Promoting social justice and inclusion for young Roma children in Europe
Today, the World Day of Social Justice, is a day to promote social justice and address global issues such as poverty, exclusion, and discrimination.
n this occasion, we aim to highlight the struggles faced by young Roma children and their families in Europe, enduring discrimination, segregation, and social exclusion that limits their opportunities and hinders their potential.
Early childhood development plays a crucial role in establishing a strong foundation for lifelong learning and health, and stark inequalities that Roma children face in these crucial days. However, the lack of data on young Roma children impedes the development of responsive policies.
To address this gap, the REYN Early Childhood Research Study (2023) provides valuable data and insights that can inform policies and practices to improve the lives of Roma children and their communities.
Learn more about the REYN Research and join us in advocating for social justice and inclusion for Roma children and families. Together, we can make a difference and create a more just and equitable society for all. #WorldDayofSocialJustice #REYNStudy #RomaChildren
REYN Study: Stimulating data-informed decisions for young Roma children in Europe
The data collected in the research conducted by ISSA, through its REYN initiative, to analyse the situation of young Roma children and their families across 11 European countries, has led REYN to disseminate its findings urging decision-makers to include young Roma children in transformative early childhood policies and programs. The research has been developed in collaboration with researchers from the Centre of Roma Studies (CEG) at CREA – University of Barcelona.
Data on key areas impacting children’s development By analyzing six key areas that impact the lives of young Roma children and their families (family status and living conditions, health and well-being, safety and security, early learning, responsive parenting and discrimination), the REYN Early Childhood Research Study (REYN Study) reveals the multiple challenges and barriers that young Roma children and their families face in these areas, such as poverty, social exclusion, poor health, low educational attainment, and limited access to quality services. It also highlights the strengths and resilience of Roma communities, as well as the potential of early childhood interventions to improve their outcomes and opportunities.
Informing and inspiring actions to transform the lives of young Roma children Throughout 2023, in partnership with key stakeholders in Europe, REYN has organized several events and activities to share the study findings and stimulate decision-makers for the inclusion of young Roma children in transformative early childhood policies and programs. These include:
“Unlocking the Potential of Young Roma Children in Europe”, a public event at the European Parliament (EP) hosted by Dr Milan Brglez, EP Member, during the Roma Week in Brussels, co-organized by REYN, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), Eurochild, and the Minority Initiative.
ISSA Connects for Learning, which featured the launch of a cross-country analysis of the REYN research. Held in Opatija, Croatia, the event was attended by REYN Nationals and ISSA Members.
Breaking the cycle of discrimination of Roma children through early childhood education
The situation described above by this Roma parent in the REYN Early Childhood Research Study (REYN Study) is still very common for many Roma children in Europe. The pressing issue of segregation and discrimination faced by Roma children at all levels of education is still persistent.
One of the most common and complex barriers Roma children face is discrimination. As Aljosa Rudas, Program Manager, International Step by Step Association (ISSA), stated in a recent webinar (“Inclusion of Roma children in Early Childhood Education and Care”- watch the recording) organized by Eurocities and UNICEF: “Young Roma children face multiple inequalities in areas of their lives that impact their development and growth.”
Discrimination both at institutional and individual levels greatly affects access to education for Roma children and therefore, their equal learning opportunities from the start. The evidence is overwhelming: according to the REYN Study, 60% of Roma children under the age of three do not have access to early childhood education and care services nearby, and only 44% between the ages of three and seven (or the starting age of compulsory primary education) are enrolled in early childhood education, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service.1
A call to end Roma children segregation in education in the European Union
The recent European Parliament’s resolution on October 4, 2023 ‘Segregation and discrimination of Roma children in education’ is a leap forward to tackle the problem of continued segregation of Roma children. It stresses that all children, irrespective of their ethnic origin, must benefit from equal and free educational opportunities, which is not the case across the European Union (EU).
While listing the many issues still to be tackled, the resolution also highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and effective measures to eliminate systemic discrimination in the EU, such as the participation of Roma children in early childhood education.
