Count us In: How Roma cultural meditators are supporting parents and promoting early inclusion
Roma cultural mediator helps participants in the workshops that are part of the EU Child Guarantee
The Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus workshops, were made possible thanks to the committed educators and families participating in the program. However the Growing Up Together activists, primarily Roma cultural mediators, referred to as RAZA, have been integral to their success. They are assistants from the Roma community who help educators establish better contact with participants of the program, contextualize content and overcome potential language barriers. The adaptation of the programme and activities to the needs of participants is key to success and sustainability.
"Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus" is a series of workshops designed to support parents and families living in particularly difficult circumstances. It is conducted jointly by the implementating partners of UNICEF Croatia – Center for Parenting Support "Growing Up Together" and employees of the Center for Social Welfare Čakovec , Family Center Branch, as part of the “Phase III pilot program: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.
In the workshops, parents spend quality time with their children, and at the same time, they are learning by listening to guidelines. The program consists of 3 parts: a workshop for parents, a workshop for children - which take place at the same time, and workshops for joint play of parents with children.
Natalija Sklepić, a primary school teacher with preschool children, was encouraged to become Roma cultural mediator (RAZA) by the Principal of the school where she is employed.
"When the school principal asked me if I wanted to participate in the program, implemented in cooperation with UNICEF and the European Union, I was reluctant at first, but agreed so I could gain new experience and help myself and others. I did not expect that the workshops would have such a positive impact on parents, because we were all a bit confused in the beginning", Natalija recalls the first of 15 workshops “Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus” which take place in Pribislavec as a parenting support program. Participants are introduced to the topics of child development, setting boundaries in upbringing, relationship with their partner and other family members, and developing communication skills.
"Although I was not a participant in the program, but a Roma cultural mediator, I learned a lot during workshops. I applied what I’ve learned in my environment and I can say that I enriched the relationship with my own family", said Natalija, who is happy to have joined the workshops because it has supported her both as a mother and as an individual.
However, the beginning was not so simple, there were certain doubts whether there would be enough participants and if they would continue to come regularly to all 15 workshops. Natalija used the opportunity of her regular job at preschool to explain to parents how much they could learn if they attended the workshops regularly.
"In the end, many mothers from the settlement decided to join, they did not give up and today they thank me for being there to support them through the process. We had workshops every Wednesday, over the summer and into the start of the school year. After the first few workshops, participants shared how satisfying it was when they realized how much of the knowledge gained, could be put to use at home. Word has spread and now other mothers are asking us if there will be more workshops because they have heard about the experiences of the others. They can see clear difference in the upbringing and education of their children," Natalija emphasizes and adds that satisfaction of participants and the way word spread about the workshops is the best proof of the program’s quality.
The workshops are a network of spreading knowledge and positive experiences, both from experts to activists and beneficiaries, and to their family members. All guidelines are illustrated by an example and then applied in the exercise. It is important to emphasize that parents learn both with each other and in interaction with their children.
"I would like to let UNICEF and the European Union know that this is a very valuable project. I would like them to continue with such workshops because parents have realized the importance of acquiring skills in raising a child. Whatever is done for the benefit of children and their upbringing, will always be useful", concludes Natalija Sklepić.
With the main aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing a pilot-program "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee" in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Croatia was given the opportunity to pilot Testing of the EU Child Guarantee programme, in cooperation with the European Commission and UNICEF, to work on solving child poverty and social exclusion. To develop new service models and best practices for children and their families. UNICEF will use its experience, partnerships and capacities by modeling integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded family and community services in Medjimurje County, a region with limited access to child protection and family support services. UNICEF's approach includes three components: access to integrated child protection and family support services, access to early childhood education and access to integrated and coordinated early childhood intervention services.
© UNICEF, 2021 “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
Growing Up Together Centre and Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center are implementing partners of the UNICEF Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.