REYN: 10 years of keeping Roma children in the spotlight

On 9 December 2022, ISSA organised “ISSA Connects to Celebrate: 10 years of REYN“, a special event that provided an opportunity to learn from the 10 years of existence of ISSA’s REYN initiative, about its unique contribution to creating quality environments for young Roma children to develop, learn and thrive.

The program featured REYN’s Footprints: building blocks for long-term impact showcasing achievements and examples of good practices from different European countries and provided a platform for discussions about the status of young Roma children, highlighting existing challenges and responsive solutions.

During the two-hour session, relevant Roma and non-Roma experts and professionals, National REYNs and ECD professionals involved in REYN’s success—including those who spearheaded the initiative— explored potential avenues forward to provide young Roma children with equal and quality developmental opportunities.

Watch the recording of the online celebratory event

Celebrating 10 years of REYN

The Romani Early Years Network was established in 2012 as an initiative of ISSA in partnership and with financial support from the Roma ‘Kopaçi’ Initiatives at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) Early Childhood Programme, in response to the growing demand for professional development opportunities for practitioners working with young Roma and Traveller children. REYN aimed to address the issues informed by the Roma Early Childhood Inclusion studies and other reports, pinpointing a scarcity of Romani ECD professionals, pedagogues and paraprofessionals, a lack of adequate and culturally sensitive resources for those working in this area, and few mechanisms for professional development opportunities to support those working in early years settings with Romani families and their children.

Over the ten years of bringing together Roma and non-Roma professionals, Roma and pro-Roma civil society organizations, as well as engaging with relevant stakeholders, both at national and international levels, as an initiative, REYN grew and expanded its programmatic portfolio. 

Starting from building capacity at the country level for Roma professionals and enabling national REYNs to connect professionals at country levels around specific topics and actions, over the years, REYN became a platform for learning, sharing, knowledge creation, advocacy and joining efforts around specific actions and issues related to the status of young Roma children.    

Since 2012, REYN creates quality environments for young Roma children to develop, learn and thrive!

Celebrating the ten years of REYN is at the same time the celebration of ten years of visibility of the needs of young Roma children and their families and the iteration of REYN’s commitment to bringing the early childhood development of young Roma children into Roma discourse into the European policy agenda.  

Learn more about ISSA Connects

ISSA Connects for Ukraine event

Since the war in Ukraine started, ISSA Network’s efforts have provided timely and meaningful support to children and families affected by the war and in countries where they fled.

ISSA Connects for Ukraine is a special event where ISSA Members, including the Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Fund “Blaho” (REYN Ukraine), will share the challenges they face, as well as the solutions they are providing to support the children and families they work with throughout the devastating impacts of war.

Click here for more information and registration.

The Situation of Young Roma Children in Europe – a New Milestone in Early Childhood 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, Romani Early Years Network (REYN) Initiative is launching the REYN Early Childhood Research, a study that sheds light on young Roma children and their parents throughout Europe. The study brings together unprecedented Roma-related early childhood data from 11 countries. It catalyzes solid evidence for urgent and effective policies and programs enabling each young Roma to reach their full potential – to grow and thrive!  

REYN Early Childhood Research showcases 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 Early Childhood Research 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 Early Childhood Research, carried out with the support of the Open Society Foundations, was 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. 

Country data is already available (see infographics below) and the final report of the study will be launched soon and disseminated via our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and REYN newsletter. Stay tuned and subscribe today! 

Photo: Courtesy of Tomáš Rafa


REYN Early Childhood Research Study


Bosnia and Herzegovina

Download Infographic

8 April – REYN gives visibility to young Roma children affected by the war in Ukraine

This day last year, when we marked the 50th International Roma Day, we enthusiastically looked toward a better Europe for all, emphasizing the fundamental need for equality, inclusion, and participation to fight antigypsyism — we all hoped this year would be different.

But, one year later, the persistent discrimination and social inequalities that Roma in Ukraine face are only exacerbated by war. Roma are encountering additional hardships when seeking humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs, even while trying to cross borders to safety.

Today, we want to tell you the stories of young Roma children and their families experiencing additional adversity due to the war and share one organization’s work to bring hope on this 51st International Roma Day.

Hear me – See me – Stand with me tells the story of the REYN Ukraine‘s remarkable work, acknowledging their tireless efforts to create safe and welcoming spaces for Roma families fleeing war zones. A Station of Hope serves as a safe haven; it provides a welcoming environment where children can express themselves, be heard, play, and interact with peers. At the same time, parents can engage with professionals, learn, and support one another. Despite the harsh environment of war, a Station of Hope succeeds in building community and creating a sense of normalcy for children and their families.

