Accessibility Links
Quick Send CV
Cookies on our website
By continuing to use this website we will assume you are happy to receive cookies as outlined in our cookie policy
Accept Policy

Tagged In:  Social Work, Social Worker

The UK now has one of the largest Roma communities in Europe. As more Eastern European countries have joined the EU, many Roma (or Romani Gypsies) have moved legally to the UK to find work and a good education for their children. Official figures are hard to come by. However, it's estimated that the UK's Roma community now numbers around 2-300,000, although many disguise their ethnic origins to avoid prejudice and persecution.


With Roma communities disproportionately affected by health and social care issues though, there's a big challenge for the UK social care system.

So how do social workers engage effectively with the Roma community?

It’s a challenge because Roma families are often suspicious of authority figures and the formal social care system. At the same time, a social worker under time pressures may misinterpret this reluctance to cooperate, resulting in inappropriate responses and intervention. "It is for this reason why many of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people we work to support can become powerless and confused as social work involvement quickly escalates from an initial meeting to full and formal child protection enquiries, " explains Dr Dan Allen, a former social worker and now a social work academic specialising in working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Dr Allen’s research talks a lot about the barriers that naturally exist in both sides of the relationship and the importance of understanding key cultural issues. For example, corporal punishment of children is widely accepted as the norm amongst Roma communities. Roma people tend to marry at a relatively young age. And most Roma women have limited social interaction with the wider community, impacting on their children's early years learning.

Social workers also need to be aware of potential issues arising from communication problems. Roma people speak a common language but in a wide variety of dialects. Interpreters tend to follow generic protocols which may not work for the Roma. As a result, they may fail to understand what is happening, what their choices are and what the likely outcomes may be.

Examples of social work teams working with Roma families

It's extremely helpful for social workers to have the support of representatives of the Roma community. "The process that has had the greatest impact on improving the local situation for both workers and the Roma themselves has been the employment of Roma in supporting roles," says the Roma support charity Equality. In Derby, for example, social care teams work closely with colleagues from Roma Community Care, a grassroots, non-profit advocacy organisation staffed by volunteers who have Roma ethnicity.

And at Haringey, which has the largest Roma community in London, the Council has a Roma & Traveller Needs Assessment protocol which forms part of an overarching Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). It pulls together information on the health and wellbeing of the Roma & Traveller children and their families in the local community. There’s an acknowledgment that the social work task of “screening and assessing the needs of these children is complex”.  The families often move address and then return, identities are difficult to verify through paperwork and there are language barriers and differing cultural explanations of what is considered the norm. Services have also encountered several cases where different names have been used with the result of causing further confusion. Yet, Haringey’s Travelling People’s Team has been working with the Roma and Traveller communities for many years and have been recognised for bridging the gap between community and council and delivering services through a ‘Community Social Work’ model that identifies potential situations arise.

Under the model, the team uses Family Group Conferences in casework with extended Traveller families and works in partnership with multi disciplinary teams to find solutions to child protection and other problems. This approach has proved especially effective with the Travelling community and is seen as invaluable by social workers.

It seems the first step to engaging successfully with the Roma community is getting to know them better. "Relationships are incredibly important," comments Haringey Council community social worker Michael Ridge in various presentations he has delivered. And, with funding being increasingly restricted, it seems partnership approaches could be harnessed to try to counteract the impact of funding restrictions. 
Email a friend
Add new comment