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

Engaging the Roma mothers: a practical approach to Health Visiting

- News

(UNICEF/John McConnico)

Health Visiting has been increasingly successful in protecting the health of mothers and children. In addition, the practice improves parental well-being and parenting efficacy, as well as child outcomes.

How to assist Roma – yet to be – mothers who sometimes don’t speak the local language and are often not reached by health services? The reply is provided on a blog posted by the Institute of Health Visiting and written by Louise Wolstenholme and Alison Caden, health visitors at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

The community in question comprehended about 6000 Roma migrants, who had moved from Slovakia to Sheffield (UK) in 2007-2008. “They usually live within extended supportive families; they start out on parenthood from a young age and can traditionally have large families”,  Wolstenholme and Caden write.

The two health visitors reached out to mums in the perinatal period and who were struggling to carry out effective assessments. At first, it was difficult to talk to them in private: “Whenever we meet with women in their homes they are in company of an audience of curious cousins, parents, children and passing neighbours.” In other cases they had to use an interpreter; “not easy if you are trying to talk about intimate health issues”, Wolstenholme and Caden say.

The idea

The difficulties were overcome by “normalizing” the access to health care. “We hit on the idea of a health café situated at the heart of the community in Fir Vale Oasis Academy – open at school pick-up time so women could drop in for their antenatal or baby checks and we could use the opportunity to pick up on any mental health concerns too.”

The creation of this health café unlocked the situation and attracted many mothers who could speak directly with health practitioners. “Over 100 families told us their concerns about their children – diet came top, closely followed by dental and emotional wellbeing.”

Read more on their blog.

If you are interests in Home Visiting you can find loads of Resource Modules for Home Visitors on the ISSA website.

Roma Healthy Start: grant for community-based organizations

- News

The Open Society Foundations (OSFs) are offering a grant to support community-based organizations that use elements of the Nurturing Care Concept in their policy models. The aim is to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes, eliminate racial disparities in infant mortality, reduce low birth weight and preterm births, reduce maternal depression, and address the social determinants that affect Roma maternal and child health.

OSFs are looking for inspiring examples of collaborations across sectors designed to improve the health of Roma children and mothers in CEE countries with high Roma population, including but not limited to Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia.

The deadline is March 30, 2018. Find more information on the Open Society Foundations’ website.

An Award for promoting Roma Integration

- Blog | REYN Admin

By Tatjana Obradovic Tosic ( left in the picture), REYN member working for “Mother Child educational project” in Serbia alongside Ms Beata Olahova from Roma Education Fund.

When we talk about Early Childhood Development in most deprived communities, like Roma communities, we cannot talk only about one side of the process of ECD. As REYN Manifesto says, we as practitioners are committed to “Creating, developing, exploring and sharing innovative practice, critical solutions and constructive approaches to demonstrate that health, social and educational services and provisions (including community-based care for institutionalized children) that serve Romani and Traveller children and families, can be child-friendly and welcoming to families.”

“Mother Child Educational program” and Roma practitioners working under this project are working every day to fulfil that goal, and to enable good quality early childhood services in Roma Communities in Serbia.

The “ Mother Child educational project” implements five Roma organisations – CSO “Romanicikna” (Krusevac), CSO “Rromanipen” (Kragujevac), CSO “Hands of friendship” (Kraljevo) and CSO “Humanitarian Center Rom” (Obrenovac) and “Small Happy Colony” from Novi Sad. The project is funded by the Roma Education Fund.

The project aims at reducing the gap in early childhood development outcomes between Roma and non-Roma by improving the access to early childhood education for Roma children

1) within formal education – by lobbying at local authorities for a higher level of inclusion and by encouraging and supporting Roma parents to enrol their children into preschool and the 6-year olds to PPP;

2) providing alternative early childhood program in form of Toy Library and

3) within their families – by empowering and developing the capacities of the mothers. The project has holistic approach to the early childhood education of children, including family members, children and institutions in the process of the inclusion. At the moment the project includes more than 350 Roma mothers and more than 500 Roma children age 0 to 7.


Children got space to spend free time as structured time, and not spending time in the streets, because they started coming to the Toy library. The “Mother Child educational project” is innovative in nature because it gives support to Roma mothers, being the most important persons in their children’s life, by empowering them and improving their parental skills and competences, but also their personal skills and competencies.

