14/03/2017 07:58 GMT | Updated 15/03/2018 05:12 GMT

FGM Figures Are Tip Of The Iceberg

FGM is child abuse and no girl should ever have to live with the harmful physical and emotional consequences of this terrible practice.

But figures published last week by NHS Digital show we still have a long way to go before new cases of FGM are stopped.

There were 1,268 cases of female genital mutilation recorded in England between October and December 2016.Of these, 82% happened before the victim reached their 10th birthday and 17% took place before the victim had turned one.

Four of the cases happened in the UK, despite it being illegal here since 1985.

In all there were 2,332 attendances at hospitals or doctors surgeries where FGM was identified or a medical procedure for the practice was undertaken, the figures revealed - an increase of 9% from the previous quarter and more than one every hour of the 92 day period.

Yet there still hasn't been a single successful prosecution in the UK to date.

It's very likely that the figures are the tip of the iceberg because girls under the age of 18 don't have medical examinations.

Barnardo's is tackling the issue through training and education programmes at the National FGM Centre, which is run in conjunction with the Local Government Association.

Since October 2015 social workers, teachers and those in the healthcare sector have had a legal duty to report cases to police within a month. The centre has been teaching these professionals to recognise the signs that a girl has undergone FGM.

As Sonita Pobi, the National FGM Centre's head of training, observed at a recent conference organised by the anti-FGM charity Forward, these statutory professionals can only comply with their duty when they know what signs to look out for.

Her latest method to train professionals how to identify if a girl is at risk is by touring a challenging interactive play called Bloodlines.

The one day training programme looks at how professionals working with children respond to suspected cases of FGM.

It uses specialist performers from Olive Branch Arts to bring to life some of the challenges facing professionals.

They help the audience to look at FGM through different perspectives, discuss how to identify potential victims and early warning signs, and how to start conversations with parents and carers.

We would like to continue to use this play to educate professionals and keep on with our work in the National FGM Centre's six pilot sites across the country.

Because of this work - both on the social work side and the community element of raising awareness - we have seen more FGM referrals in the pilot site areas than ever before.

It's about raising the profile of FGM and getting referrals.

But our initial two-year period of funding for the National FGM Centre is coming to an end this month.

There needs to be more sustainable funding from the agencies we work with so we can provide more training.

Agencies must also work better together to identify girls at risk of FGM and helping to prosecute those who fail to protect girls from such abuse.

This is the only way we are going to be able to achieve our goal of ending FGM in England within 15 years.