Nine years have passed since the Czech Republic was found guilty for segregating Romani children into special schools. In its judgment, labeled by many as groundbreaking, the European Court of Human Rights put segregation outside legal boundaries and thus prohibited it in all Council of Europe member states. In reality, every September hundreds of thousands of Romani children are side-tracked towards social exclusion by being placed into segregated special schools and classes. For many years, nongovernmental organizations have been promoting inclusive early childhood services as the way to address segregation and social exclusion. Now ISSA and partners bring more evidence to the table.
In the past three years ISSA assisted the projects in Belfast, Ghent and Rome (funded by Bernard van Leer Foundation) to empower and support local communities and promote Roma inclusion since early years. Informed actions aimed to provide parenting support, to promote of access to quality early childhood services, influence public awareness on Roma inclusion and early childhood development and to build capacities and empower Roma actors.
For furthering the policy discussions action-oriented, ISSA with support from the implementing partners developed case studies from the three localities and a synthesis report and in partnership with Bernard van Leer Foundation organized in Brussels the round table meeting Lessons learned, steps to make in achieving the inclusion of Roma and Traveller young children and families. Representatives of implementing organizations, individual and networks of foundations, and from the European Commission joined ISSA to discuss the existing challenges in inclusion of young Romani children and their families.
The issues discussed included political will and finances, especially in the light of growing populism on one hand and the need for long-term commitments for Roma inclusion on the other. Participants also discussed the rather specific topic of mediators as key actors of inclusion, including the opportunities such programs provide for Romani leaders as actors of change. Under the theme of strength-based parenting support as key entry point for inclusion, participants also confirmed the need for both a balanced professional and personal approach. And number of issues were also highlighted under the cluster of comprehensive approaches, including the need to work with both Roma and non-Roma, implement child-centered approach and work cross-sectorally.
A number of recommendations have been proposed towards the EU institutions, but also towards non-governmental organizations. After incorporating the collected comments, ISSA will publish the recommendations with case studies and synthesis report in one publication. In a follow-up, recommendations will be promoted and advocated for by ISSA, primarily through the Romani Early Years Network (REYN). At a time when three EU Member States are in the infringement proceedings for segregating Romani children in education, we believe it is time for an even stronger voice calling for inclusion of children. And we should start from birth.