Supporting Roma families through multi-agency mediation
Last month we were approached by a large number of Roma families who came to our offices in Newcastle, worried and anxious. They had seen a programme on Slovak television investigating reports by Roma families in the UK who had their children taken into care by British local authorities.
We listened to the families’ concerns and agreed to facilitate a meeting between the Roma community and representatives from the local authority social services and the police. The goal was to enable families to voice their concerns and have their questions answered.
Understanding families’ worries
Before the meeting we met with families who shared their worries: some were afraid to send their children to school because of what might happen. Some contemplated leaving the UK, even though they considered this their home, where their children were settled in school and had friends.
We also spent time working with statutory agencies in preparation for the meeting. We wanted to ensure they understood the context and the families' perspective, and could prepare for the types of questions that were likely to be asked.
The meeting was chaired by Arch, a local organisation with expertise in managing community cohesion issues and hate crime. We also organised interpreters for the parents and activities for children to participate in during the meeting so that they could attend with their parents.
Raising questions, explaining procedures
A number of Roma families attended the meeting and we filmed the event for community members who were too frightened to attend. Staff from social care and the police explained processes and procedures around children being taken into care.
During the event Roma parents were able to ask questions and seek clarification when they needed it.
Afterwards, families’ feedback was very positive. They were able to raise concerns, felt that they had been listened to and were given the answers they needed, all within a short space of time. They thanked us and the other agencies involved and said that they were pleased to be living in Newcastle.
Building trust within the Roma community
We saw this as a positive indicator of the level of trust that we have built with the Roma community in Newcastle, through the work that we do with individual families and through our weekly drop-in sessions, which support many Roma families.
While many agencies struggle to engage this 'hard to reach' community, we have managed to create a genuinely inclusive space where Roma families can access different services regularly and get the support they need in order to support their children’s development and give them the best possible start in life.