Multidimensional child poverty: family separation and institutionalisation among Roma

Guest article by Reneta Krivonozova [1] and Tanja Vasić [2] 

[1] Eurochild, Policy & Advocacy Officer – Child Poverty 

[2] Minority Initiative, Programme Director 


Poverty – the state of being poor; that is, lacking the basic needs of life such as food, health, education, and shelter [1].

This definition only begins to describe the unequivocal weight the word carries, but when we shift our focus to child poverty in particular, as well as the impact of having this experience from a young age, the meaning of the word acquires additional nuances. Children are disproportionately affected and millions across the world experience multidimensional poverty, even more so after the COVID-19 pandemic [2].

Child poverty looks distinct in different parts of the world, but no country is immune to it. On a European level for instance, the Fundamental Rights Agency 2023 Fundamental Rights Report underlines that the at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate has generally gone up in recent years (from 22.8% in 2019 to 24.4% in 2021). Furthermore, the report highlights that there are disparities between the general population and certain vulnerable groups, underlining that 83% of Roma children live in households at risk of poverty and a staggering 54% of Roma children live in households experiencing severe material deprivation [3].

Growing up impoverished can result in lack of access to proper nutrition, education, adequate housing, and healthcare. In the most severe cases, due to the latter, many children do not receive nurturing care during the first years of life and lack responsive caregiving. In addition, Roma families report to have had a variety of poor experiences that constituted mistreatment within maternity care [4]. As a result, child mortality rates can be 2 to 6 times higher among Roma than among non-Roma [5].Children and families in adversity are also more likely to experience social exclusion and in many cases separation, which triggers a new wave of challenges for children newly placed in institutional care. This continues the cycle of disadvantage for many children and implies negative long-term effects on their development and opportunities for unfolding their full potential.

Reducing child poverty must become a national priority for many governments and the European Child Guarantee is a significant step in the right direction. It aims “to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing effective access of children in need to a set of key services”. Improving the access to free early childhood education and care, free high-quality education, healthy nutrition, free healthcare and adequate housing, in addition to allocating proper EU funding for the implementation of this initiative will support many families and children in precarious situations across the Union. With joint effort, this will help prevent family separation caused by these challenges.

Bulgaria as the country with the highest percentage of Roma population and the third highest percentage of child poverty in the EU accounts for around 2,000 children separated from their families each year [6]. It is observed that Roma children are overrepresented in the childcare system [7], and while the reasons behind this may vary, poverty and discrimination are the most commonly mentioned ones. In Eurochild’s (In)visible children report national members also note that poverty goes beyond income, and among the ones most in need are ‘children left behind’ (by parents working abroad), especially those living in ‘ghettos’ and remote settlements. 

Against this backdrop, Eurochild saw the need for joint efforts on both national and European levels on reducing poverty, and consequently prevention of family separation and tackling overrepresentation of Roma children in childcare systems. The team is currently working to support Eurochild’s national members, the National Network for Children, in an initiative that aims to strengthen prevention of child-family separation for families in adversity in Bulgaria.

Our goal is to leverage the influence of EU policies on a national level, provide examples of promising practices and ideas, and involve grass-root organisations in EU policy implementation and funding allocation. In addition, Eurochild seeks to promote collection of relevant disaggregated data on the specific situation of Roma children in Bulgaria in order to propose solutions for family separation and discrimination.

Furthermore, the Roma Children Steering Committee, initiated by the Minority Initiative, may allow civil society to work in parallel with international institutions and national governments to raise awareness on the specific issue of overrepresentation of Roma children in institutional care. Aside from the large influence of multidimensional poverty, institutionalisation also depends on the social protection system itself. As long as there is no active work towards concrete solutions for the problems faced by Roma children, institutionalised care will remain a reality for them. To address the poverty cycle and encourage deinstitutionalisation, involving Roma themselves is crucial. There are Roma professionals in the field of social protection in the Roma community who can, in partnership with the states, develop models that can be tailored to the needs of Roma children and their families.

It is essential to continue raising awareness of current and prospective politicians and policymakers of the importance of family strengthening, community building, tackling discrimination and supporting children and families living in poverty. Through continuous work, we can begin identifying and removing obstacles from Roma children’s way to equal opportunities and buoyant childhood experiences, and help break the cycle of disadvantage. 

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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