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The situation of young Roma children in Europe – a new milestone in research

Although there is a concern for Roma inclusion at the European level, there is a significant knowledge gap about the status of children under the age of six, particularly the youngest. This lack of data impedes the development of responsive policies and programmes to revert their situation. 

To address this issue, REYN Initiative is launching REYN Research, a study that sheds light on young Roma children and their parents throughout Europe. The research seeks to give visibility to their needs and get key stakeholders’ attention to respond with effective policies and programs enabling each child to reach their full potential – to grow and thrive!  

REYN Research Study introduces a unique way of conducting research on Roma-related topics. The study, led by Roma researchers, involved Roma and non-Roma country researchers and early childhood experts gathering data in the 11 countries where National REYNs operate.   

The lack of evidence on young Roma children in Europe picturing their status and needs makes the REYN Research Study a unique piece of evidence reinforcing the importance of early years as well as influencing the agenda of prioritization and investment in young Roma children.  

REYN Research initiated in 2021 and has been done in partnership with the Roma Studies Groups (CEG) at CREA – University of Barcelona. 

Covering five key areas that impact a child’s development such as health, hygiene and nutrition, safety and security as well as early learning and living environment, the study analyzes structural and emerging issues that might have widened during the COVID-19 crisis, leading to an increase of inequality and social exclusion. 

In the coming weeks, country data will be available and disseminated via our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and REYN newsletter. Stay tuned and subscribe today!  

The condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy

The position of Roma and Sinti communities in Italy is a direct consequence of various migratory flows that have affected the country from the 15th century to the early 2000s.[1] As a result of these flows, it is possible to identify 22 communities of  Roma and Sinti populations.

As it is impossible to carry out censuses on an ethnic basis in Italy, there are no concrete numbers about the members of the different groups. According to the Council of Europe, the number of Roma and Sinti living in Italy could be between 110,000 and 170,000.[2] However, only a small proportion of them live in a condition of hypervisibility because they reside in formal camps —settlements designed, built and managed by local authorities according to ethnic criteria — and informal settlements.

Formal and informal settlements

The latest report presented last November 4th in the Senate by Associazione 21 Luglio states that 11,300 people live in the 109 formal camps on national soil — half of them hailing from former Yugoslavia. Of these, some have Italian citizenship and others have Romanian citizenship.[3] There are also 6,500 people, with Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship, living in informal settlements.

Without precise data relating to those Roma and Sinti people who have ostensibly integrated into Italian society (who live in conventional homes, do not wear traditional clothing, speak fluent Italian, and send their children to school), the only studies and analyses about the condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy refer to the 15% of Roma and Sinti living in mono-ethnic settlements — in conditions of extreme segregation, exclusion, physical and relational isolation. As a result, this group cannot be considered representative of the majority.

“The Campland”

Since 2000, Italy has been referred to by the European Roma Rights Center as “The Campland” because it has used by far the most economic and human resources to maintain ethnic-based housing arrangements of any country in Europe.[4] The daily realities of life in these formal and informal settlements makes the promotion of actions that affect childcare particularly complex. The absence of electricity and drinking water, air pollution, living inside a caravan or container, the absence of safe spaces for play, economic precariousness, real and perceived exclusion, distance from the school, are all elements that hinder the healthy growth and development of a child from birth.

In such residential contexts the social elevator remains stuck. From birth, the fate of Roma and Sinti children is influenced and guided by these harsh statistics. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Associazione 21 Luglio, the life of a child born within a mono-ethnic settlement immediately appears to be an “obstacle race”.[5]

For example:

  •  A Roma child who lives in a formal or informal settlement in the city of Rome is 30-40% more likely to be estranged from their family and declared adoptable that a non-Roma child.
  • The practice of early marriage has strong physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional repercussions among the adolescents involved;
  • Children, known as “white orphans” — who are left behind in Romania when their parents emigrate to Italy in search of jobs and resources that will help give their children a better future — experience strong repercussions on nutrition, sanitation and psycho-physical development in the absence of a maternal care giver.
  • In 2015 in Italy, an average of 40 children, aged between 0 and 3, led a life as “prisoners” in jail with their mothers. The majority of these were of Roma origin.

