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.

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.

Great ambitions

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

NEWS – Exchanging Goods and Good Times in Slovakia

The Wide Open School is working with seriously disadvantaged people: the Roma community. They live in very poor settlements. At the same time, through their expert work for universities (in cooperation with professional consultancies) they are connected with wealthier people as well, amongst which are many from the private IT sector.

Different groups, but Wide Open School has brought them together. Building a bridge between the two, exchanging useful things, such as: toys, books, furniture, clothes, necessities for newborns, bikes, strollers, etc.) to Roma settlements. They also have organized several get-togethers between Roma and the IT community. As a result, they have established almost familiar relationships.

This in itself gave the team of Wide Open School big hope, because it shows that not all Slovak inhabitants are intolerant, or even worse: racist.

Full value life
Wide Open School pursuits an environment where all families live in heterogeneous communities, especially children at an early age. Living in a full-value and tolerant environment, where they have access to education and social services and where all people are free in addressing their needs to a reliable, open and competent public administration.

Over the years, Wide Open School has created a broad range of services to help grow the resilience of the communities in which they work. Their offer and experience concerns parenting programs and community building, early childhood programs and aid with social and financial literacy (0-15). In addition, they offer services on topics such as social justice and leadership & governance in multi-cultural environments.

National challenges
Despite their current activities on advocacy, they do realize such activities on both national and regional level are of the enduring kind. On national level, things are more complicated and efforts need long time to take form. Wide Open School therefore believes that these results will be visible in the future only. On regional level, change and successes are more evident. The reason for this is their close cooperation with Mayors. While they endorse the work and cooperate it immediately becomes more visible.

Wide Open School will surely keep up the good work. For us, they have the following advice: Keep working hard for children – your work makes

About ISSA
ISSA is the driving force behind REYN. At ISSA we commit ourselves to the development of every child, across all domains. Ever since ISSA was founded as a network in 1999 we have grown significantly – sharing knowledge and tools to improve the quality of Early Childhood Development and its workforce. In (pre)schools, creches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for young children and their families. As a network, we gather and generate prominent studies and insights on child development and learning and convey them to our peers, member organizations and policy makers, so they can put them to good use.

To most Romani children, it was the first time outside their settlement

- News

The Know How Centre has worked with Roma communities for the past 6 years. This year’s program however was their most successful until now: they managed to motivate and support Roma parents of 29 children to apply for kindergarten. A huge milestone and a great motivation to endure their support and empowerment of parents in their pursuit of better futures for their little ones. As a result, the Know How Centre widened their program scope and offered new services.

One of these services was a community picnic in the city center of Novi Sad (Serbia), where children and parents could explore the historical city sights. The Know How Centre offered a short guided tour to the most important places and organized a creative workshop in the park where children could interact with peers of all standings. To most the children, it was the first time they were outside of their settlement, and this needs to be added: their settlement is only five minutes from the city center. It turned out to be a positive and highly valuable experience that will play an important role during their adaptation to kindergarten, when school begins.

Interhuman skillS

The Know How Center (also CPZV) is a voluntary NGO/NPO that aims to improve social development and emancipation on several levels. In addition to executing programs to help Roma inclusion, they roll out programs for families, children and youth (prevention of early school departure). Their applied methodology is to activate different types of beneficiaries through polite human contact, in combination with expert interhuman knowledge and skills.
But they primarily and continuously work with (and for) members of Roma communities of all ages. They endorse their search for knowledge and skills, and strive towards a community where all members have equal opportunities. One of their main goals is to ensure a healthy and stimulating early childhood development for the little ones. So as they reach out to families and children, they organize compelling activities that emphasize the importance of education and schooling in a positive and contagious way.

Start-up procedures and workshops

But the Know How Centre has a lot to share with other ISSA members also. They are an organization founded by five women whom are all experts in the field of social politics. They can share a fair deal of experiences in the preparation of project proposals, project management, evaluation and (periodical) reporting. On offer are also helpful procedures for establishing intersectoral cooperation and advocacy. And they have a well-developed methodology for fieldwork and a huge base of educative workshops for early childhood development.

Seeking evaluation methods

They recognize however that there is still room for improvement on evaluation methodologies for the work in informal Roma settlements. They do seek support through education and training in the field of fundraising. Their team is very open for improvements and acquisition of new knowledge which could improve their work.
Some great words from Novi Sad: ‘Whatever you do, always remember that personal happiness and satisfaction is multiplied by sharing those same things with others, especially with people who are in a position of need. Keep in mind that even the smallest progress you have made can make huge differences (instant or delayed) in the lives of our beneficiaries.’

The Know How Centre (also CPZV) is a member of ISSA, you can find their profile HERE

ISSA is the driving force behind Romani Early Years Network. We commit ourselves to the development of every child, across all domains. Ever since ISSA was founded as a network in 1999 we have grown significantly – sharing knowledge and tools to improve the quality of Early Childhood Development and its workforce. In (pre)schools, crèches, kindergartens and daycare centers across Europe, and in other services for all young children and their families. As a network, we gather and generate prominent studies and insights on child development and learning and convey them to our peers, member organizations and policy makers, so they can put them to good use.



