestic staff to find they become the victim of rape and other abuse at the hands of their employer. Migrant women, children and young adults in particular can experience sexual exploitation. 

Some of these individuals may have been sent or sold to work in the UK and are then forced to work in the sex trade. For more information about trafficking, see the ECPAT UK resource in the ‘Living Well’ unit. 

Forced marriage and underage marriage

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about forced and underage marriage.


Many cultures operate a system where families negotiate a marriage agreement for young couples. This can be highly successful and is certainly acceptable where both parties to the marriage consent to the arrangement. 

However, in some communities, crossing a range of countries of origin, there are concerns related to marriage. In some cases, the age of the bride is under 16 years, the legal age for consent in the UK. This is a child protection issue. 

It is also possible for a person of any age to be forced into a marriage they have not consented to. A forced marriage is very different to an arranged marriage and can happen to both men and women. The young person or adult may not even know they are to be married. They may go on a family holiday and find that they have a one-way ticket and that their passport has been removed. 

Force can include not being informed, being drugged, being taken out of the country for a ceremony to be performed, or being kidnapped by a family member (including parents). Forced marriage is illegal under UK law. 

The e-learning package, ‘Dealing with Forced Marriages’, developed by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) provides a basic understanding of the key issues surrounding forced marriage, how cases can present, and how to respond appropriately. Health scenario case studies enable health practitioners to identify good practice and evaluate the impacts of their actions. 

The FMU highlights the following warning signs of forced marriage situations in healthcare settings – and advocates the ‘one chance’ rule to engage with and support a person in such a situation. 

The warning signs include:

  • Accompanied to doctors or clinics 
  • Family members speaking on behalf of the victim 
  • Self harm 
  • Attempted suicide 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Isolation 
  • Substance misuse 
  • Early/unwanted pregnancy 
  • Female genital mutilation 

Domestic abuse

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about domestic abuse.


Domestic abuse involves any incident of threatening behaviour or violence. The abuse maybe psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional. It can occur between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. 

Across all communities in the UK, pregnant women are up to 3 times more likely to experience domestic abuse than women who are not pregnant. 

People from migrant communities can experience domestic abuse in all the above forms. It is important to remember that risks of domestic violence do not differ significantly by ethnic origin, however help-seeking by victims and access to services is affected by race/ethnicity and by immigration status. 

There is great stigma in some migrant communities about divorce, single parenthood and being open about domestic abuse. Victims of abuse may not be aware that support is available or that they have rights. 

However, be aware that some migrants are not eligible for public funding and this can limit the amount of support that is available so you must be careful not to raise expectations falsely. 

Some refuges in the UK will take women with no recourse to public funding and Women’s Aid England may be able to help you find one. The Asylum Support Appeals Project  has a factsheet, ‘Asylum Support for Survivors of Domestic Abuse.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or class. However, people with disabilities and mental health problems are particularly at risk of domestic abuse. This may be linked to their dependence on someone else for their care, it may be linked to isolation and it may even involve the person’s disability being used against them (eg: mobility aids being withheld). 

Domestic abuse is an area where vulnerable adults are more at risk. It is also an area where you should be aware of sensitivities connected to the provision of interpreters. You should be alert to someone who has formerly asked an adult family member to interpret for them suddenly wanting a neutral interpreter. You should always to meet this request. It may be that the person wants to communicate something that it would be too upsetting or dangerous for them to disclose in front of a family member. 

For clear information about domestic abuse and immigration, see the specific section of the Survivors Handbook by Women’s Aid which is available in various languages. The ‘immigration issues’ section is also available as an audio clip. 

The impact of racism

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about the impact of racism


The 2010 paper ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ states that: 

The experience of racism is also likely to affect the responses of the child and family to assessment and enquiry processes. Failure to consider the effects of racism undermines efforts to protect children from other forms of significant harm.

When working with families or individuals, it is important to consider how experiences of racism will impact on day to day living, perceptions of safety and services, and attitudes towards interventions. 

Remember that: 

  • Racism in the community may be a daily occurrence; it may also come from services
  • Racist victimisation is far more complicated than individual incidents of harassment and can affect every aspect of a family’s or individual’s life.
  • Incidents occur against a backdrop of everyday, routine levels of racist harassment which agencies often fail to take into account.

For Children

  • When family or community bear the brunt of racism and discrimination, children are affected too. Research shows that children do not ordinarily share their experiences with the family; they have their own reactions to racism and strategies to deal with those situations, therefore services need to work to understand these.
  • There is pressure on children to withdraw from community: One child said “We feel out of place. Most of the time we spend in the house... we have nobody else to play with...”
  • Resentment can build up within the family, the experience of racism becoming a source of conflict within the family: anger, stress, withdrawal, depression and sleeplessness are common experiences. 

