REYN’s next Horizons – Annual Meeting 2022 and launch of REYN Early Childhood Research
After two years of online meetings, REYN (the Romani Early Years Network) met again in person in Barcelona, Spain.
From Wednesday 19th to Friday 21st 2022, representatives from International and national REYN coming from 10 countries (Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine) got together to engage in a joint reflection on REYN ’s achievements and challenges in the period of 2019-2022 and to shape the new strategic framework for the Initiative.
This meeting occasion also brought opportunities for celebrations, including the 10th Anniversary of the Initiative.
On Friday 21st at 10:30 CET, in partnership with the University of Barcelona, under its REYN Initiative, ISSA organized an event to launch infographics with country data from theREYN Early Childhood Research on the status of young Roma children in Europe. With financial support of the Open Society Foundations, the research was carried out in 11 countries reaching out to a diversity of stakeholders through the 11 national REYNs hosted by ISSA member organizations and partners.
The main findings of the research were presented by the Roma Studies Groups team (CEG) at CREA – University of Barcelona, who led the research. The full report is soon to be launched.
The launch was broadcasted live. Watch the recording below.
Ouderklap – Beyond A Play and Meeting Room for Roma Families with Young Children
“You are welcome, we want you there. As a parent, you can join whenever it suits you”. This is the message that community worker Aslihan Kaplan and parenting support worker Cara Van Dam use to welcome Roma parents when coming to Ouderklap for the first time.
Launched in the fall of 2021, Ouderklap is a ‘play and meeting group’ for Roma families with young children and families with young children without a Roma background in Kallo, a small district of Beveren in Flanders, Belgium.
After one year of work at the helm of this initiative, in this article, Aslihan and Cara share their experiences.
Located in a district with a great diversity of residents, Ouderklap welcomes Roma children aged 0 to 6 years and their mothers and fathers on Friday afternoons. In the community room, twice a month the play mats are brought out and the toys are ready for children, while the room smells of coffee and tea for the parents.
“I finally got to take a shower, not a dot on my head but loose hair. Finally, something else than being busy with the children because I have been doing nothing else than caring for others for 6 years. I also want to go back to work, and have my baby go to childcare, because I always worked before I met my partner.“
The meaning of encounters for parents
The center offers Roma parents a place they can have to themselves, where they can meet other mothers who have similar experiences about raising their children and sharing doubts and experiences with other parents, which has been revealed as a great source of support. It is also a place where they can play together and discover new experiences with their children. Some of the topics parents have shared their experiences on include:
How to introduce sleep routines since older children keep each other awake?
My child is being bullied at school. What can I do?
How do you stay calm yourself when children are angry or excited? What helps and what doesn’t?
Partner help and involvement in parenting
Ouderklap also became a safe space for Roma mothers to allow their sub-identities in addition to being mothers. As one mother put it, “I finally got to take a shower, not a dot on my head but loose hair. Finally, something else than being busy with the children because I have been doing nothing else than caring for others for 6 years. I also want to go back to work, and have my baby go to childcare, because I always worked before I met my partner.”
It also became a place for them to unwind and have a medium to share frustrations and make concrete steps when they felt ready. Cara noticed that it is important to be aware if mothers just need to vent or want to find a solution to something. For example, mothers could say things like, “My kids go to sleep really late, they don’t listen when I send them to bed. But it’s also not healthy because you can see they don’t get enough sleep, and then they cannot get out of bed.” So as a facilitator, Cara can guide the conversation using questions like “What have you tried? And how is it now? Is that enough for you? Did you just want to be able to talk about it now or are you willing to do something about it too?” And if they’re ready, she would guide the discussions to come up with solutions together.
Is pancake baking family supportive?
During the implementation of the Ouderklap sessions, Aslihan and Cara noticed the need for the initiative to first grow into a safe place and later, from that trust, to also be a place where questions on all kinds of topics could be discussed. It was always up to the local residents to decide what they felt like doing. One might like to make pancakes together, another to go on an excursion, while some prefer to simply practice their Dutch language skills. This variety of interests then raises the question about the value of ‘Ouderklap’, is this really family supportive?
What is supportive for parents is very diverse, what energises one might not for another. According to Cara and Aslihan, family support is about initiatives that can be supportive at moments where people need to recharge to then take up their parenting role again.
Keeping thresholds low
While hesitation to participate and maintaining an equally safe environment for everyone remains a challenge, Cara and Alishan learned that making the participants co-responsible for the group process is key. This implied flexibility from them as facilitators during their nine-months exploration. They not only organized outdoor activities to increase visibility in the neighborhood, but also experimented with handing out soups at schools and knocking on doors. Having a familiar face, such as Aslihan, whom is the neighborhood community worker, also proved to lower the barrier to participate for both mothers and fathers.