From the limited data available, it appears that children in “Roma camps”[6] have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than the reference populations. They are born underweight more often than other children and suffer from respiratory diseases in greater numbers than their non-Roma peers. Moreover, these children  are often affected by poisoning, burns and domestic accidents. Discomfort or degradation diseases or “diseases of poverty” are increasing — such as tuberculosis, scabies, pediculosis, as well as viral, fungal, and venereal infections, which occur with ever greater frequency than in the past[7].

Associazione 21 Luglio has developed a full website to present the state of affairs of the camps in Italy. Navigate throughout Il Paesi dei Campi (The Campland).

How is REYN Italy responding to these challenges?

The work of REYN Italy and other organizations in this network has been pivotal in promoting equal rights for Roma children over the past few years. However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the cohesion, sense of belonging and functionality of the Italian network. It is, therefore, necessary to reinforce and rebuild the REYN Italy which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the lives of Roma children living in Italy.

That’s why we plan to:

  • build cohesion and participation inside the REYN Italy network while increasing the number of its members. REYN Italy aims at revitalizing, reinforcing and broadening its membership, and engaging institutions such as municipalities, schools, health and family counselling centers.
  • advocate for access to inclusive, quality and non-discriminatory early childhood development for Roma children. In the Italian context, these objectives are crucial in continuing to promote and facilitate the social change that we are seeing in regards to Roma settlements with knock-on effects on their standards of living, and the protection of the rights of Roma children.

In order to support the rights and lives of Roma children, REYN Italy activities will highlight among decision-makers the need to guarantee, protect and promote the rights of Roma children.


[1] The Sinti are to be found primarily in the German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) where they settled in the 15th century, and in Benelux and Sweden. There is a southern sub-branch of the Sinti in northern Italy (Piemont, Lombardy) and in southeastern France (Provence), whose language comprises a partly Italian-based vocabulary. In France, they are also called Manush. Sinti/Manush represent 2 to 3% of the total Roma population (generic sense) in Europe.

[2]   http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/romatravellers/default_en.asp.

[3]   Associazione 21 luglio, L’esclusione nel tempo del Covid, Roma, 2021.

[4]   ERRC, “Campland”, Budapest, 2000. http://www.errc.org/uploads/upload_en/file/00/0F/m0000000F.pdf

[5]   Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.

[6] Some Roma in Italy live in a state of separation from mainstream Italian society. These Roma live segregated on ethnic basis in some areas, excluded and ignored, in filthy and squalid conditions, without basic infrastructure. They “squat” abandoned buildings or set up camps along the road or in open spaces with tents, caravans or shacks. They can be evicted at any moment, their settlements are often called “illegal” or “unauthorised”. Other Roma live in “camps” or squalid ghettos that are “authorised and provided with caravans or prefebricated buildings”. The smaller camps, home to only fifteen to thirty people, are generally unauthorised. Authorised camps tend to comprise at least one hundred people.

[7]UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.

Up to 75% enrolment target for young Roma children in ECEC in Slovakia

Specific Steps of the Slovak Roma Inclusion Strategy 2030

The Strategy for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of Roma 2030 was approved by the Slovak Government on 7 April 2021. This framework material forms the basis for action plans, which will always be drawn up for a three-year period, i.e., 2022-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030. Representatives from REYN Slovakia have been actively involved in the development of the Strategy and Action Plans.

The Strategy is a framework document that defines the direction of public policies in order to achieve a visible change and improvement in the field of equality and inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. It presents a set of starting points and objectives that aim to stop the segregation of Roma communities and to make a significant positive turn in the social inclusion of Roma.

