Traveller and Romani Advice and Information Network 


Messages from Practice

Case example: working with Roma families

Gaba Smolinska-Poffley
Deputy Coordinator and Roma Support and Engagement Programme Leader

"In my work for the Roma Support Group, I have been involved in a number of cases where Roma families were involved with social workers. In our work, we noticed that language can create huge barriers in engagement between Roma and social workers. Social services frequently need to use interpreting services in order to communicate. On most occasions, an interpreter speaking one of the Romany dialects is not available so the only choice is to use an interpreter who speaks the language spoken in the country the family came from. Usually it is a second language for Roma and often their vocabulary in this language is limited.

An additional barrier to communication can be that many Roma would not only have problems understanding words but also whole concepts. It is really important that social workers understand that some social work words do not easily translate into Romany or other languages used by Roma. For example, I was supporting one Roma family who were struggling with the care of their child, and the social worker asked them if they thought that they would benefit from parenting classes. But once the interpreter had translated this, the family thought the social worker was offering them sex education.

The family were deeply embarrassed and told the social worker no. As a result, it appeared that the family was reluctant to co-operate with the social worker. Luckily, the social worker had the insight tocheck with the parents what they thought parenting classes were. Once this had been clarified, the family was happy and grateful for the opportunity to learn how to look after their child. The meaning of words, particularly social work terms, is so important when working with Roma. They may never have heard about things like parenting classes before."