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.

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