For Aslihan and Cara, their ambition is to empower Roma mothers. While both fathers and mothers are welcome, they noticed that engagement came mostly from mothers. They are determined to create a safe environment to strengthen these mothers to do or say what she has long desired for both herself and her children. Whether it be setting boundaries, allowing sub-identities to be present, or simply being able to come to the center, Ouderklap has succeeded in building a meaningful place, with and for local residents.
Authors: Cara Van Dam and Liesbeth Lambert Photos: Courtesy of Ouderklap
Facilitating a language-friendly environment for Roma children in Croatia
Human language is much more than a means of communicating — it creates a sense of belonging. Children learn very early that the language they speak identifies them as a member of a particular group. According to Piper (1998) children acquire their first language within their society of language users. They learn language in order to become a part of that society, and their learning is influenced by a variety of social factors.
When children experience a discontinuity between the language and culture of the family or community and the culture of the school (which is often modelled on the majority or mainstream culture) this can disrupt their learning. Language discontinuity between the home or community, and preschool or school can be a problem for many Roma children, and has been identified as one of the key reasons for the low educational performance, failure, exclusion, or self-exclusion of minority groups like the Roma.
The precise number of Roma who today live in the Republic of Croatia and their territorial distribution is difficult to ascertain. This is because of their territorial distribution and the fact that they are not a homogenous population — with differences in language, socioeconomic status and religion. However, the latest available data, obtained by mapping Roma sites in 15 counties of Croatia in 2017 (Klasnić et all, 2020.), suggests that there are about 24,524 members of the Roma national minority living in the Republic of Croatia.
The importance of multilingualism
Recently, the Open Academy Step by Step Croatia organised a focus group with educators from public primary schools on the topic of multilingualism. The group explored the importance of language development and the challenges that Roma children face when entering school, as well as the increase in the diversity of languages and cultures in Croatia. This article will explore language development based on insights gained from the educators practice, and the theory of language development.
Language is the main component of early literacy development, but including children from different languages and cultures involves more than just teaching them the alphabet. According to Nemeth K. (2021), five factors combining the social/emotional as well as cognitive domains need to be considered in diverse early childhood education programs. These are:
Identity and self-esteem
Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Supporting the home language
Support for teachers
1. Identity and self-esteem
In the process of developing language, it is important that Roma children are not denied the right to enjoy their own culture, and religion or to use their own language. However, educators should also be aware when they develop activities using the Roma language, that this does not serve to exclude Roma children from the culture and language of the wider community, and that the educational activities delivered in the Roma language are of the same quality as those delivered in the mainstream language.
During the focus group that was organised on the topic of multilingual learning, educators suggested that interactions between minority children with others provide an opportunity for the minority children to show respect for their culture and language. This is illustrated by one of the teachers who mentioned that “When Roma children say something in their own language or show some of their subjects to non-Roma Croatian children, they feel important and accepted.”
A child’s home language is the language of his family. It is the language used to love and nurture him from the time he is born and it is the language in which he learns about the world and how he fits into it. It is so important to support and honour this powerful beginning and to help the child see that this part of his life is valued and understood.
2. Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Rather than using the word “tolerance” which suggests enduring someone’s existence and nothing more, the educators prefer the word “inclusion” in the true sense of the word, and emphasize that, “Opportunities for this need to be created.” From their experience, the educators added that “Children in a classroom benefit by learning to make friends with others who may look or sound or behave differently and to interact without fear or judgment.”
Even if the adults in the classroom are not bilingual, each child’s language and culture should be reflected throughout the classroom (Espinosa, 2009). In practice, educators use various strategies to address diversity in early childhood like sharing books about the similarities and differences between people, enjoying music from different countries, and inviting families to come in and share aspects of their culture and life. When educators were asked about the benefits of minority students’ plurilingualism and the benefits this has for other students, one educator said that “Non-Roma Croatian children really love to hear about Roma culture and they are interested in learning more.”
3. Family strength
The idea of family strength comes from the fact that parents are the child’s first teacher and are critically important in supporting teachers. To help parents become aware of how they can be effective partners in the education process, teachers should talk with them as early as possible about the parents’ hopes and aspirations for their child, their sense of what the child needs and suggestions about ways teachers can help.
In the Croatian case, the biggest challenge is changing people’s opinion that Roma parents. Many teachers assume that Roma parents are disinterested in their children’s education, as illustrated by one educator who stated that, “To the parents of migrants and minority children, school is very low on the scale of importance.”
It is arguable that because many Roma parents, particularly mothers, have not been to school and are illiterate themselves this restricts their ability to support their children’s education. Community-based programs are therefore necessary to help parents to improve their own literacy in order to break the cycle of poor educational outcomes across generations. Parents should be recognized and supported as advocates for their children’s right to education and the value that it has for them.
4. Supporting the home language
While supporting the use of the home language at the same time as encouraging the learning of Croatian can seem rather complicated, children already have some knowledge of how language works. This means that in learning Croatian, they need only grasp how the new language works and how it differs from their first language. It is important that educators are aware that children from different cultural backgrounds may have different ways of expressing themselves. Instead of judging these as wrong or in need of fixing, the teacher must use information obtained through observation as the relevant starting point for that child.
