Roma children from foster homes usually end up in special schools. Foster homes employees often have to deal with Roma pupils segregation.
Ethnicity and Culture Research Center studied what working with Roma children removed from their parents is like and why there are no Roma fosterers in these homes. We talked with Elena Gallová Kriglerová about the results of a study supported by EEA Grants.
Is it true that most of children in foster homes are Roma?
„Yes, absolute majority of children in instituional care are children from Roma families. Non-profit organization Úsmev ako dar (Smile as a Gift) made a research of foster homes a few years ago and found that it’s about 60%. It wasn’t a quantitative research we did recently but we approximately got confirmed these figures. And we purposely checked not only homes in regions with a high population of the Roma but all the regions.“
How could you set it actually is a Roma child?
„The reseach wasn’t focused to count children due to ethnicity, we didn’t ask about exact statistics. The core were the interviews with foster home employees and their point of view on kids.“
Did they make the difference whether a child comes from a settlement or not?
„Sure, especially when interviewing about reasons of removing, relationships and work with families they distinguished where a child comes from. The reason of removing was asigned to poverty in case of children from a settlement. Although law does not allow to remove a child from parents for material and household conditions. It’s importnat to stress foster home employees don’t blame parents of this. We didn’t face accusations of parents, which was common at school area research, the issue was a criticism of a wrong social work with parents this time. There was also a difference in releationships. Children staying in closer communities were visited not only by parents but also by a wider family.“
Let me get back to the question, was there any difference in finding the Roma as an ethnicity by foster home eployees?
„That was absolutely diverse. Some of fosterers are there for children 24/7, know their families, conditions, background and they don’t tend to stereotypize Roma. They can see the most important thing is a social context of a family and a community. Sometimes we came across prejudices about Roma children but not to a degree we did at schools, media or even governmental materials.“
Was there any difference in viewing Roma based on a geographical basis – if we compare east and west?
„The importance whether it’s a Roma child or not wasn’t that high in the west. Places with no settlements nearby don’t find Roma children so peculiar. It’s different in the east. The concentration of Roma population is higher the same as a number of settlements and a tension between the Roma and majority population. Foster home employees often speak for the children with all kind of institutions and experience refusal and discrimination– the same as Roma parents. A common thing that happens is that schools don’t accept them to become their students. There was a case of a foster home in a town in the east where no Roma live. A local schol still didn’t accept the kids and they needed to find a different one.“
Do you solve the cases like this afterwards?
„It’s very difficult. It’s easier in bigger towns, but sometimes you can find a case like this here as well. Foster homes then face the problem of placing children. It’s easier to sign them up to special schools because they are found as difficult in others.“
What is working with children placed in foster homes from settlements like?
„The procedure goes through more phases but we never found a difference between Roma and majority children. Each of them undergoes an adaptation process. Another factor is how many children have been removed from a family. If you have more siblings in a foster home, they become a detached group. Whereas if there is only one child or a smaller group of siblings, they are placed to a well functioning group. The thing is the native language a kid is used to using at home, Romani in this case. In foster home it’s possible to communicate only in Slovak. That’s why we use terms public children in a public space in our research. Rules we apply for majortity also need to be followed by children from segregated communities. Any kind of a varying phase is missing and that’s why children from settlement take more time to adapt and also experience trauma. They are in conditions with different rules with no parents around. Fosterers often do this in good faith thinking noone is discriminated and everyone’s equal.“
In the end, isn’t it better for children if they get over the first shock at the beginning and then have no problem to integrate?
„No, the government itself agreed on a method that aims to work with a family so that a child can get back home as soon as possible after removing from parents. The other procedure makes it even harder to come back to family and community. Adaptation process of an institutional care should cooperate with community workers’ effort.“
Does it mean that family joining the process doesn’t work?
„It is simply inadequate especially because of lack of capacity. Social workes have many clients, that’s why they can’t thoroughly pay attention to the one family. Sometimes foster homes work with families standing in Labour offices. We’ve been to facilities with apartments or single rooms for families. Parents can use them when they visit their children and this is the case when you can work with family more. It’s still not an ideal solution.“
What are the most common reasons to remove a child from their parents?
