Roma community workers in Bradford say there has been a rise in the number of Roma children subject to care proceedings, but they may not be visible in official data, because parents fear discrimination if they identify themselves as Roma or Gypsy.
Care cases we observed during a family court reporting pilot at Leeds Family Court showed some Roma families were in acute financial difficulty, and their children were living in homes without adequate food or heating.
Most Roma families in Bradford are originally from Eastern Europe, and settled after 2004 when citizens of new EU states were allowed to move to the UK.
However, some have not obtained settled status required by the Home Office since Brexit for EU nationals permanently resident in the UK.
That means they are not entitled to access services and benefits.
In one case we followed, Bradford council took several young children from one family into care six months ago.
The father is abroad and told the council he wanted the children to live with him outside the UK. The father had not instructed a lawyer and did not participate in the proceedings.
The mother was in prison, and was expected to be released shortly. Her barrister told the court the mother wanted the children to live with her again.
The mother was learning English, and wanted to turn her life around, the lawyer said. She added, “She has shown me that she is really determined”.
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Mother and child
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Court papers show that social workers first contacted the family in 2020.
The parents had separated, and the mother was living with her own family. There were violent incidents in the home.
In August 2021, the police were called and “noted that there seemed to be no electricity as the landlord had cut off the supply,” the papers show. The children were “seen to be dirty and dishevelled” there was “limited fresh food” in the house.
The council moved the mother to emergency accommodation. Social workers remained worried, noting a lack of food, even though the mother was being given supplies. Unknown adults were staying with the family, and the children’s school attendance was “still an issue”.
The youngest child appeared unwell to social workers, but was not being taken to health appointments. Professionals “had to intervene to book GP appointments” for the children.
Because of problems with the temporary accommodation, the council moved the family to a hotel. Staff there alerted social workers that the mother was leaving the children alone there “for hours at a time”. In May 2022, staff came across a small bag containing white powder. The mother “accepted to social care that she was using cocaine”.
She was then arrested and detained, and the children taken into care. The court was told they are doing well in their foster placements, especially one little boy.
“In the short time he has been in placement, we have seen an immediate change in his presentation,” the report said.
“He is chatty and comfortable expressing his wishes and feelings.”
There will be another hearing in May.
The mother in this case did not have settled status, and the council had been helping her try to get it for herself and the children. But she said she did not have their identification documents as they were with the father.
Daniel Balaz runs the community interest company “Connecting Roma” to help families and Bradford Children’s Services work together. He said it was not an accident that we observed several care cases involving Roma families in Bradford – even though the community are a small minority in the city.
Bradford has a population of over half a million people, and it’s estimated there are between 13,000 and 20,000 Roma.
Mr Balaz said he was seeing more cases involving children of Roma heritage because families were under acute financial pressure. The deadline for resident EU citizens to apply to the Home Office for settled status was two years ago, but many had missed it.
He said it was common for Roma to lack the paperwork they need to complete an application.
Mr Balaz said it was unlikely the increase he had observed would show up in official data, because so many Roma families were reluctant to identify themselves as Roma or gypsy.
“They feel they would be stereotyped or discriminated against,” he said, adding that now they were also “reluctant” to put down their country of origin.