Early childhood education and care play a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of discrimination and disadvantage faced by Roma children. The REYN Early Childhood Research Study has shown that the participation of Roma children in early childhood and preschool education has a profoundly positive impact. It not only enhances their overall development but also significantly contributes to their future educational attainment, access to quality employment, and improved living conditions, all while breaking the cycle of marginalization and discrimination.
REYN’s research findings indicate that early childhood education and care programs that are culturally sensitive and inclusive have the potential to bridge the educational gap that many Roma children face. By providing accessible and high-quality early childhood education and care infrastructure and services, Member States can create an enabling environment where young Roma children can thrive, develop their potential, and take part in the education system on equal footing with their peers.
Photo: Roma and non-Roma children in a kindergarten in Korca, Albania. Courtesy of Save the Children.
The European REYN Early Childhood Research Study (REYN Study) provides an examination of the status of young Roma children and their families across Europe. It offers a comprehensive understanding of the multi-layered and intersectional nature of the challenges faced by young Roma children and their families. The REYN Study presents key findings from a thorough analysis of data on key areas of the lives of young Roma children and their families. These areas include family status and living conditions, health and well-being, safety and security, early learning, responsive parenting, and discrimination.
Moderated by Tomas de Jong, Junior Policy Manager for Health Equity (EPHA), the meeting highlighted the importance of early childhood development to help Roma children in Europe grow and thrive, despite the structural barriers they are repeatedly faced with. It also brought to light the issue of school segregation and the overrepresentation of Roma children in institutional care. The meeting concluded by galvanizing European and national policymakers to take action in the early years.
Roma children in Europe not given the opportunity to thrive
The meeting started with a keynote speech by MEP, Dr. Milan Brglez, Vice-Chair of the Intergroup on children’s rights and member of the Committee of Employment and Social Affairs. In his opening statement, he said, “As a father, pedagogue and politician, I can confirm that there is no greater satisfaction than helping children and young people to thrive, recognize and realize their potential in a world full of challenges.”
The reality in which Roma children live often makes it very difficult, however, for them to develop and thrive. He argued that “unequal opportunities for Roma children to take full advantage of their potential are not only unjust and in violation of their fundamental rights, but also to the detriment of the Roma community and society as a whole as they perpetuate the intergenerational social hardship and exclusion.”
“To break the vicious circle of inequality that Roma children and their families face, we must first understand and raise awareness about the conundrum of structural determinants and obstacles coupled with antigypsyism and intersectional discrimination that negatively affect the lives of Roma from the earliest years of childhood.”
New data about the situation of young Roma children in Europe
Following Dr. Brglez, Aljosa Rudas, Program Manager at ISSA and coordinator of the REYN Initiative, referred to the scientific evidence that states that the first six years of a child’s life are critical in determining their future outcomes, and introduced the recent European REYN Early Childhood Research Study. Conducted in 11 countries, the study brings together unprecedented Roma-related early childhood data, exploring six key areas that impact a child’s holistic development, including discrimination and antigypsyism. The report also contains recommendations for coordinated European and national action to support the inclusion of Roma children.
Experiences of antigypsyism and poverty
Next, Reneta Krivozova, Policy and Advocacy Officer on Child Poverty at Eurochild, presented a new project taking place in Bulgaria, which to improve the lives of people living in disadvantaged situations — especially Roma populations as 86% live in poverty. Currently, there is an overrepresentation of Roma children in care. The project gathers evidence on how to prevent family separation and support families before children enter into care.
Expanding on the issue of the institutionalization of Roma children, Tanja Vasić, of the Minority Initiative, Austria, highlighted the large scale of the problem in Europe and that alternative care is hardly available for Roma children due to systemic racism and antigypsyism. Ms Vasić provided some suggestions on how to provide support to Roma National Strategies to ensure that alternative care is provided for Roma children. She stated that, “If we want to change something for those children, we have to change relations: we have to change how people treat Roma families.”
