Protecting the cultural identity of Romani and Traveller children

Children – Public Law

28 December 2018

Identifying the problems

One social worker who took part in a recent study of Child Protection Practice with Romani and Traveller children declared that ..”it is virtually impossible to get a foster carer or adoptive parent who can meet the child’s cultural needs. The opportunity to get a perfect match is impossible. I know of 1 foster carer who is, I think, Romani, but I have not come across any foster carers from these communities. I don’t know why. I did a national search for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller adopters and was unable to identify any”.

“The fragility of professional competence” published this month (February 2018) is a report by the European Roma Rights Centre [ERRC] which highlights these common problems facing professionals working within child protection and reveals the prejudices that can shape the work done with these families.

Within the report’s “Summary and Recommendations” it records that the data collected to inform the report identified 4 significant findings namely:

  1. Without effective casework, supervision and training, child protection professionals can assume that Romani and Traveller children are at more risk of harm than any other child because of their culture. These assumptions then lead to unreliable and unverifiable assessments and examples of oppressive and coercive practice.
  2. Successful child protection practice with Romani and Traveller children requires that the professionals engage in exercises of pre-reflection to ensure that child protection procedure is only instigated because there are verified concerns about a child’s welfare
  3. The current structure of child protection appears to be creating a two-tier system in some regions in England. This means that the lack or potential dilution of accessible community-based early help services fails to identify those Romani and Traveller children who might be in need and also fails to prevent needs escalating to a point where intervention would be deemed required via a statutory assessment under the Children Act 1989
  4. A lack of opportunity associated with time, training, resources, mediation, advocacy and community-based practice combine to mean that some child protection professionals are ill-equipped and under pressure. Taken together this means that some of the decisions made by child protection professionals do not always reflect the best interests or the actual views of the child.

These findings suggest that the child protection system in England does not consistently support child protection professionals to develop the professional competence they need to effectively safeguard Romani and Traveller children within their own families; a suggestion that appears to be borne out by the finding that Romani and Traveller children in England are much more likely to be taken into state care than the majority population.

Other studies referred to in the report that might provide material to consider or for cross-examination include:

Allen, D (2015) Protecting the cultural identity of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children living in the public care system, Today’s Children Tomorrows parents 40-41(1) pp 122-139

Allen, D (2016) “It’s in their Culture”: Working with automatic prejudice towards Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in care proceedings” Seen and Heard, 26(2) pp40-52

Allen, D (2017) “Is Discrimination Natural: Social Work with Roma children and Families” in Bhatti-Sinclair, K & SMeathurst, C (eds), Social Work Skills, Policy Press, Bristol, UK

Friends, Families and Travellers (2017) A guide for professionals working with Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in children’s services

The good practice guide on “Social Work with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children” published by BAAF (now CoramBAAF) in 2013.

How to ensure that the professionals involved carry out fair assessments and consider any supportive services that may enable the child to stay within the birth family

As well as setting out the methodology and the research findings the report makes a number of recommendations in particular about the training and support that is required (and often lacking) for professionals working in this field and importantly the need for child protection professionals to engage in effective pre-reflection so as to avoid bringing attitudes and beliefs to their work that might undermine any assessment undertaken.   Other recommendations focus on developing effective systems of communication between agencies when dealing with families who are mobile and on developing models for community engagement along the lines of the Travelling Peoples Team in Haringey.

Commenting on the report Paul Adams, Fostering Development Consultant at CoramBAAF said that the organisation “welcomes” the study and acknowledged that “The report raises some difficult issues and challenges for services, social workers and other professionals in both child protection and fostering…”.

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