Recent research shows that high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) is one of the most crucial factors in breaking the circle of the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and constitutes an investment with the highest returns. Furthermore, ECEC is particularly beneficial for children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, a problem all too common for many Roma. Statistical data from numerous surveys indicate that Romani children face multiple disadvantages in access to ECEC: they live in countries with limited services compared to European Union (EU) averages, they live in areas with limited services compared to national averages, and they have restricted access to social services as compared to non-Romani children living in close proximity. The “A Good Start” (AGS) pilot project demonstrated that the reasons for limited access to ECEC services can be effectively mitigated with well-designed and diverse community-based services, involvement of parents and communities, employment of qualified teachers, teaching assistants and mediators, and the involvement of local governments and institutions by creating synergies between services and resources. However, the pilot project also demonstrates that sustainability of the services can be ensured only if structural problems of mainstream public services are also addressed.
A number of recent EU policy documents recognize the importance of high-quality ECEC. Still, it is unknown to what extent this understanding will be reflected in the EU regulatory framework for the 2014–2020 funding period. Among others, strong ex-ante conditionalities for education (early school leaving) and anti-discrimination could support the design and implementation of comprehensive interventions in fields such as ECEC. Besides the EU regulatory framework, national programming documents will determine the use of EU Structural Funds (SF) in ECEC for marginalized Romani communities. Among many steps, this paper recommends:
1. Target funds towards Roma inclusion strategies and increase the overall absorption rate of SF.
2. Expand Roma inclusion beyond pilot projects to large-scale and sustainable programs.
3. Coordinate stakeholders with government bodies, experts, and NGOs.
4. Set quantified targets to close the gaps between EU benchmarks, national figures, and figures for Romani children by 2020.
5. Independently assess the results of previous efforts to ensure progress and learning.
6. Prioritize equal access to quality preschool facilities for all children, including Romani children, in SF programming.
7. Harmonize ECEC measures with current and future educational reforms to ensure sustainability and to provide access to quality ECEC by marginalized Roma communities.
8. Secure European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) investment in the provision of ECEC facilities.
9. Establish quality standards for ECEC interventions with the cooperation of other Members States and the support of the European Commission.
10. Provide coordination structures and beneficiaries with continuous professional assistance.
11. Collect high-quality, comprehensive data that is disaggregated by gender and ethnicity.
The preparation of national programming documents should be supported with the revision of relevant policies, such as existing legislation on the educational system, poverty reduction, and Roma integration strategies, and strategies for reducing early school leaving.
Please find the whole publication in pdf version: ags_pp2