Call to action/ongoing initiatives
Agata D’Addato, Head of Program at Eurochild presented the First Years, First Priority campaign which works to bring early childhood development onto the EU policy and funding agenda. The campaign focuses especially on children from birth to three years of age and on those children who are facing the biggest disadvantage — such as Roma, migrants and refugees, children living in poverty or in institutions, and children with special needs or disabilities.
Francesca Colombo is a Program Manager at ISSA and works on the First Years First Priority campaign. She highlighted that for the campaign to be successful — ensuring that all young children aged 0 to 6 have equal opportunities for safe, healthy and optimal development — it is crucial to have evidence and data about the situation of the most vulnerable young children and their families, including Roma children, in order to be able to combat the discrimination and exclusion they face and be able to support them effectively.
“There is no quality in ECEC services if there is no inclusion”
Geraldine Libreau, Policy Officer for Early Childhood Education and Care at the European Commission, opened her speech with these words. She outlined potential avenues for action from the European Commission to break the circle of discrimination. She also highlighted the important efforts of the European Working Group on Early Childhood Care and Education in having inclusion as a key pillar of an integrated and holistic approach for the early years.
Voices from the field
Participants also had the opportunity to share their insights, including encouraging and successful practices. Zsuzsa Laszlo, National Coordinator of REYN Hungary shared the importance of working with Roma ECD professionals. She noted that, “Quality education in early childhood is only possible if we pay attention to the professionals who work with Roma and refugee children.”
Roma children must have equal access to opportunities
The meeting was closed by Mr Dragos Pîslaru MEP, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. In his concluding remarks he urged EU Member States to comply with their obligations and take action to meet the needs of Roma people, and Roma children in particular. He argued that “It is crucial to see and feel the types of challenges that Roma children are facing” and emphasized that, “We cannot stop until each and every child in a Roma community has equal opportunities to access the same services as children in other communities.”
ISSA Co-organizes Roma Week 2023 through REYN
This year ISSA, through its REYN initiative, became one of the co-organizers of Roma Week 2023 that will take place on 24-27 April in Brussels, Belgium. Policymakers, experts, activists and organisations concerned with persistent antigypsyism in Europe will be collaborating for Roma Week in the European Parliament and other EU institutions. The Roma Week 2023 is aligned with the objectives of the European Year of skills 2023.
In the framework of the Roma Week 2023, there will be a series of events focusing on how history affects the current situation of Roma in Europe and what are the prospects for the future. The Roma Week 2023 is hosted by the European Parliament and European Commission and organized in partnership with Roma and pro-Roma civil society.
ISSA, through REYN initiative, will be co-organizing the event “Unlocking the Potential of Young Roma Children in Europe” on 27 April, together with European Public Health Alliance, Minority Initiative and Eurochild and hosted by dr. Milan Brglez, Member of European Parliament (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats). The discussion will be about that each and every child deserves a fair start and equal opportunities in life. However, across Europe Romani children disproportionately face hardship during the early years and beyond. The first six years of a child’s life are critical in determining the rest of their lives. Early Childhood Development is therefore crucial in ensuring that Romani children have all the opportunities to unlock their full and unique potential and grow up in good health and wellbeing – to grow and thrive. However, there are barriers which make realising this difficult. The size of the problem is difficult to determine because of a lack of (disaggregated) data. Adverse conditions for Romani children and their parents are also persistent, as antigypsyism and poor social determinants lead to hardship in all facets of life; employment, education, health, housing to name a few. A result is that Romani children are disproportionately placed in separate schools, sent to ‘special needs education’, or simply removed from their parents and placed in institutional care. Poverty and discrimination run through these issues like a red threat, a structural issue.
During this event, these issues will be illustrated by outlining the scale of the problem, by providing examples of how these issues might manifest in daily life for Romani children, and most importantly how this issue can be resolvedthrough policy action. More information about the event you can find here.
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!