„The most often cause is an extreme poverty, high number of children in a family and inability to socially secure education. We had a case when a segregated Roma family with a disabled kid called a foster home and asked if they could take care of him, because they weren’t able to do it by themselves. Recently it is also a truancy why children are placed to institutional care. Due to employees abuse and educational neglect is more typical at non-Roma families. Poor non-Romas usually have someone in a family or a relative that can help them. But it’s basically impossible for Roma people because the whole community suffers by poverty. That’s why children are removed only after abuse at non-Roma families.
Where do young Romas usually head after reaching adulthood?
„This wasn’t an aim of the research, so we didn’t ask about it in interviews. It’s true those kids practically don’t have any support. If they’ve spent many years in a foster home, going back to their parents and a biological family is complicated. All the mutual bonds got gradually faded, they lost their identity and practically don’t belong anywhere. They are not even Roma, neither Slovak children. They simply become foster kids living with this belief until they’re adults because they can’t find their place in society. It’s similar as the state you go through after you are released from prison.“
What was the course of your research like?
„It was based on individual and group interviews with foster home employees, management and the elders. We chose eleven facilities and did 25 interviews with my colleagues Alena Chudžíková and Katarína Medľová. We went to all the regions and unluckily didn’t have funds for a longer observation of everyday life in those facilities and to interview parents.“
What were kids complaining of the most?
„They don’t have a chance to influence the environment they live in distinctly. They can decide what the menu is going to be like or what haircut to have done but they don’t participate in rulemaking of a foster home. Rules are made and children need to follow them. One of recommendations resulting from the reserach is to get children involved in the process. If fosterers and children create a partnership, kids behave more responsibly and faster realize there are consequences to take after breaking the rules.“
… and employees?
„Institutional care cost the state money. If it would invest a part of the budget to social work with families, most children might stay at home with their biological parents. They’re being removed and placed to foster homes. This was a frequent objection that also took me by surprise in a positive way. Institutional care is a serious matter, it’s not that we take a child for a while, put him aside and then return him back.“
Was the management willing and open to talk to you about Roma children?
„We were quite afraid of this. But luckily none of the foster homes didn’t refuse. It was even weird as we were expecting rejection and fear.
Are there any Romas among employess, for example former fosterlings?
„There are some, but only few, it is very important though. They could help children from segregated settlements to adapt the same as to make working with family and a professional parenthood easier. It’s not like this so far.
Why not? There are Roma graduates of social work, aren’t there?
„Not all of those who studied the field actually want to work as social workers. And there are also quite strict criteria to accept people as fosterers and professional parents. We also miss proactive attitude from the side of government that should support the Romas who could work with chidren either in the process of removal or an institutional care following.
Wouldn’t that be discriminatory if Ministry of Labour published an advertisement searching for a Roma fosterer or a tutor?
„In a situation when 60% of children in foster homes are Romas? I don’t think so. If we have such a high rate of one ethnicity, it is logical to rise the number of employees of the same origin that would work with them.“
Foster homes used to be taken as a kind of punishment. Even my parents used to tell me, I was going there if I didn’t behave. Has there been a change in an attitude of public?
„As time passes, yes, it has. We applied a strategy of making awareness unofficial but it’s hard. The process takes a long time and is painful. But ministry officials realize there are also Roma and Hungarian children, that there is a cultural diversity. We are pleased that after the research we started to work with Central Office of Labour and we are going to train foster home employees to strengthen cultural sensibility. It’ a pretty unique process. It’s important to us not only to criticize or point out what is wrong but also to lend a helpful hand if it’s needed. Foreign institutions like European comission, we report to, are often interested in this topic. They ask what’s the children situation like, if they aren’t being raised in their biological family, especially if they are part of a minority. We found out we practically don’t have any data and we know a very little on this topic.“
Photo: OSF and E. Gallová Kriglerová archive
Author: Rudolf Sivý 29.06.2015