Wednesday

29th Mar 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

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.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

Birthday wishes to the European Union

With the EU soon to celebrate its 60th birthday, there are still lingering questions about the bloc's future and whether there can be a change in fortune.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

News in Brief

  1. Support for Germany's anti-EU party fading
  2. Turkish intelligence not welcome in Germany
  3. US senate approves Montenegro’s Nato bid
  4. Scottish MPs give go ahead to seek referendum
  5. Uber pulls out of Denmark over new taxi-regulation
  6. EU court validates sanctions on Russia's Rosneft
  7. Luxembourg to team up with Ireland in Apple tax appeal
  8. EU majority against GM crops, but not enough to block them

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  2. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  3. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  4. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  5. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  6. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  8. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  9. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  10. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  12. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans