News

Smoothing the Transition of Roma Children from the Trailer Park to School

In the city of Leuven, Belgium, many initiatives have been taken over the years to increase the participation of children of the Rom Traveller[1] families in the nearby schools. The efforts of different welfare organizations ensured that by September of 2021 90% of the Rom children were present by the start of the new school year. Various efforts contributed to this success, including exchange visits organized by REYN Belgium and providing insights and inspiration from the REYN network. The strength of the experience in Leuven is that different social organizations work together towards the same purpose: to ensure that Roma children attend school regularly and feel comfortable there, and that there is good school-parent cooperation. 

At the residential trailer park in Leuven, 30 Rom Traveller families are living permanently. The city of Leuven has made a conscious decision to invest in the establishment of social support services for the Rom families. In concrete terms, this means that two employees of the city are responsible for the entire functioning of the trailer park in consultation with the Rom families. As the employees of the city of Leuven are regularly present at the trailer park, trust has been formed between the families and them over time. Two staff members are the Roma families’ point of contact for support questions in different areas of life. Because of the diversity of questions, there was the need to start a broader network of social professionals. This network –  the so-called ROL team – consists of staff from Agency Child and Family, staff from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ and social workers from the public centre for social welfare . With this group, two times a week they organize on-site consultations. In this way, they can take concrete action with regard to the families’ requests for support on different life domains, each on the basis of their own expertise. They work together with partners on housing, health, leisure activities for the youngsters. More and more parents by now are convinced that these services might be beneficial for them and their children and are willing to make contact.

Residential trailer park in Leuven

Involving parents in the transition

These partners are also involved in creating smooth and warm transitions from home to the schools in the neighborhoud, and they do it by motivating and reassuring families along the process.

A couple of years ago, members from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ started to regularly organize a play-and-meet-moment for young parents and their young children (0-5 years). These pre-school activities are still going on where children can play with toys and games, while parents chat and discuss topics on education and family life. Parents can work out a picture book on their families, as a starting point for conversation. In the future, they will be able to lend the toys for a certain period. 

In organizing these activities on a regular basis, the professionals of ‘De Mobil’ have built a strong relationship with the families and have gained their trust. They also support the conversations between the parents themselves. One of the topics is going to school. Parents have many questions: how does it work, a school day? What do children there? How will the teachers react on children’s needs?

The staff of the local Agency Child an Family, who are also members of the ‘ROL team’ are involved in motivating and reassuring the families for school.

“While parents come to our consultation office for the medical check-up of their babies and toddlers, we talk about schooling. At first they think it’s too early for their child, but later they change their mind. We provide information on how to register, when school starts etc. Because they are not familiar with our education system, you’ve got to give them time.”

Hanne, nurse from Child and Family Agency

To put further trust in going to school and as an action due to the pandemic, two schools in Leuven took the initiative to  organize temporarily ‘homeschooling’. Two teachers came to the trailer park with lots of toys and playing-learning materials that are usually present in a toddler’s classroom.

“Parents have many concerns about the school: ‘What if my child is hungry or thirsty? Will somebody notice it and take care?’ By showing in their own environment how a toddler’s class is organized – with lots of toys and playful learning moments – they get acquainted with the benefits of schooling: ‘Look, it seems that he is just playing with little boxes, but he’s learning to count at the same time!’”

Lies, homeschooling teacher

Homeschooling had a positive effect. Parents and children got a better idea of what happens at school. They started to foster the idea of sending their children to school more regular and were more and more reassured that early school participation was important and an added value.

“The homeschooling period was a very good warming up, building positive experiences and gaining more trust in ‘the real thing’. Because of the support of many services and people, this was successful. Other practical problems still remain, such transportation to the school.”

Tim, social worker, city of Leuven

Due to these actions, the school supporting part of the project has been very successful: 90% of the children of the trailer park were attending school on September 1st, 2021. This is the result of many persistent actions of the ROL-team, two homeschooling teachers, other school teachers and directors.

“In August I went to visit all the families at the trailer park. You can call it a ‘motivation visit’. I wanted to prepare them that the first school day is coming. That helps a lot. On the first school days it is important to take away the worries of parents. We send them pictures and texts  to show them that their child is happy here and he’s got a lot of friends. Many parents can’t imagine their children sitting next to non-Travellers-children…”

Annick, school director

Thanks to the efforts of many, the transition from the trailer park to school is now much better. Still, it remains a precarious process, partly due to the corona pandemic, but there is much motivation among all partners to keep up the efforts when children talk about their experiences at school positively.


[1] Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.

A full house for the TOY for Inclusion international event!

- News

TOY for Inclusion will have a full house at the international event on November 19th! The event in Ghent, Belgium, will celebrate the project amazing success and will share the knowledge acquired in the past two years.

Since its launch in 2017, TOY for Inclusion has opened eight Play Hubs in seven European countries: one in Belgium, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and two in Italy.

Thanks to the work of local communities and professionals, the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs became the gateway to kindergarten and school for many Romani children.