“The areas of employment, education, health, and housing are key to the fulfillment of the Strategy’s objectives, and special emphasis is also placed on stepping up interventions to combat anti-Roma racism,” state the submitters of the material from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

The subsequent Action Plans propose measures in the same five priority areas that were previously stated in the Strategy.

Strategy and Action Plans

Education


The vision of the Strategy in the field of education is to increase the real participation of children from marginalized Roma communities in care and education. The share of the youngest Roma children under three years of age participating in early childhood education and care programs is to reach at least 30%.

“The proportion of Roma children aged 3-6 in pre-primary education is to be increased from the current 25 to 75%, ” the submitters state.

The Strategy also aims to halve the proportion of children from the marginalized Roma communities who repeat a year in primary or special primary schools, as well as halve the proportion of pupils from the marginalized Roma communities who drop out of school. Conversely, the proportion of Roma with completed upper secondary education is to be doubled to 45% for males and 40% for females.

In the education field, the proposed action plan focuses on the need to improve the results of children from marginalized Roma communities. Besides, it aims to improve the quality and number of teachers and assistants in the education of Roma pupils, to increase the capacity of schools and kindergartens in areas with Roma communities, and support measures for children and pupils from Roma communities with insufficient knowledge of Slovak, which is not their mother tongue.

Housing

The Strategy aims to eliminate significant inequalities in housing between members of the marginalized Roma communities and the majority population of Slovakia.

“By 2030, all residents of the marginalized Roma communities, and therefore all citizens and residents of the Slovak Republic without distinction, should have proper access to safe and potable water. Closely related to this challenge is the gradual legalization of technically compliant dwellings and the settlement of land on which illegal dwellings of marginalized Roma communities residents are located,” the material states. 

With regard to segregated settlements, the vision is to reduce the proportion of Roma living in segregated communities, as well as to reduce the total number of segregated settlements.

As stated in the proposal of the action plan, priority tasks in the area of housing are to reduce the number of illegal dwellings, to improve technical infrastructure and amenities in localities of marginalized Roma communities, but also to implement measures aimed at reducing residential segregation of Roma, for example through the promotion of rental housing in municipalities.

Employment

The Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of Roma aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor already in education from the current 68 to 40%, as well as to increase the employment rate of Roma aged 20 to 64 from the current 20 to 45%. In particular, the Strategy and its action plans will address the issue of Roma women’s employment, which is significantly lower than that of men.

The proposed action plan defines measures to increase the chances of Roma on the labor market, but also, for example, targeted support for equal access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, for persons from marginalized Roma communities.

Health

The global objective of the health strategy is to reduce health inequalities between Roma and the general population of the Slovak Republic, with the aim of reducing the gap in life expectancy between the general and Roma population by 50% over the course of a decade.

The tasks related to health in the action plan are designed to improve health conditions at the community level, and also aim to strengthen the professional qualifications of community health promotion workers.

Anti-Roma racism and support of participation

Besides, the Strategy sets targets for eliminating anti-Roma racism, with the ambition to halve the proportion of Roma who have felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. The Strategy will also use supportive anti-discrimination instruments to reduce the proportion of Slovak citizens who would not want a Roma neighbour from the current 54 to 20%. The aim is also to increase by 30% the confidence of Roma in the police.

In the proposed action plan, the section on combating discrimination against Roma and increasing their inclusion in mainstream society calls for anti-Roma racism to be legally recognized as a specific form of racism. One of the other measures proposed is to increase the participation of young Roma and Roma women in policy-making at all levels.

The Strategy and action plans were developed by thematic working groups in each area, with representation from different government departments and institutions, NGOs, the academic sector, and local authorities.

After a long period of participatory preparation of all materials, and a recent personal change on the position of the Plenipotentiary, the drafts of action plans proposing measures in five priority areas for the period 2022-2024 have been submitted by the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the inter-ministerial comment procedure.

More information about the materials and recent developments can be found here.

Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

Building a Professional Community – REYN Hungary Secrets

REYN Hungary is celebrating its seventh birthday with a vibrant professional community, two networks, and a great visibility in Hungary. Let us take a look at how they developed this community and what are their aspirations for the next years.