Making positive change for children sustainable

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

The creation of the Ready Set Go! project in Romania has supported over a thousand young Romani children and their families. However, as the funding is ending, the future of the project is in doubt. On the occasion of the International Roma Day on April 8, 2017, the Romani Early Years Network (REYN), the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) organized a roundtable discussion in Brussels to discuss the future of similar projects. The event hosted by the European Foundation Centre’s (EFC) Forum for Roma Inclusion highlighted the benefits of pilot actions and identified additional ways to bring European Union policies closer to Romani children, to make the changes more sustainable.

Apart from few evocative photos, there is not much you can find about Gălbinași online, particularly if you do not speak Romanian. The village of a few thousand inhabitants is one-hour’s drive south-east of Bucharest. Not much has happened recently in the town, apart from the reopening of the recently renovated kindergarten and the quality services being provided by trained staff there, including Roma parents, as a result.

The locals tell us that Gălbinași has around sixty children of preschool age, vast majority of them Roma. Only twenty are lucky enough to get the chance to attend the reconstructed kindergarten. Originally built almost a century before and almost falling down until two years ago, the building has now become the center of social life for Gălbinași’s youngest citizens and their families. While currently the kindergarten is ethnically homogeneous, plans for more integrated services are currently discussed.

The Gălbinași kindergarten was one of fourteen new kindergartens built in eleven localities and six Romanian counties, where vast majority of children are Roma. The kindergartens and linked services (e.g. the toy library, reading corners and more) were established thanks to the Ready Set Go! project, organized by the Roma Education Fund (REF) Romania with partners and the support of the Norway Grants. Over a thousand young children and their parents have benefited from the project. However, after 29 months, the project funding is ending.

Records have been kept on the number of children and parents involved, the children’s attendance, the toys used by the children in the toy library and much more. Although it is perhaps too early to evaluate the impact of the kindergarten on the children’s educational achievements, their parents, knowing their own children the best, have already seen a clear boost in their development.

However there are many uncertainties about the future. Municipalities wonder how they can maintain the kindergarten and its services from their own budget. Local coordinators wonder if they should think about how to reach out to more children. Can the organizers of the project persuade the government to take it as a model and include it in the state budget?

What can the EU do to improve early childhood development?

At the European level, Roma and pro-Roma civil society is seeking support in Brussels for increased attention to early childhood development. Recently, REYN, EFC and EPHA joined forces to coordinate efforts to look closer into the situation of young Romani children in Europe.

On April 10, on International Roma Day, we organized the first joint roundtable meeting with other nongovernmental organizations, networks, foundations and representatives of the European Commission. REYN and EPHA made presentations on the policies needed to support of the inclusion of Romani children, including the vital importance of early childhood development for Roma health and wellbeing during the whole life, as well as initiating a more thorough discussion focused on the needs of young children and their families.

One of the key policy processes which emerged during the day-long discussion was the comprehensive implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) by EU Member States, which are believed not to properly reflect children’s specific situation in their policies, even though they were encouraged to do so by the EU. This was also highlighted at the meeting, as the EU carries out the mid-term review of the European Framework of the NRIS, the EU’s vital role in facilitating meaningful change for Roma. The discussions identified the key issue: Romani young children both are not considered in pro-children policies, and young children are not properly focused on within the pro-Roma policies. And to address this, more of grassroots voices need to be heard in Brussels and vice versa.

We at REYN and EPHA not only want to address the deficiencies of policies currently being implemented, but also look into the future. Together, we will work towards the development of sustainable systems, where all children including Roma and Travellers, have access to quality early childhood services. Together, we will make sure that governments understand the benefits and do not limit their initiatives only to kindergartens or preparatory classes. With health actors we will promote health as an inseparable component of early childhood development.

We call upon philanthropy to become more active in the area of the early childhood development of Romani and Traveller children, as it is too often overlooked despite being crucial for Roma inclusion. And we call upon you to work with us to make sure there are no more lost Romani and Traveller generations. Follow the channels of Romani Early Years Network, we will bring more.

Roma settlement Pušča and kindergarten Romano

- Blog | REYN Admin

The following video presents the Roma settlement Pušča (north-east of Slovenia) and its kindergarten “Romano”, which aired on CNN in 2011. Pušča is the largest Slovenian Roma settlement and the first independent local community in Slovenia and Europe (click on the link below).

Roma settlement Pušča and kindergarten Romano

A kindergarten is located in this settlement that marked its 50th anniversary. The primary intention was to include only the Roma children, but the kindergarten is becoming more multicultural. There are also non-Roma children that are attending this kindergarten, as a result of coexistence between Roma and majority in the municipality and activities of Roma in the local community. There are currently 22 Roma children and 8 non-Roma children enrolled in the kindergarten. The kindergarten uses the pedagogy of Maria Montessori and is taking part of the project “The increase in social and cultural capital in areas with a Roma population”, which is funded by European Social Fund and Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports. Its objectives are to increase the level of education of the Roma community members and to raise awareness about the significance of education as the fundamental factor in the progress of the community.