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REYN: 10 years of keeping Roma children in the spotlight


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.  

Join us on 9 December to get inspired by the work of our growing community of professionals and organizations under the Romani Early Years Network Initiative.

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.


REYN’s next Horizons – Annual Meeting 2022 and launch of REYN Early Childhood Research

After two years of online meetings, REYN (the Romani Early Years Network) met again in person in Barcelona, Spain.

From Wednesday 19th to Friday 21st 2022, representatives from International and national REYN coming from 10 countries (Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine) got together to engage in a joint reflection on REYN ’s achievements and challenges in the period of 2019-2022 and to shape the new strategic framework for the Initiative.

This meeting occasion also brought opportunities for celebrations, including the 10th Anniversary of the Initiative.

On Friday 21st at 10:30 CET, in partnership with the University of Barcelona, under its REYN Initiative, ISSA organized an event to launch infographics with country data from the REYN Early Childhood Research on the status of young Roma children in Europe. With financial support of the Open Society Foundations, the research was carried out in 11 countries reaching out to a diversity of stakeholders through the 11 national REYNs hosted by ISSA member organizations and partners.

The main findings of the research were presented by the Roma Studies Groups team (CEG) at CREA – University of Barcelona, who led the research. The full report is soon to be launched.

The launch was broadcasted live. Watch the recording below.

Read more about REYN Early Childhood Research Study and explore already available evidence on REYN Knowledge Hub

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, Roma Early Years Network (REYN) Initiative is launching the REYN Early Childhood Research Study, 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 Study 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 Study 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 Study, 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 inofgrpahics 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 |
COUNTRY DATA

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Read online

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The condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy

The position of Roma and Sinti communities in Italy is a direct consequence of various migratory flows that have affected the country from the 15th century to the early 2000s.[1] As a result of these flows, it is possible to identify 22 communities of  Roma and Sinti populations.

As it is impossible to carry out censuses on an ethnic basis in Italy, there are no concrete numbers about the members of the different groups. According to the Council of Europe, the number of Roma and Sinti living in Italy could be between 110,000 and 170,000.[2] However, only a small proportion of them live in a condition of hypervisibility because they reside in formal camps —settlements designed, built and managed by local authorities according to ethnic criteria — and informal settlements.

Formal and informal settlements

The latest report presented last November 4th in the Senate by Associazione 21 Luglio states that 11,300 people live in the 109 formal camps on national soil — half of them hailing from former Yugoslavia. Of these, some have Italian citizenship and others have Romanian citizenship.[3] There are also 6,500 people, with Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship, living in informal settlements.

Without precise data relating to those Roma and Sinti people who have ostensibly integrated into Italian society (who live in conventional homes, do not wear traditional clothing, speak fluent Italian, and send their children to school), the only studies and analyses about the condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy refer to the 15% of Roma and Sinti living in mono-ethnic settlements — in conditions of extreme segregation, exclusion, physical and relational isolation. As a result, this group cannot be considered representative of the majority.

“The Campland”

Since 2000, Italy has been referred to by the European Roma Rights Center as “The Campland” because it has used by far the most economic and human resources to maintain ethnic-based housing arrangements of any country in Europe.[4] The daily realities of life in these formal and informal settlements makes the promotion of actions that affect childcare particularly complex. The absence of electricity and drinking water, air pollution, living inside a caravan or container, the absence of safe spaces for play, economic precariousness, real and perceived exclusion, distance from the school, are all elements that hinder the healthy growth and development of a child from birth.

In such residential contexts the social elevator remains stuck. From birth, the fate of Roma and Sinti children is influenced and guided by these harsh statistics. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Associazione 21 Luglio, the life of a child born within a mono-ethnic settlement immediately appears to be an “obstacle race”.[5]

For example:

  •  A Roma child who lives in a formal or informal settlement in the city of Rome is 30-40% more likely to be estranged from their family and declared adoptable that a non-Roma child.
  • The practice of early marriage has strong physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional repercussions among the adolescents involved;
  • Children, known as “white orphans” — who are left behind in Romania when their parents emigrate to Italy in search of jobs and resources that will help give their children a better future — experience strong repercussions on nutrition, sanitation and psycho-physical development in the absence of a maternal care giver.
  • In 2015 in Italy, an average of 40 children, aged between 0 and 3, led a life as “prisoners” in jail with their mothers. The majority of these were of Roma origin.