REYN Hungary was one of the first national REYNs that was launched in 2014. During mapping the needs of the professionals and stakeholders, initiated by REYN International, more than 70 early childhood professionals were asked cross-sectorally about their aspirations in a professional community. Answers were analyzed, and the national objectives of REYN were developed. From that year on, REYN Hungary is asking members about their needs and aspirations on a yearly basis.

After mapping the needs, the most challenging step was to develop trust in a professional community that did not exist before. In uncertain political and economic times it was challenging to make professionals trust hardly known networks . For many members it was the first time to sign a membership form. REYN Hungary has one more challenging task – to convince people in Central and Eastern Europe that the signature they give when applying to be a REYN member does not cause them trouble and does not cost anything. Building trust, while building REYN Hungary, meant and still means a continuous personal communication with members. It might be a personalized newsletter, a regular mail, study visits, a phone call or talking in life sessions. Although the network has more than 700 members, personal communication is still the first and foremost characteristic of the network. The motto of REYN Hungary is “Sharing is caring.”

Other than regular mapping, the needs of the members and having a personal approach are the other important elements visible for the public. Advocacy campaigns, REYN Award, media presence – by all of this the trust of current and future members is created. Personalized national REYN logo and branded merchandise for the workshops display the message that members are equally important for the network and for Romani children and families.

“Plans for the next years is just to keep on.If we can keep the magic 100+ in a year (that means that each year we promise ourselves to add 100 more members that year), and we succeed to achieve this goal so far, and the smiling faces at the events, we will be happy,” says Zsuzsa Laszlo, REYN Hungary coordinator.

Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development

Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.

Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.

“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”

So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total.  KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.

Ivan Ivanov, REYN Bulgaria: “We Can Achieve More Together”

Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, to more effectively integrate health care and education in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN is uniting efforts for advocacy in the field of early childhood development with a focus on improving access, quality, and results in health care for children from the Roma community. Today we are talking about this with REYN Bulgaria coordinator Ivan Ivanov.

– What are REYN’s priorities? What are the short-time and long-time goals?

– The short-time priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to provide regular opportunities for professionals to exchange good teaching practices and methods for working with Roma children and parents.

The long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to become an informational platform for professionals and to develop successful Role models at an early age who can increase the trust of Roma parents in educational institutions and improve the educational achievement of the Roma children and students.

One of the long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria is to support the process of creating a professional community that develops active advocacy measures and actions which may positively reflect on improving the conditions for working with Roma children and parents.

– What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic?

– The current situation is not stable at all. The mortality in Bulgaria has become increasingly higher during the past month. The percentage of vaccinated people is really low, around 20%. Right now, we are on the edge of a full lockdown of the entire country. Most of the children in Bulgaria, not only the Roma kids, face a lot of challenges in many aspects. The kindergartens and schools are closed, and all children are being homeschooled. The main communication channel with the most vulnerable children and families are the educational mediators. The educational mediators are working mainly in the neighborhoods, as well as in the remote rural areas with children from vulnerable groups – children at risk of dropping out of the education system, children from ethnic minorities, children from socially disadvantaged families.

The lack of social contact has had a largely negative impact on the educational progress of children who usually hear Bulgarian only at school. In some cases, the older children take care of their younger siblings who, after closing the educational institutions, are left at home, as well as to help the younger ones in the distance learning process at school.

We are trying to be flexible as much as we can, in order to meet some of the main needs – of the teachers and professionals who work with Roma children and the needs of the Roma children and parents.

– What is the most recent intervention that REYN carried out?

– One of the recent interventions is the program for small grants of REYN, “How to raise smart and strong children,” which aims to improve the efficiency and capacity of specialists focusing on early learning and care. Тhe project connects REYN and a local NGO. It raises awareness on the importance of preparing healthy and nutritious meals as a prerequisite for solid brain development, which affects later success in school. The initiative has already included more than 700 parents.

