Child protection professionals are ill-equipped when working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, say researchers who have revealed children from these groups are more likely to be taken into care.
Dr Daniel Allen and Sarah Riding from the University of Salford have presented Department of Education statistics showing that since 2009, the number of Gypsy or Roma children taken into care in England has risen by 933 per cent, while those of Travellers of Irish Heritage has surged by 400 per cent.
Their report, published by the European Roma Rights Centre, states that the overall number of children in care increased by an average of 19 per cent during the same period, and the rise is disproportionate compared with other ethnic groups in England such as Chinese, Indian, Irish and Bangladeshi.
Worrying levels of prejudice
Dr Allen, from the University’s School of Health and Society, said: “Although there are some examples of good child protection practice in England, what we found is a worrying level of prejudice toward Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.
“These communities are already marginalised, and these kind of attitudes by child protection professionals can only harbour further division and resentment.”
The academics interviewed 137 child protection professionals who attended training events across England, and found many struggled to fully understand the connections between ‘culture’ and child maltreatment.
One social worker quoted in the report said: “We assume their situation is likely to be worse because in their culture they don’t realise what constitutes a risk.”
The academics found the assumption these children were more at risk of harm was often based on stereotypical attitudes about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.
A lack of effective casework, supervision and training, time and training also meant some child protection professionals felt ill-equipped and under pressure to make decisions that did not always reflect the best interests of the child.
Highlighting the impact of financial cuts to local authority services, the academics found a ‘two-tier system’ among social care departments in some areas of England meant a lack of early help or intervention for marginalised groups, meaning child protection professionals only became aware of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children when the families’ situation had escalated to the point of crisis.
Their report proposes a series of recommendations including the need to provide training – ideally by child protection professionals with a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller heritage – about the unique challenges their communities face.
Coherent national policy needed
Other recommendations include ensuring government agencies, police and the health service develop a coherent national policy on how to work to protect the growing number of Gypsy and Traveller children moving between local authority boundaries.
Dr Allen said: “When a sensitive consideration of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller perspective is lost, child protection professionals can work in a discriminatory way. We are aware that effective community development work is being actively hampered by swingeing cuts to social services departments.
“Our report has highlighted a serious issue affecting an often excluded section of society, and clearly a huge amount of work is needed to make sure the entire child protection system is better able to work to safeguard these communities.”