From the limited data available, it appears that children in “Roma camps”[6] have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than the reference populations. They are born underweight more often than other children and suffer from respiratory diseases in greater numbers than their non-Roma peers. Moreover, these children  are often affected by poisoning, burns and domestic accidents. Discomfort or degradation diseases or “diseases of poverty” are increasing — such as tuberculosis, scabies, pediculosis, as well as viral, fungal, and venereal infections, which occur with ever greater frequency than in the past[7].

Associazione 21 Luglio has developed a full website to present the state of affairs of the camps in Italy. Navigate throughout Il Paesi dei Campi (The Campland).

How is REYN Italy responding to these challenges?

The work of REYN Italy and other organizations in this network has been pivotal in promoting equal rights for Roma children over the past few years. However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the cohesion, sense of belonging and functionality of the Italian network. It is, therefore, necessary to reinforce and rebuild the REYN Italy which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the lives of Roma children living in Italy.

That’s why we plan to:

  • build cohesion and participation inside the REYN Italy network while increasing the number of its members. REYN Italy aims at revitalizing, reinforcing and broadening its membership, and engaging institutions such as municipalities, schools, health and family counselling centers.
  • advocate for access to inclusive, quality and non-discriminatory early childhood development for Roma children. In the Italian context, these objectives are crucial in continuing to promote and facilitate the social change that we are seeing in regards to Roma settlements with knock-on effects on their standards of living, and the protection of the rights of Roma children.

In order to support the rights and lives of Roma children, REYN Italy activities will highlight among decision-makers the need to guarantee, protect and promote the rights of Roma children.


[1] The Sinti are to be found primarily in the German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) where they settled in the 15th century, and in Benelux and Sweden. There is a southern sub-branch of the Sinti in northern Italy (Piemont, Lombardy) and in southeastern France (Provence), whose language comprises a partly Italian-based vocabulary. In France, they are also called Manush. Sinti/Manush represent 2 to 3% of the total Roma population (generic sense) in Europe.

[2]   http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/romatravellers/default_en.asp.

[3]   Associazione 21 luglio, L’esclusione nel tempo del Covid, Roma, 2021.

[4]   ERRC, “Campland”, Budapest, 2000. http://www.errc.org/uploads/upload_en/file/00/0F/m0000000F.pdf

[5]   Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.

[6] Some Roma in Italy live in a state of separation from mainstream Italian society. These Roma live segregated on ethnic basis in some areas, excluded and ignored, in filthy and squalid conditions, without basic infrastructure. They “squat” abandoned buildings or set up camps along the road or in open spaces with tents, caravans or shacks. They can be evicted at any moment, their settlements are often called “illegal” or “unauthorised”. Other Roma live in “camps” or squalid ghettos that are “authorised and provided with caravans or prefebricated buildings”. The smaller camps, home to only fifteen to thirty people, are generally unauthorised. Authorised camps tend to comprise at least one hundred people.

[7]UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.

Up to 75% enrolment target for young Roma children in ECEC in Slovakia

Specific Steps of the Slovak Roma Inclusion Strategy 2030

The Strategy for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of Roma 2030 was approved by the Slovak Government on 7 April 2021. This framework material forms the basis for action plans, which will always be drawn up for a three-year period, i.e., 2022-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030. Representatives from REYN Slovakia have been actively involved in the development of the Strategy and Action Plans.

The Strategy is a framework document that defines the direction of public policies in order to achieve a visible change and improvement in the field of equality and inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. It presents a set of starting points and objectives that aim to stop the segregation of Roma communities and to make a significant positive turn in the social inclusion of Roma.

“The areas of employment, education, health, and housing are key to the fulfillment of the Strategy’s objectives, and special emphasis is also placed on stepping up interventions to combat anti-Roma racism,” state the submitters of the material from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

The subsequent Action Plans propose measures in the same five priority areas that were previously stated in the Strategy.

Strategy and Action Plans

Education


The vision of the Strategy in the field of education is to increase the real participation of children from marginalized Roma communities in care and education. The share of the youngest Roma children under three years of age participating in early childhood education and care programs is to reach at least 30%.

“The proportion of Roma children aged 3-6 in pre-primary education is to be increased from the current 25 to 75%, ” the submitters state.

The Strategy also aims to halve the proportion of children from the marginalized Roma communities who repeat a year in primary or special primary schools, as well as halve the proportion of pupils from the marginalized Roma communities who drop out of school. Conversely, the proportion of Roma with completed upper secondary education is to be doubled to 45% for males and 40% for females.

In the education field, the proposed action plan focuses on the need to improve the results of children from marginalized Roma communities. Besides, it aims to improve the quality and number of teachers and assistants in the education of Roma pupils, to increase the capacity of schools and kindergartens in areas with Roma communities, and support measures for children and pupils from Roma communities with insufficient knowledge of Slovak, which is not their mother tongue.

