Improving knowledge and sharing skills

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Practitioners and experts from Bulgaria and Macedonia gathered at a peer-learning seminar in Sofia on 29-30 September 2015 to exchange experiences and share best practices in the field of early childhood development for children from vulnerable groups. Each year the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) supports and facilitates learning amongst the association’s membership under the umbrella of their Peer Learning Activities initiative. On this occasion, professionals from over 10 member organizations from the National Network for Children, Bulgaria and three partner organizations from Macedonia discussed successful approaches and methods of working in Roma communities with children and parents.

Bulgraia REYN

Milena Nikolova from the National Network for Children presented a handbook of good practices in the field of early childhood education and care gathered from member organizations of the Network. The practices focus on children with disabilities, from marginalized communities and some with educational deficits or special needs. The common feature of all the good practices is that they are based on the principle that education and development of children starts at birth, they are family-focused and offer individual approach to the children and their families.
Dani Koleva from the National Network for Children presented the EU framework on the early childhood development, while Suzana Kirandziska from the Step by Step Foundation in Macedonia talked on the approaches of working with Roma children in the largest Roma district of Skopje – Suto Orizari. She talked about the importance of both physical environment, the ratio of adults to children, the importance of play for children’s development and the appropriate educational programs, in accordance with the children’s age. The practice of Step by Step Foundation in Macedonia emphasizes not only on working with Roma children and families, home visits, workshops for Roma parents for boosting their parental capacity, but also on working with non-Roma communities for awareness raising on Roma children access to early childhood education and care services.

Zornitsa Stoichkova and Boyan Vassilev from “Health and Social Development” Foundation talked on the importance of being in the community and working there with children and families, so as to build trust and to facilitate access to the services offered. Sustainability of the projects and monitoring and evaluation were also among the discussed topics. Another important approach for the success of practices might be the appointment of a mediator who is part of the Roma community and speaks fluently the language.
Health and Social Development foundation from Bulgaria hosted a visit to its center in the Roma district “Filipovtsi” in Sofia, where they implement programs to work with pregnant women and parents of children up to three years old to improve parenting skills.

Participants in the seminar agreed on the importance of early childhood development and spoke about the economic factor – early investment avoids rehabilitation programs later in life. Experts and professionals agreed upon the necessity to advocate for a strategic framework on early childhood development and a holistic approach to children and families.
National Network for Children will host a conference on the early childhood education and care in Sofia in November to raise the issues concerning investments in this early stage of life and to advocate for better public policies on this topic.

REYN study visit to UK: from quality services to the desire to spread the word to the outside world

- Blog | REYN Admin

By Samira Wymeersch, REYN member from Belgium

From 9 to 15 March 2015, I had the possibility to participate in a study visit to UK, organized by the international Romani Early Years Network for coordinators of a number of national Romani Early Years Networks that have been established in the previous twenty-four months.

I was part of a group of people coming from Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Kosovo, Italy, Bulgaria – and my country is Belgium. Among other, the main goals of the visit range from learning best practices in UK, networking and building partnerships with other professionals and strengthening leadership capacities in the international and national REYN networks

Good quality services
In London we visited several children’s centres and nursery schools:
– Earlsmead School Nursery and Reception, South Tottenham (
– Seven Sisters School and South Grove Children’s Centre (
– Rowlands Hill Sure Start Centre in Tottenham
– Pembury House Nursery Tottenham (
– Woodlands Park Nursery School South Tottenham
– Haringey Nursery Schools Consortium: Under 2’s and working with parents

We were surprised by the high quality of services delivered. The ratio of care takers per children is high (for every 3 children under the age of 2 years old, there is one care taker; for every 4 at the age of 2, there is one care taker and for every 8 children at the age of 3-6 years old there one care taker).
Children were stimulated in their personal development and parents were engaged and asked to talk about their dreams for the children. This was followed up with pictures and self-made reports and meetings.

REYN study visit to United Kingdom

Children were also offered the possibility to play outdoors as much as possible, which is a very good thing since the housing situation in UK is often precarious.
Something really positive that struck us, was the integrated approach. Children centres often had a very close collaboration with midwives, psychologists, neighbourhood workers, social workers, etc. Sometimes they even had their office in the actual children’s centre, which really made the services more accessible for parents.

Another really positive initiative, was the possibility for parents to be engaged in children’s centre/ school to work as volunteers and then be trained and in the long run offered a payed function. In this regard the staff of the centres/ schools mirrored the neighbourhood.

Network and inspire
We also met with London based professionals (Brian Foster) and professors (Debbie Albon) and with Artur Conka, a Slovak Roma photographer documenting Roma children’s experience of migration and early education (

We had the opportunity to meet with Babette Brown and Vicky Hutchin and watch the latest development with Persona Doll methodology (

REYN study visit to United Kingdom

We also participated in the National Conference of Association of Teachers for Travellers (NATT+)
NATT+ is the nationally recognised voice of Traveller Education Services. It provides a platform for teachers of Travellers and other professionals involved in the education of Gypsy Roma and Travellers, to share good practice and resources and promote these through its activities.

Besides that, we also had the opportunity to exchange amongst the participants. As Belgium does not have a REYN platform until now, it was interesting to learn from other countries what activities the existing REYN networks undertake; how they collaborate on national and international level and how they lobby their own policymakers. We had inspiring discussions and developed common plans for exchange and trainings of the mediators in each other’s countries.

Success story, but …

The study visit was a success. The initiatives we visited were a success. But our hosts really pressed us to be aware of the danger that all these beautiful things can easily be erased, if the funding is taken away and especially if the political will is no longer there. In May there will be elections old in the UK and no one can tell what will happen.

Lesson learned: validate experiences and knowledge and translate this into concrete material with which trainings can be organized to train other trainers. Spread your work, national and international, make your work visible, not only for the children and their parents, but also for the outside world. And use the REYN network to do this!

REYN study visit to United Kingdom