UK: Meetings with officials reduce Romani panic over child removals
Tension has been heightened in the Romani community in Great Britain over the alleged removal of children from Romani families by child welfare authorities as recently reported by the Slovak television station JOJ. That reporting was not only oversimplified, but in some places was even misleading. Meetings between members of the Romani community and representatives of police and social workers in response to the allegations have now ameliorated that anxiety. One such meeting took place in the town of Peterborough in central England, where many Romani people originally from the Czech Republic and Slovakia live, while another has been held in Dover. An amateur video recording of the meeting in Dover can be seen at http://www.romea.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/zahranicni/udajne-odebirani-deti-ve-velke-britanii-napeti-mirnily-schuzky-s-policii-a-socialnimi-pracovniky
Czech Radio reports that approximately 250 Romani people attended the meeting in Peterborough,which was held in the St. Mark's parish community center. Representatives of police and the head of social services in Peterborough did their best to correct the misinformation that has been circulating and to assure people that no targeted campaign is taking place in Britain against Romani people originally from the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
The panic was sparked by news reports broadcast by the Slovak television station JOJ claiming that children were being arbitrarily removed from Romani parents in Britain. The news spread like an avalanche throughout Britain and was believed by many people. Allegations were made that foster parents can earn as much as GBP 10 000 per month caring for four foster children and that both police officers and social workers had a financial interest in placing children in foster care.
However, social workers in Britain require a court order to remove children from their parents. Such a procedure involves several steps and is not easy. In extreme cases of a threat to the health of a child, police do have the right to immediately remove a child from the care of his or her parents. The length of time for which a child is removed or entrusted to foster care varies and there are many ways such decisions can be revised.
News server Romea.cz publishes in full translation below the minutes of the meeting held in Peterborough that were taken by Petr Torák, a UK police officer and representative of the International Association of Romani Professionals:
Minutes of the meeting in Peterborough, Friday 31. 8. 2012
The meeting was attended by Inspector Dominic Glazebrook, Assistant Director of Social Services Sue Westcott, municipal representative Jawaid Khan, and around 200 Romani people. Czech Radio reporter Jiří Hošek, Martin Krpač of JOJ TV, and a reporter for the Evening Telegraph in Peterborough attended on behalf of the media.
Sue Westcott, the first speaker, assured everyone present that NO ONE has the right to take a child away from his or her family WITHOUT GROUNDS. Westcott has been working in social welfare for more than 30 years and said she has never encountered a case in which a child had been wrongfully removed from a family. Social welfare authorities always first make use of every available means for keeping a child with his or her parents or with relatives.
In cases where children have been abused psychologically, sexually, or in any other way, the police and/or social welfare authorities are obligated to remove the child from the family in order to protect the child from further harm. If the social welfare authorities want to remove a child from a family, they must submit enough evidence of the fact that the child is suffering in that family to the court. Only if there is enough evidence will the court issue a court order to take the child into state care.
Westcott further emphasized that people who foster children only receive enough money from the state to cover a child's clothing and food. Under no circumstances is foster parenting a lucrative source of income as some media outlets have indicated.
Dominic Glazebrook, the next speaker, reiterated that people should not fear their children being removed - unless they are being abused. He also emphasized that even though police have the legal right to remove children from their families, they may only do so in cases of serious concern for the health or safety of the child, and then only for a maximum of 72 hours. Glazebrook then asked everyone present whether children had been arbitrarily taken away either from them or someone they know very well. No one present made any such assertion.
Jawaid Khan of the Community Cohesion Department noted that the municipality is working with representatives of the Romani community on creating conditions to help simplify Romani people's integration into English society.
Petr Torák, a police officer and representative of the INARP association who has experience with this topic announced that not a single family had contacted him during the past week to complain that their children had been arbitrarily removed. Torák then once again offered his personal assistance to families reporting the illegal removal of children. He also announced that an independent commission has been created and tasked with investigating the entire matter and eventually filing a lawsuit against the organization or person who has sparked this panic and caused this emotional harm to the Romani community.
Both during and after the meeting, everyone present had a unique opportunity to see the perverse way in which Martin Krpač, the reporter for JOJ TV, did his best to disturb the mental calm of the Romani people present. The behavior of this reporter was viewed as very unethical and unprofessional by many at the Peterborough meeting.