Housing

The Strategy aims to eliminate significant inequalities in housing between members of the marginalized Roma communities and the majority population of Slovakia.

“By 2030, all residents of the marginalized Roma communities, and therefore all citizens and residents of the Slovak Republic without distinction, should have proper access to safe and potable water. Closely related to this challenge is the gradual legalization of technically compliant dwellings and the settlement of land on which illegal dwellings of marginalized Roma communities residents are located,” the material states. 

With regard to segregated settlements, the vision is to reduce the proportion of Roma living in segregated communities, as well as to reduce the total number of segregated settlements.

As stated in the proposal of the action plan, priority tasks in the area of housing are to reduce the number of illegal dwellings, to improve technical infrastructure and amenities in localities of marginalized Roma communities, but also to implement measures aimed at reducing residential segregation of Roma, for example through the promotion of rental housing in municipalities.

Employment

The Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of Roma aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor already in education from the current 68 to 40%, as well as to increase the employment rate of Roma aged 20 to 64 from the current 20 to 45%. In particular, the Strategy and its action plans will address the issue of Roma women’s employment, which is significantly lower than that of men.

The proposed action plan defines measures to increase the chances of Roma on the labor market, but also, for example, targeted support for equal access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, for persons from marginalized Roma communities.

Health

The global objective of the health strategy is to reduce health inequalities between Roma and the general population of the Slovak Republic, with the aim of reducing the gap in life expectancy between the general and Roma population by 50% over the course of a decade.

The tasks related to health in the action plan are designed to improve health conditions at the community level, and also aim to strengthen the professional qualifications of community health promotion workers.

Anti-Roma racism and support of participation

Besides, the Strategy sets targets for eliminating anti-Roma racism, with the ambition to halve the proportion of Roma who have felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. The Strategy will also use supportive anti-discrimination instruments to reduce the proportion of Slovak citizens who would not want a Roma neighbour from the current 54 to 20%. The aim is also to increase by 30% the confidence of Roma in the police.

In the proposed action plan, the section on combating discrimination against Roma and increasing their inclusion in mainstream society calls for anti-Roma racism to be legally recognized as a specific form of racism. One of the other measures proposed is to increase the participation of young Roma and Roma women in policy-making at all levels.

The Strategy and action plans were developed by thematic working groups in each area, with representation from different government departments and institutions, NGOs, the academic sector, and local authorities.

After a long period of participatory preparation of all materials, and a recent personal change on the position of the Plenipotentiary, the drafts of action plans proposing measures in five priority areas for the period 2022-2024 have been submitted by the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the inter-ministerial comment procedure.

More information about the materials and recent developments can be found here.

Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.

Building a Professional Community – REYN Hungary Secrets

REYN Hungary is celebrating its seventh birthday with a vibrant professional community, two networks, and a great visibility in Hungary. Let us take a look at how they developed this community and what are their aspirations for the next years.

REYN Hungary was one of the first national REYNs that was launched in 2014. During mapping the needs of the professionals and stakeholders, initiated by REYN International, more than 70 early childhood professionals were asked cross-sectorally about their aspirations in a professional community. Answers were analyzed, and the national objectives of REYN were developed. From that year on, REYN Hungary is asking members about their needs and aspirations on a yearly basis.

After mapping the needs, the most challenging step was to develop trust in a professional community that did not exist before. In uncertain political and economic times it was challenging to make professionals trust hardly known networks . For many members it was the first time to sign a membership form. REYN Hungary has one more challenging task – to convince people in Central and Eastern Europe that the signature they give when applying to be a REYN member does not cause them trouble and does not cost anything. Building trust, while building REYN Hungary, meant and still means a continuous personal communication with members. It might be a personalized newsletter, a regular mail, study visits, a phone call or talking in life sessions. Although the network has more than 700 members, personal communication is still the first and foremost characteristic of the network. The motto of REYN Hungary is “Sharing is caring.”

Other than regular mapping, the needs of the members and having a personal approach are the other important elements visible for the public. Advocacy campaigns, REYN Award, media presence – by all of this the trust of current and future members is created. Personalized national REYN logo and branded merchandise for the workshops display the message that members are equally important for the network and for Romani children and families.

“Plans for the next years is just to keep on.If we can keep the magic 100+ in a year (that means that each year we promise ourselves to add 100 more members that year), and we succeed to achieve this goal so far, and the smiling faces at the events, we will be happy,” says Zsuzsa Laszlo, REYN Hungary coordinator.

Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development

Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.

Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.

“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”

So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total.  KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.