Since late summer, panic has swept through the UK’s Czech and Slovakian Roma communities about rumours that social services are taking large numbers of their children into care – and in some cases allowing them to be adopted by British families. The fears stem from a sensationalist TV documentary aired on Slovakian TV and hits right at the heart of what Roma people hold most dear – their children and the family.
A few months ago I – and others who work with Roma – started receiving text messages and questions about whether this was true, and was frequently told tales about ‘a friend of a friend’ whose kids were snatched following a knock on the door. I was told some had even left the country as a result. The panic seem to be contained within those two groups – my Romanian Roma friends were and still are completely oblivious to it.
The rumours started to gain traction again a few weeks ago when the UK media reported that three young children has been removed from a foster family in Rotherham, Yorkshire, when it emerged that they supported the anti-immigration party UKIP. I had a sneaking feeling at the time that they may turn out to be Roma children, and so it came to pass. Stories emerged of other cases and some of those who reassured their Roma friends and clients a few months previously started to wonder if there may be some truth in their fears after all.
Tonight at 8pm Radio 4 is airing a programme on the issue, which I very much hope will be fair and balanced. Having spoken to the reporter about it last week, I think it will be good.
The weekend that the Rotherham story hit the press – when we still didn’t know the nationality or ethnicity of the children involved – I was in Leicester, meeting Denisa, an impressive young Roma woman who is going to be part of this project. She told me about the meetings she took part in following the initial social services panic, and the power that being able to speak the Roma language can hold at such moments.