Watch the video here. How will you contribute to making 2022 different for young Roma children and their families? Will you hear Roma, see Roma, stand with Roma? Take to Twitter with the hashtag #standwithRoma to join the conversation.

Khetaun sam zoraleder. Opre Roma! / Together, we grow stronger. Rise up Roma! 

We stand for all young children and families impacted by the war in Ukraine

From the first day of the war in Ukraine, the ISSA Network mobilized itself to respond to this horrendous crisis. We are in regular contact with our member organizations in Ukraine, which continue to work on behalf of young children, even in life-threatening circumstances. Together with our wider membership and partners, we provide emergency support to young children in Romani communities in a region in Western Ukraine. We are actively supporting and connecting members and partners in neighboring countries, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing. Together, we strive to ensure that the early childhood development related support offered to refugee families has a strong trauma-informed component.

We need your support to continue in these efforts, as it becomes more and more evident how enormous the needs are and the roll-on effects of this crisis.

Young children are disproportionately affected during times of war. The instability and resulting wounds and trauma inflicted on children and families living in Ukraine, and those fleeing the violence, will be long lasting from generation to generation. The global community must act now. At ISSA, we continue our tireless work towards our vision of a society where families, communities and professionals work together to empower each child to reach their unique potential and embrace values of social justice and equity.

We raise our voice together with international partners at ECDAN, ECPC, ARNEC, AfCEN, ANECD, and Moving Minds Alliance in this joint statement in EnglishUkrainian and Russian, and in this editorial, together with Eurochild, our European partner in the First Years, First Priority Campaign on ECD.

Henriette Heimgaertner, ISSA President                                                                             
Liana Ghent, Director of ISSA

The Dream to Grow Campaign promotes diversity in the early childhood workforce

When it comes to policies, strategies, and programs that support the inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalized children, we cannot fail to consider the early childhood development (ECD) professionals with the same cultural and ethnic backgrounds as the children with whom they work.

Meet Loli 

Loli is a Roma girl from Europe. Her story begins with a red ribbon placed on her wrist on the day she was born as a sign of deeply ingrained cultural values. We can quickly realize the importance of her early years spent in preschool. It is there, she is encouraged to develop. Loli has a teacher she can relate to. She is not afraid to speak the Romani language because there is somebody who can understand her mother tongue and her family culture, values, and beliefs. Moreover, Loli’s teacher understands the difficulties that Loli faces as a Roma child, the prejudices held against her by other children, and even professionals who don’t speak the same language and who don’t share the same culture, values, and beliefs.   

Stories of diversity

Loli’s story is different than most. Many Roma children around Europe don’t have the same opportunities and conditions as Loli had. That’s why the Romani Early Years Network (REYN) is joining forces at the national and international level to raise awareness about the importance of diversity in the early childhood workforce and advocate for more Roma professionals in the early childhood development field. 

With 12 advocacy stories, we share the successes of Roma ECD professionals who are supporting Roma children and families in their countries – celebrating the example they are setting for future generations. 

These inspiring stories highlight Roma ECD professionals’ different pathways to become who they are today, following Roma standing with dignity and pride, ready to shape Europe’s future, and rewrite the current narrative.

REYN aims to contribute to creating more inclusive and equitable societies by advocating for increasing diversity in the ECD workforce, strengthening professionalism, and giving more recognition to the Roma ECD professionals for their invaluable work. In the quest to shape a better future for the new generations, there is a dire need to work closely with Roma professionals. Positive role models, such as Roma ECD professionals, break negative stereotypes in society in general, and for the children, they do that from the early years. They demonstrate that, with the right support and a nurtured belief in oneself, it is possible to break the vicious circle that has entrapped the Roma minority in Europe for centuries.

Dreaming to Grow

In Loli’s story, and in the stories of the 11 Roma ECD professionals that REYN will launch later week, the encouragement and commitment of the adults around them played a crucial role in their success. So, how can we challenge the current paradigm and build a better society through engagement together? How can we #DreamToGrow?

Recognize each child’s unique potential, encouraging their dreams, and helping them blossom. 

Ensure equity for Roma students in access to all levels of education and entering early childhood professions.  

Yield inclusive work environments that embrace diversity and create opportunities for professionals to grow and make their voices heard.  

Nurture professionalism and a sense of belonging among all Roma early childhood professionals valuing their contribution to the field.