The toy library is superseding the lack of simulative educational environment for Roma children in targeted localities. Toy libraries have become a model of good practice for the alternative ECD program, offering children not only place to play and toys for renting, but also educated librarians who can help them develop necessary skills and knowledge. The internal monitoring and evaluation system empowers and enables organisations to follow the progress of the project activities but also to follow the progress of children and mothers participating in the project. In that way the project impact and success is tracked, but also it enables organisations to improve the effectiveness of their activities during the implementation.

This project is developing sustainability on two levels. By empowering mothers and their inclusion in the Toy Library boards they are becoming more active members of the Roma Society included in all activities that organizations are delivering (planning of the program, negotiating and developing cooperation with institutions and motivating more active participation of the women from the community). By developing cooperation with preschool institutions and local self-governments in using Toy Libraries as a step in overcoming obstacle in the inclusion of the Roma children in preschool institutions (kindergartens), this project is in long turn ensuring sustainability of the educational outcomes of the Roma children, both in terms of reducing dropout rate as well as level of their knowledge and preparedness for future education.

Major results and impact are:

The project moved Roma communities, mothers in particular, to gain some distance from their everyday lives and problems and to take more active role in education of their children. It created relaxed atmosphere in the workshops, where mothers were willing to exchange their experiences, and through the interaction with facilitators, and established trust, they learned a lot. Through their previous experience, partners realized that complete effects of some program targeting children, could not be fully accomplished if not all members of the family are involved. Therefore, this program has an appropriate approach, and in direct or indirect way, affected other members of the families, primarily mothers.

The project improved the position of the Roma women: in given circumstance where the patriarchal roles are strictly defined, this project positively influenced women’s awakening in relation to the position of Roma women in their communities and in society. The approach proved to be effective, for women were empowered to openly express their opinion, to confront men concerning their position and demands and tasks imposed to them in comparison to men’s roles. Mothers never thought about these issues before, because they thought that their roles were “natural status” as well as unequal power between men and women and that they can’t change that.

The enrolment in PPP and first grade increased and the dropout rate in PPP and the first grade is reduced. If now look the second phase, the major result that is obvious in the second phase is the enrolment, preparedness and attendance rate of children in the PPP and first grade is increased. Comparing to the starting point, the enrolment rate of children in the age for PPP in PPP is now 100%. The attendance rate in PPP, concluding with the data for the June 2014 is 72% which is 30% increase from the baseline position. The teachers are saying that Roma children that used toy Library are coming much better prepared to the PPP than the previous generations.


Mothers changed their behavior towards their children. The mothers became gentle with their kids and they are not so strict any more. They became more responsible and they would like their kids to have what they didn’t have in terms to attend and finish school. They learn how to play together with their children and they now do that at home also with good quality toys from the Toy Library. Mothers also became closer to children where they used to avoid their kids before. The program also educated them to behave better; they fight/argue less with others. They learned a lot about life and things they didn’t know before.

The project contributed to the significant changes children knowledge, skills and behaviour:

• Children became more patient. They can focus their attention to the activities they participate in.
• They learned how to behave well and accepted rules very fast: what is allowed and what is not; what they can do and what they cannot; what is good and what is bad.
• Children improved their knowledge of Serbian language and some mothers pointed out that the main reason for bringing kids to the Toy library and workshops is to learn Serbian. Children learned some letters. They learned to name colors and shapes; to count up to 10; basic reading skills, to recognize letters, to compose words, they try to read simple sentences.
• They mastered space orientation: right-left; relations up-down, higher-lower; time orientation: before-after; morning, noon, afternoon, evening,
• Children’s hygiene habits improved. They wash their hands now and brush their teeth.
• Another benefit is integration of Roma and non-Roma children, they are all together playing in the Toy library, they break through the barriers among Roma and non-Roma kids.
• Improvement in their mutual peer communication: they learned how to work in groups; they are more patient; they learn how to express their needs, they are more tolerant; they became more responsible; they respect rules; but they still need additional stimulation for work (this specially refers to younger children who can’t keep their focus in activities).

The project won Roma Integration Award for 2014 by the European Commission. Having that in mind, we are obliged to share our best practices with other Roma organisations and practitioners from Roma communities and to learn from others. The REYN is excellent place for that. So please do not hesitate to visit our web page and contact us: