About the RECI series
The Roma Early Childhood Inclusion (RECI) series has been a joint initiative of the Open Society Foundations/Early Childhood Program (OSF/ECP), the Roma Education Fund (REF) and UNICEF. The partnership was created to respond to the need for consolidated evidence to advocate and advance the rights of young Roma children and their families. All three organisations are dedicated to enabling young Roma children to access and benefit from high quality, inclusive and effective early childhood development services.
The RECI Reports build a detailed picture of early childhood policy and provision frameworks, highlighting the barriers and opportunities for improving the access of Roma children to appropriate and high-quality early childhood services. The principal objective of the Reports was to make information and data on young Roma children’s exclusion available to decision makers and key stakeholders with a view to advocate for equitable early childhood policies and programmes. This initiative was one of the first attempts in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) and South-Eastern European (SEE) region to capture and present systematically the situation of young Roma children and their families within the context of difficult national histories stemming from the marginalization and exclusion of Roma communities.
“Parents have great influence on children. How you teach your child, it will be like that. If you say – play with everyone, share with them… Children listen and accept that.”
Mother of a Roma child, Serbia, OSF parenting program
The need for the Roma Early Childhood Inclusion (RECI) initiative stemmed from the convergence of different rationales:
- The unacceptable levels of poverty and the discrimination against Roma families and their children in European countries, as evidenced by many research reports completed by intergovernmental and international organisations including the European Commission, the Council of Europe, UNCIEF, REF, Fundamental Rights Agency, and the World Bank.
- The commitment of Roma researchers, professionals, para-professionals and their civil society organisations, backed by the European Union and international organizations, to change the situation.
- The understanding that the early childhood period is the foundation stage not only of individual development, but also of lifelong health and education for all children including Roma children. Investments in the earliest years can secure the right of each child to develop to their fullest potential, to gain independence and flourish as adults and to become equal and respected members in society. Every child has the right to a strong start in life and access to the knowledge, attitudes and skills attained through lifelong learning to ensure they can join the skilled European workforce.
- The lack of reliable data on young Roma children in the CEE and SEE countries – in particular, concerning their health, developmental and education status – hinders the development of evidence-based policies of inclusion.
In the first phase (2009-2012), four RECI Reports were initiated, one for each country: the Czech Republic, North Macedonia (then the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Romania and Serbia. Through examining available data, each RECI Report identifies priority early childhood policy issues and concerns in respect of Roma families and children.
In 2012, the RECI Overview Report was prepared by Dr. John Bennett. The Overview is based on the four country reports and compares and contrasts respective policy contexts and service delivery models. It proposed a series of recommendations for more comprehensive and inclusive early childhood services and provided a clear agenda for action by governments.
A draft RECI Hungary report was prepared in 2011, however, it was not part of the first phase and was not included in the RECI Overview Report.
In the second phase (2015-2020), five RECI+ reports were prepared for Croatia (2015), Czech Republic (2015), Slovakia (2017), Hungary (not published) and Bulgaria (November 2020). Building on the experience of the RECI studies in the first phase, the RECI+ reports have endeavoured to advance the research process by increasing the number of Roma researchers and assistants within the research teams and providing all such teams with anti-bias and social justice training prior to the commencement of fieldwork research. The RECI+ concept also places greater emphasis on post-publication advocacy strategies for targeted advancements in early childhood policy, provision and practice.
Methodology and research process
Dr John Bennett, an eminent, international early childhood expert, led the first phase of RECI. He brought to the task his experience leading the OECD’s Starting Strong initiative, a thematic review, which provided cross-national information and analysis to improve policy making in early childhood education and care. Leading RECI involved creating a detailed research framework for the first phase RECI country reports (Czech Republic, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia), guiding national research teams, editing national reports and authoring the RECI Overview Report (2012). The initial research design was powerfully innovative, adopting a holistic approach that linked the diverse sectoral fields of ECEC, health and social care. This was evident in the recommendations in each report stressing the need for governments to address the multiple disadvantages experienced by Roma families, by structurally integrating policy responses focused on young children and families.
In each country, contracts for the studies and reports were awarded to a lead local partner, usually a national academic institution and or civil society organisation, which then usually worked closely with other local partners including Roma and or other NGOs. Roma researchers were included as core members of every research team. The RECI methodology for the research process initially started with a scrutiny of existing evidence, which mainly existed in the form of international reports and activists NGOs’ intelligence and surveys. The researchers also collected policies and statistics from government agencies, and reviewed all relevant policies, legislation, programmes and identified examples of good practice.
The views of Roma communities and families, and Roma mothers and fathers, gathered through focus group discussions and interviews, were incorporated in the country reports. Technical experts, representatives of ministries of health, education, and social welfare, academics as well as members of civil society organisations, had the opportunity to read draft versions of the reports and to contribute from their respective points of view to the articulation of policy reforms and practical steps required to improve the situation of young and disadvantaged Roma children. The main conclusions and recommendations of the reports, and the data on which they were based, were validated in each case by a national consultation with key stakeholders, including Roma and government representatives.
The methodology evolved further in the second phase RECI studies, known as RECI+ (Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria), with modifications introduced by subsequent lead researchers, including Dr. Adrian Marsh, Dr. Matthias Urban, Arthur Ivatts and Jana Huttova. In the second phase the methodology was adapted to match country contexts and the specific needs of local partners. The RECI+ concept placed greater emphasis on post-publication advocacy strategies for targeted advancements in early childhood policy, provision and practice.
Roma representation in the RECI process
From the start of the RECI series, Roma participation has been a key element of the initiative. By design, all of the RECI and RECI+ studies teams included Roma stakeholders, as researchers, research assistants, authors and editors. During the RECI+ phase, all of the Roma and non-Roma stakeholders in the research teams and partnership organisations were provided with anti-bias and social justice training prior to the commencement of the fieldwork research.
Local partnerships were forged with Roma NGOs, and in all cases, Roma NGOs engaged in the national consultations. Roma parents and children also participated in the research process by their willing involvement in interviews, but more commonly, through focus groups. Their views and evidence were seen as a critical part of the overall evidence base. Roma NGO leaders, Roma community representatives were also an integral part of the report launch events and the implementation of the post-publication advocacy strategy in each country.