I want to share my story!

Read the 12 #DreamToGrow stories below.

Image: (c) ISSA / J. McConnico

Roma ECD professionals success stories | #DreamToGrow

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Read Dajana’s story

‘Every child has the right to flourish’, REYN Ukraine members echo

A new study presented by REYN Ukraine shows that Romani children are lagging behind in school compared to their peers. Advocates for early childhood development called for investing in Romani children.

The education and development of Romani children will not be beneficial to Roma only but also to future taxpayers, to the economic sector and to the country in general. This is the main message sent from the Annual REYN Ukraine Conference last week. The event was attended by experts, government representatives, early childhood professionals, Roma parents and the civil society.

New study presented

RENY Ukraine has presented the results of a new report on the status of Romani children’s housing and education. Romani children are lagging behind in school compared to their non Romani peers. The causes of this are: Romani children usually do not attend preschool education so they already start with a gap that they have to fill; also, teachers do not seem to have the right tools to work with children that are diverse socially, economically and culturally.

A large majority of the Romani families has difficulties to provide for their children so attending preschool is of secondary importance to them. In the Transcarpathia region 54.4% of children go to bed hungry sometimes. Although the situation is not so critical in other areas, there are problems with the purchase of clothing, footwear and office supplies.

Also, 35% of Roma parents in Transcarpathia stated that it was difficult for their children to study, in particular, writing, reading and mathematics. This indicates a low level of preschool preparation. At the same time, teachers declare that the main problems is the lack of discipline, which indicates a low level of socialization and adaptation of Roma children to the educational process as a whole.

The conference

The Conference was also saw the participation of REYN members in the country, they asked to policy makers a society where every child has the right to grow up happy.

The REYN network participated in a meaningful discussion with Serhiy Nizhynsky, the Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, Volodymyr Khodakivsky, repr. of the Ministry of Culture, Sayenko Svitlana repr. of the Ministry of Social Policy, a representative of the Children’s Ombudsman Aksana Filipishyna and Yuriy Mandich, Staff Advisor of the mayor of Uzhgorod.

The event took place on November 21-22, 2019. REYN National Networks from Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia shared with the audience their good practices and lessons learned.

The meeting was also attended by Zemfira Kondur, a representative of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine, who said that the results of the REYN Ukraine research were recently presented in Strasbourg during the World Democracy Forum.

Read more about REYN Ukraine.

Will the Western Balkan Summit be an important breakthrough for Roma integration?

At the Sixth Western Balkan Summit national head of state and European representatives pledged to speed up Roma integration on subjects like education, health and housing.

Potentially, an important breakthrough for Roma integration. The Western Balkan Summit in Poznan brought together policy makers, civil society organizations, experts and entrepreneurs on July 4th – 5th 2019.

The meeting ended on July 5th with a national and European Union (EU) leaders summit that reiterated the importance of Roma inclusion for the EU enlargement process.

The declaration

The summit produced a key document called “Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process”.

The document pledged commitment to achieve the following objectives:

  • Education: Increase the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in primary education to 90 per cent and the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in secondary education to 50 per cent;
  • Health: Ensure universal health insurance coverage among Roma of at least 95 per cent or to the rate equal to the rest of the population;
  • Housing: Wherever possible, legalize all informal settlements where Roma live; or provide permanent, decent, affordable and desegregated housing for Roma currently living in informal settlements that cannot be legalized for justified reasons;
  • Employment: Increase the employment rate of Roma in the public sector to the rate proportional of the participation of Roma in the overall population; Increase the employment rate among Roma to at least 25 per cent;
  • Civil registration: ensure all Roma are registered in the civil registries;
  • Non-discrimination: Strengthen the government structures to protect against discrimination and establish a specific sub-division for non-discrimination of Roma within the formal non-discrimination bodies to process complaints by Roma, provide legal support to alleged victims and identify discrimination schemes, including institutional and hidden discrimination.

Our stand

Our stand is that policy makers should focus more on early childhood development to achieve real change; read our position here.

At the same time we see this declaration as a strong signal in the right direction, especially because it’s quoting the 2017 Western Balkans Regional Roma Survey that reports comparable data on pre-primary education.

Also, the presence of important figures as Angela Merkel and Theresa May, together with the High Representative of the EU Commission Federica Mogherini encourages the hope of a real European commitment.

Participants thanked the government of North Macedonia for initiating the process and welcomed the proposal of Albania to host a follow-up ministerial meeting in 2020 to assess the progress made.

Download the declaration here.