By enhancing social cohesion and by supporting the parents, the project has been successful in fostering social inclusion for Romani young children and families.

After one year of preparations, the doors of the Play Hubs opened (in early 2018). Since then, they have been providing opportunities for children and adults, Roma and non-Roma, to integrate and develop. At the event, you will be able to hear their experiences directly from them.

The mid-term results are encouraging (first half of 2018)!

  • 1700 children participated to the Play Hub activities.
  • 30% of children were from Roma origin, according to estimations.
  • 77 workshops and info-sessions were held for Roma and non-Roma adults: including parenting support, intergenerational activities, hand-craft and toy-making workshops, info-sessions for parents in cooperation with other community services.
  • 10% of workshop leaders were Roma.

The tools and the resources that are at the core of this success will be available at the event;  read more about TOY for Inclusion.

Where: Vredehuis, Sint-Margrietstraat 9, Ghent, Belgium.

When: November, 19th 2018.

Consult the program here.

TOY for Inclusion: Roma and non-Roma children now play together

- News

“I am happy that my children don’t have to stay in the street”, a Roma mother says.

In Ghent (Belgium), TOY for Inclusion has an outreach program that involves Roma families and children with activities around the city. Thanks to their work, practitioners have managed to gain the trust of families, and Roma and non-Roma children now play together.

‘I am happy that my children can come here. That they have a place where to play. I am happy that they don’t have to stay in the street the whole time’, says a Roma mother from Ghent. She prefers to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

TOY for Inclusion partner, the Centre for Innovation in the Early Years (VBJK) works with VZW Jong and VZW Rode Lotus in areas with a high concentration of Roma families. VZW Jong and VZW Rode Lotus are two civil society organizations with the mission to strengthen community-based services at the local level.

A practitioner says

“Children are children and parents are parents. Parents just want the same things for their children all around the world. They want them to feel good. It is important to focus on this ‘simple’ concept when organizing activities for children. And we should know that working with children means also involving families and take into account their wellbeing”, says Gwen Pannecoucke, practitioner at VZW Jong.

In Ghent, instead of having one fixed location where to play, TOY for Inclusion is adopting an outreach program in order to involve Roma families around the city. Children are offered different activities: they cook together, they swim, they eat and play together, all things that wouldn’t happen without the specific attention towards inclusion that TOY for Inclusion brought.

Integration works!

Practitioners report to be positively surprised by the growing number of friendships they saw developing among children, especially children with different origins: at the beginning, children were playing much in separated ‘ethnic’ groups. Through the development of TOY for Inclusion, they have been playing all together and made new friends.

 

TOY for Inclusion inspires children in Belgium!

- News

Playing, reading and drawing is highly beneficial for the development of young children. In this video we see learning activities organized in Ghent, Belgium, by the Centre for Innovation in the Early Years (VBJK) within the TOY for Inclusion project.

TOY for Inclusion supports learning and playing for all children between 0 and 8 years old thanks to the creation of Play Hubs in 7 European countries. The project organizes extra activities that are not offered by compulsory schooling. TOY for Inclusion’s Play Hubs are developed with the local community which brings together people from different cultural backgrounds including Roma and non-Roma.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion.

 

The struggle of Roma people in Ghent, Belgium

- Blog | REYN Admin

By Samira Wymeersch, REYN member from Belgium.

I live in Ghent, a city in the Northern Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, with more or less 250.000 inhabitants. These last years the city of Ghent has changed: the European Union has welcomed a number of new members, such as Bulgarians, Slovakians and Romanians. The people of Ghent met with people migrating from these countries; many of them were of Roma origins.

Some of them, mostly the Bulgarians, had the ambition to stay and were embedded in the network of the Turkish families (Turkish migrant workers were invited to come and work in Belgium in the ’60). Many others came unprepared and were pushed out by their home countries through discrimination and exclusion – mostly Slovakia. Others roamed: they came when they saw an opportunity and they left when they ran out of money – mostly Romanians.

In a very short time there was a large inflow, which put pressure on services and provisions. There were problems with housing, temporary jobs, exploitation and sometimes discrimination. The city of Ghent made up a policy on these new Intra-European Migrants; called IEM from now on. There are two tracks in this policy: one is focusing on integration; the other tackles abuse and social safety.

The project for which I work (BIEM – Brugfiguren Intra-Europese Migratie / School Mediators Intra-European Migration Project) is can be situated in the ‘integration-track’.

In particular, we want all children from the age of 2 and ½ till the age of 12 years (at least) to be able to enjoy the right to education in a qualitative way. We believe that education is a strong tool to empower people and to enlarge their possibilities and choices in life.

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We aim to bridge gaps between the conditions in which some of the children of these newly arrived migrants live and the expectations that school have.
We work on building trust between all relevant actors.
We strive to link parents and children from different origins and ideologies – amongst each other and with school teams and other professionals.

We love to blur boundaries when working together with education staff; social workers; early childhood specialists; etc. in order to come to an effective collaboration.
We build bridges between institutions and between people.