Isolation and Withdrawal

  • The sense of isolation from friends and family as well as agencies erodes support and preventative care. ‘One woman described how she hung her washing out at night to avoid racist abuse from a neighbour.’ Imagine the impact of not feeling safe in your own home. 


  • The effects of racism differ between different communities and different individuals and should not be assumed to be uniform. 
  • The challenge for policy makers and practitioners is to recognise the implications of racist harassment for all aspects of family life and to develop and deliver procedures that respond to the wide-ranging needs of victims in sensitive and effective ways, including using skilled, professional interpreters. 

Witchcraft abuse

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about witchcraft abuse.


A number of children across the United Kingdom have been subject to a faith related form of child abuse known as spiritual or witchcraft abuse. The abuse usually occurs in the household where the child lives. It may also occur in a place of worship where alleged ‘diagnosis’ and ‘exorcism’ may take place. 

The most common forms of abuse include: 

  • physical abuse: in the form of beating, burning, cutting, stabbing, semi-strangulating, tying up the child, or rubbing chilli peppers or other substances on the child’s genitals or eyes;
  • emotional abuse: in the form of isolation, for example, not allowing a child to eat or share a room with family members or threatening to abandon them.The child may also accept the abuse if they believe they are possessed;
  • neglect: in the form of failure to ensure appropriate medical care, supervision, school attendance, good hygiene, nourishment or clothing;
  • sexual abuse: children abused in this way may be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.


Children are most likely to experience witchcraft abuse if they: 

  • have learning disabilities or mental health issues
  • are living away from home in private fostering situations
  • are living alone with a step parent, or are from broken families
  • have parents who have been branded as witches
  • display challenging behaviour
  • are left handed or dyslexic
  • and finally, are geniuses or exceptionally bright


As with all areas of safeguarding concern you should follow the best practice explained in unit 5 ‘Receive, Reassure, Respond’. The organisation, Afruca, has more information. 

Access to and use of interpreters

Listen to the sound file below to hear more about access to and use of interpreters.


It is fundamental to good practice to not rely on children as interpreters for older relatives, except in absolute emergency situations. Using children as interpreters not only has negative impact on the child, but also on the professionalism and outcome of the interview itself. 

Access to professional, approved and, if appropriate, CRB checked interpreters is essential to ensure information is passed accurately and confidentially. This is in the best interest of both the service user and provider. 

It is also important to consider that emerging migrant communities are often small and with this in mind, you should consider the fact that some people may not want to discuss issues with someone who knows their family or community. 

It is important to clearly explain that information discussed will be kept confidential. You should also contact the interpreting agency if you have any concerns about this. However, service users in this situation may choose to have interpretation in their second or even third language. You should accept this even if this makes the process slightly more difficult. 

For more information about working with interpreters, see the Module 2 - Communication Skills


  1. You should always work within the policies of your own organisation. 
  2. But, in circumstances of sexual exploitation and domestic abuse it can be useful to use a specialist organisation such as Women’s Aid (National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247) 
  3. Or, contact the Police 
  4. And, if children are involved, contact your local child protection team at Social Services. 

Check your understanding

Complete the following multiple choice quiz to check your understanding. 

Q1. Staff working with migrants need to:

Understand that migrants are more at risk than British people

Be aware of their responsibilities regarding safeguarding

Watch carefully for signs of abuse

All of the above

Q2. Who is more likely to experience domestic abuse?



Pregnant Women

All of the above

Q3. Exploitation is:

One person forcing someone to do something for no pay

A company housing 17 migrants in a two bedroom house

A family keeping a housekeeper indoors with no time off

All of the above

Q4. Which of the following is NOT a form of domestic abuse?

A man telling his wife she cannot attend the doctors without him present

Making a daughter in law clean and cook for the whole family and calling her names if she makes a mistake

Not allowing a woman to see her friends and family

All of the above

Q5. Which of the following is true?

All Congolese families believe in demon possession

Being culturally sensitive means we should never make judgements about another person’s beliefs

Witchcraft abuse is a genuine form of abuse recognised by the British government

All of the above


In summary, experiencing certain types of abuse, risk or exploitation does not automatically mean an individual is defined as ‘a vulnerable adult’ in safeguarding terms. However, certain types of abuse are more likely to be experienced by people who are vulnerable adults due to their physical and mental health. Domestic abuse is an example of this. 

A holistic understanding of the situation is fundamental to accurately being able to classify and support those who are vulnerable. 


  1. At the end of this unit you should have some idea of both specific and general issues than can affect the safety of individuals and families from migrant communities. 
  2. It is important to retain clear perspective in your working practice and recognise that all the people you work with have the same basic human needs and rights. 
  3. The key is to work together and to realise that safeguarding can only happen when everyone is doing their own job in a coordinated way.