The Parallel Lives Roma Project Overview

The Project Beginning

The Parallel Lives Roma Project was launched in October 2017 with the aim of helping frontline workers and their managers to develop an improved understanding of Roma communities, their needs and more effective engagement strategies. The project workers began by carrying out a scoping exercise, talking to frontline workers in order to locate Roma communities living in the East of England and to understand the challenges that local service providers faced in meeting their multiple needs.  The outcomes were shared at a multi-agency conference in March 2018, where participants discussed their day-to-day experiences of working with Roma communities, the gaps in their understanding of Roma history and culture, and the issues involved in building trust with Roma people. A great deal of good practice was also shared. The project subsequently worked with a wide variety of local partner agencies across sectors to support their learning about Roma communities so as to maximise constrained resources for the benefit of the wider community. The project evaluation can be accessed here: The Parallel Lives Roma Project - Evaluation 2020

The Scoping Exercise

The scoping exercise findings illustrate the multiple challenges faced by many Roma people across the region. In particular chronic poverty, poor health and inadequate housing. Lower levels of literacy and educational attainment can affect their daily lives and can make them victims, and sometimes perpetrators of trafficking, modern day slavery and hate crime. We also learned that Roma people can be extremely reluctant to publicly identify themselves as Roma for fear of judgement or stereotyping. This, in turn, makes it difficult for agencies to argue for specific resource investment and targeted services. There are also several different Roma clans, with some more seriously affected by deprivation than others, and  often influenced by differing opportunities to access education, employment and healthcare in countries of origin.

Working with the Roma Community

The scoping exercise also found that some frontline workers across the East of England felt that they spent a disproportionate amount of time assisting Roma clients. Through a series of half-day workshops, the project helped these workers to understand the impact that systematic persecution and discrimination had had on Roma communities for centuries, resulting in a reluctance to engage with even the best-intentioned service providers. Amongst other services, the project worked with several primary and secondary schools across the region which had developed outstanding practice in relation to engaging Roma families.  They had helped families access healthcare and spent time with them to help them navigate the UK systems and to significantly increase attendance rates. The care and compassion that individual school staff members showed these families created a bond of trust that undoubtedly enabled these parents and children to successfully transition into British life, helping them adapt to the expectations of a very different society. A key success factor in their approach appears to have been employing ethnic Roma staff members, or speakers of their native languages as an essential starting point for building trust.

Understanding Roma Culture

Roma families can have complex needs and may require significant levels of support. However, they can, at the same time, appear to be extremely self-sufficient and self-contained, living 'parallel lives' to those of their neighbours. This constitutes a significant engagement and trust-building challenge for service providers who will need to develop an understanding of Roma culture if they are to make progress and build relationships. For example, many professionals told us that letters and instructions sent to Roma clients appeared to go unread or were incorrectly interpreted. In part as a result of the project's workshops on Roma Cultural Awareness, some teams started to create videos to practically demonstrate and explain information to people. Many also recognised that it is essential for service providers to use professional interpreters (not family members or friends) who speak the correct language to ensure that Roma people  understand the information that is being given to them.

Effective Engagement

This project has highlighted the importance of professionals implementing effective integration and engagement practices to support Roma communities. Through cultural awareness development and multi-agency working, professionals can adapt their practice to ensure that it is appropriate for this often vulnerable group.  Effective engagement is, of course, beneficial for the wider community as professionals are using their time and resources more efficiently and having a potentially positive impact on issues such as community conflict and hate-crime.

For additional resources on for the Roma Community, please click here.

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