Posted: 31 August 2012

Caring for Roma children

Last week a programme was aired on the Slovak television channel Joj investigating reports by Slovak and Czech Roma families living in the UK who had their children taken into care by British local authorities.

Although it’s difficult to know about the individual cases, this news has spread quickly through the Roma community living in the UK and has caused great concern to some of the families supported by our programmes.

It’s hardly surprising that families are concerned. The persecution faced by Roma communities across Europe in the past – including having their children taken away by authorities –has deeply entrenched these fears in the community’s collective memory. After the Slovak programme aired, some families told us they were afraid to send their children to school.

Knowledge and resources to work effectively with Roma families

Our programmes have worked with Roma families that have had contact with social services following safeguarding concerns raised about their children. This includes cases where children were temporarily taken into care pending assessments.

But rather than taking children into care permanently, we find that social services are reluctant to support families at all and provide much-needed help before problems escalate. This is because they don’t have the confidence, knowledge, skills or resources to work with Roma families. In some cases they may hold prejudices about this group or they are unclear about their duties towards children from abroad. (Local authorities’ duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children are the same regardless of a child’s nationality, ethnic group or other status.)

As with members of the general public, professionals are influenced by negative stereotypes of Roma as criminals, traffickers and beggars, and this sometimes comes through in their approach to Roma families.

The families we support often face language barriers, have poor literacy skills and lack education. This often means that parents need practical support, such as helping to fill out forms or more detailed explanations about the UK context, in order to support their children effectively.

Understanding Roma families’ difficulties

Over the years, we have worked with many Roma families living in extremely impoverished circumstances, such as in squats or in crowded private accommodation.

Many find it difficult to access support or find employment, and some have resorted to begging. Despite being one of the most marginalised and socially excluded groups in the country, with consistently lower levels of educational attainment, significant numbers of Roma children are not eligible for free school meals or the pupil premium.

Focusing on children

Keeping children’s best interests central to our work, our programmes such as New Londoners have supported Roma parents to help them understand their responsibilities towards safeguarding their children, as well as their entitlement to access support when they need it.

In some cases families we’ve worked with were destitute and unable to meet their children’s needs, but this was interpreted as neglect by social services.

However, by engaging professionals in a multi-agency approach to support the family – as our SMART project in Newcastle does – we have been able to protect children’s welfare and rights. This has included supporting children to have their views heard in decisions made about them and preserving their right to family unity where it’s in the child's best interests.

By Ilona Pinter, Policy Adviser

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By Ilona Pinter - Policy team

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