5. Support for teachers
Teaching in a diverse and inclusive classroom place many demands on the teacher. In order for the teacher to be successful, a number of program supports should be in place.
Children need to be stimulated to develop and use their mother tongue skills. Parents, schools and the community have been shown to play an effective part in this. Opportunities for children to use and develop their mother tongue skills enable them to gain recognition for skills and see that they are of equal value to other language skills. Informal programs for learning mother tongues should be provided and encouraged.
As Croatia becomes more and more diverse, educators play a pivotal role in helping the new generation of children grow up bilingual, culturally aware, and ready to get along with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. What a wonderful opportunity to give every young child — an advantage for a lifetime!
Iva Sviben, program coordinator, Open Academy Step by Step Croatia
Photos: Taken in Orehovica, a municipality in Međimurje, July 22, 2021.
European commission (2015). Language teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms.Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Espinosa, L. (2009(. Getting it Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds: Applying Research to Practice, Pearson
Klasnić, K., Kunac, S., Rodik, P. (2020.) Uključivanje Roma u hrvatsko društvo: žene, mladi i djeca. Ured za ljudska prava i prava nacionalnih manjina Vlade Republike Hrvatske. Zagreb, page. 68
Piper, T. (1998). Language and learning: The home and school years. III edition. Upper Saddle River, N. J: Merrill Prentice Hall
Roma parents in Slovenia are seeing the value of early education and care
In the period between the end of 2021 and spring 2022, National REYNs conducted research in their own countries on the situation of Roma families with young children (REYN Research Study). In Slovenia, the Educational Research Institute led this unique process in the country, which implied involving members of the Roma community along the development of the study. They gathered data from Roma parents, ECEC practitioners, professionals who work with Roma families, and from local and national policy makers.
In this article, we would like to highlight some interesting information obtained through questionnaires and focus groups with Roma parents. Mothers and fathers from Prekmurje and Dolenjska, two Slovenian regions with large populations of Roma, participated in the research which examined various topics, such as health and wellbeing, hygiene and nutrition, play and early learning, responsive parenting, family and living conditions, safety and security, and accessibility, availability and affordability of ECEC services. The main focus of this piece will be on how Roma parents feel about early childhood education and care.
Through the research it became evident that Roma parents are aware of the significant impact that they have on their children in the early years. This is illustrated by one of the fathers who said, “If I were to raise my voice to my wife, the children would hear us and this is not right. What kind of a message am I sending to my children with such behaviour?”
The parents also demonstrated an awareness of the importance of being caring and attuned to their children’s needs. It is important for parents to show affection to their children through a caring attitude, talking to them, and spending quality time with them. Especially for younger children, who cannot yet express themselves verbally, it is very important that parents do their best to interact and connect with the child in order to understand what it is they need. Many parents — mainly mothers — confirmed that they had no problems understanding their children and that they had a feel for what their children wanted to tell them. “A mother just feels what the child needs,” one mother said.
The value of preschool
We often emphasize how important it is for parents to view education as a value and to enrol their children in preschool early — enabling them access to quality education and care, and a supportive learning environment.
Participants in the studies agreed that attending preschool indeed supports children’s development. They witnessed advantages in the children in their acquiring a new language, understanding the daily routine, learning about tolerance and good manners, as well as improving their independence during meals (table preparation, serving the food, cleaning the table after eating etc.), hygiene, and dressing. Additionally, parents recognised that in preschool, children are able to make new friends, and learn how to act in society. All of these skills help children have a smoother transition into school.
Another huge benefit parents in the research saw in preschool education was that it gave their children an opportunity to learn the language of the majority. This is one of the most important factors in helping children to be successful later in school. Otherwise, it is likely that they would have difficulties with understanding the teachers’ lessons, their learning outcomes would be lower, and peers might tease them. All of these things have an impact on the child’s development and level of self-esteem.
Furthermore, some parents were inspired by the amount of effort that certain teachers and peers put into helping their children feel welcome at preschool. One couple shared that, ”Our daughter could not speak Slovene, when she entered school. One boy really tried to help her with the language as much as he could understand her. Then her teacher decided to attend a Romani language course to be able to help our children. All of us respected this noble decision. We also had another teacher, who regularly took our children to the playground and worked with them on their physical condition.”
However, there were also parents who expressed uncertainty about preschool. They feared that their children might not be given as much care as they receive home. For other parents it is difficult to take their children to preschool due to their demanding living conditions. In such cases, it is the duty of REYN Slovenia and the other national REYNs to work for and with these parents with the aim of empowering them, gaining their trust, and ensuring adequate conditions to enable them to enrol their children in preschool as early as possible.
Authors: Petra Zgonec, Mateja Mlinar Researchers at the Educational Research Institute, coordinating institution of REYN Slovenia
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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”.
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” 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.
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.
 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.
 Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.
 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.
UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.
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 Travellerfamilies 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.
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.
 Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 foundhere.
Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.