Monday

21st Jan 2019

Opinion

Anti-Roma prejudice rampant in state child protection services

  • "Social and child protection services are often under-resourced and over-stretched" (Photo: Council of Europe)

In October 2013, and in the aftermath of the hysteria surrounding blond Maria in Greece, child protection services in Ireland removed two children from the custody of their Roma parents believing that, because they did not resemble their parents, they had been abducted.

In a recently published special enquiry, Irish children’s ombudsman Emily Logan found that ethnic profiling played a crucial role in decisions to remove the child.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald, Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan have officially apologised on behalf of the State to the Roma families concerned. An implementation group has been set up to act on key recommendations in the report.

The swift and decisive action of the Irish government is to be commended. The work of child protection services is complex and sensitive. Staff need excellent training, support and high levels of cultural competence. Engagement and empowerment of the Roma community are key and there is absolutely no place for stereotypes or prejudice.

Unfortunately, as networks working to promote the rights of children and equal opportunities for Roma respectively, Eurochild and ERGO Network know only too well that deep-rooted prejudice and stigmatization of Roma communities is rife across Europe. All too often it is the professionals working within the health, social and education systems that perpetuate a presumption that Roma families somehow provide substandard care to their children.

This has led to an over-representation of Roma children within the public care system across Europe, and deep mistrust within the Roma communities of the authorities whose experience of State intervention is primarily punitive.

In the other high-profile case, Greek authorities recently awarded permanent custody of ‘blond Maria’ to a Greek national charity. Maria will most likely spend the rest of her childhood in institutional care. The Roma adoptive parents remain in custody for false administration.

‘Discovery’ of Maria was essentially by chance. Police officers searching the Greek Roma settlement remarked that the blond girl did not resemble with her parents, sparking speculation that she had been abducted from her non-Roma parents. Media hysteria followed.

Maria’s images –a blond girl seated between Roma adults - reinforced a commonly held view that Roma are bad, and non-Roma are good. The story led to Maria’s birth place - a Roma ghetto in Nikolaevo - a small Bulgarian town, where Maria’s brothers and sisters were later themselves taken into state care by the Bulgarian authorities.

It would be simplistic to blame the professionals involved in these and other cases. Social and child protection services are often under-resourced and over-stretched. Training and support is often inadequate and does not sufficiently challenge underlying prejudice and discriminatory attitudes.

In some countries, there is still a prevailing belief that children are better off placed in public care rather than investing effort in supporting those who are perceived to be ‘bad families’. Separation of a child from their family should be a last resort but too often support services are non-existent or inaccessible to the Roma.

In fact it is often the lack of adequate living conditions that prevent families providing a supportive environment for their children. It is important to acknowledge the root causes of Roma exclusion and address systemic failures in the delivery of mainstream services, like education, housing, infrastructure, health and employment.

What is clear is that parenting ability has nothing to do with cultural or ethnic background. It has everything to do with how parents feel about themselves and how they are able to cope with day-to-day challenges often in extremely impoverished situations.

It appears that Ireland will learn the lessons to ensure that such mistakes never happen again. It is time for other countries to follow suit so a new generation of Roma children grow up proud of their identity and able to fully enjoy the same opportunities as their non-Roma peers.

Ruus Dijksterhuis is executive director of the EU level Roma network, ERGO. Jana Hainsworth is executive directive of Eurochild, a network of organisations promoting the rights and well-being of children and young people in Europe.

Magazine

Glasgow: Ahead on Roma inclusion

Glasgow is often held up as an example of how to integrate Roma, but community workers say this has nothing to do with an EU-funded project active there.

Salvini and Kaczynski - the new 'axis' powers?

Populists and Eurosceptics are slowly realising that the goal of dismantling the EU is not only unrealistic, costly and unpopular - but also deprives them of valuable opportunities to accumulate political capital and exert influence.

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

News in Brief

  1. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  2. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack
  3. 'Don't look for answers to Brussels', EU tells UK
  4. Germany warns UK not to 'misuse' EU patience on Brexit
  5. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  6. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  7. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report
  8. Vestager under pressure to allow Siemens-Alstom deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us