– What is one success of REYN that you are (most) proud of?

– We are really proud that during the last two years, within the REYN Internship program, which supports the process of introducing positive role models, we have recruited almost 20 interns, 10 NGOs on a national level, and more than 10 kindergartens which have been involved in the implementation of these project activities.

We also managed to implement more than 30 REYN regional member events both ( in-person and online), sharing good teaching practices for working with Roma parents and children, based on the REYN resources and videos created or translated during the year.

– What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had one minute to talk to them?

– Based on our professional experience, I believe we can learn and work together. When I visit Roma kindergartens and schools, I’m always shocked, and the only thing that goes through my mind is: do we really do anything to help these children? Do all these actions, strategies, and plans meet the real need of these children and their families? Can we find a way to work together in these difficult times in order to support the most vulnerable ones amongst us? What do you think?

– How does REYN engage with the members (individual and organizational)? How many members do you have?

– At the moment, REYN Bulgaria consists of 249 REYN members (109 institutional and 140 individual). One of the main channels we use for our communication is our REYN website, where we post updates about our activities and news generated on behalf of TSA and the REYN members. In order to recruit new REYN members, we publish updates and blog articles on the Trust for Social Achievement’s website, which is the host organization of REYN Bulgaria.

– What is REYN’s dream for Roma children in your country?

– Our dream is that all Roma children could receive the support and additional resources they need to reach their full potential. We also dream of having more positive role models and ambassadors for an actual change in the country.

– Why should someone join REYN?

– We believe that we can achieve more together, especially now, when we have the strongest need for support and new perspectives. When we broaden the REYN community, we also broaden our horizon of professional insights, beliefs, and hopes.

Promoting ECEC Professions Among Roma Through Workshops for Families

There is still room for improvement in the promotion of education among Roma in the field of Early Education and Care (ECEC) in Slovenia. Some specific activities can help in promoting ECEC professions among Roma, and the research that analyzed the number of Roma professionals in the field, conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018, proves it.

There are no recent data on the rate of successfully finished education on a higher level by the Roma students. An evaluation study reports that around 500 Roma children among 4 350 finished primary school in 2005-2009. This means that around 60% of Roma children, who were enrolled in primary school, successfully finished their primary education. Even though this information is not up to date, it still indicates that there is much room for improvement on the promotion of education among Roma in general or specifically in the field of ECEC.

The Educational Research Institute that led the research, invited two Roma preschool teachers to visit some Roma settlements in Slovenia and present their job and work experiences. 13 parents, 8 preschool children, and 24 school children attended these workshops in three different Roma environments. These activities introduced the profession of a preschool teacher to parents and children and encouraged them to apply for a secondary or higher school to employ in this field.

The preschool teachers spoke about their profession and shared a video, which showed their routine work in the preschool. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to creative activity, through which they presented an aspect of their work in the preschool. Children and parents together created, for example, a glass lantern.

Children were impressed by these presentations, and some of them even pretended to be preschool teachers during the discussion. They enjoyed watching the video and looking at how a preschool by the Roma settlement was working.

“We could also have such a preschool in our settlement!” said one of the girls from the audience.

After the workshop, some children’s mothers requested more information about vocational retraining in education, which would allow them to get a job as preschool teacher assistants.

In some settlements, though, parents did not show much interest in the presentation – in some cases, the workshop facilitators sensed that parents felt a bit inferior to them, in some cases parents sounded quite pessimistic.

“Education does not ensure you a job if you are Roma,” shared one parent, while some other parents would be eager to get educated in this field, but lack financial support in fulfilling this wish.

The preschool teachers plan to have the same workshops also in the future.

“When planning such events, it is important to carefully choose the facilitator, a secure and known place, and ensure an informal atmosphere. Then the participants are more relaxed and open to ask questions. If they receive relevant information in an appropriate manner, parents could be empowered to encourage their children to decide for the profession, which we present,” concluded the preschool teachers, who conducted the workshops.