Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children supported by chaplaincy

Faith Anderson, Public Affairs Officer 

At the start of January, The Traveller Movement published Overlooked and Overrepresented: Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in the youth justice system.

The report is an analysis of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children’s experiences of custody, based on surveys conducted for HM Inspectorate of Prisons data collection published in November 2016, Children in Custody 2015–16.

The key findings of the report paint the expected picture: minors in the Criminal Justice System from GRT backgrounds remain “hugely overrepresented”. One in twelve of those in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) identified as GRT, yet GRT communities make up just 0.1% of the population as a whole.

Interviewing boys in Young Offenders’ Institutions, the inspectors found a cohort of GRT boys who had been left behind.

More than half said they were 14 or younger the last time they were in education. One third had been in local authority care. A quarter said they were experiencing mental health issues or emotional problems – and less than half said they were getting help for these.

However, as CSAN has highlighted before, the potential role of the Church remains hopeful. Children from GRT backgrounds, especially those of Traveller ethnicity, are often Catholic and still have strong links to their faith.

The work of chaplains ministering to these boys is made evident in the interviews. Half of the GRT boys interviewed said they could see a chaplain of their faith within their first 24 hours in the institution, compared to 39% of non-GRT boys. 82% said they had access to a chaplain if they need it, compared to 63% of non-GRT boys. They were also more likely to say they felt that their religious views were respected.

At the same time, GRT boys were more likely than other boys to feel unsafe on their first night in the institution, and more likely to report being victimised for their ethnicity. However, they were less likely to say they would have no-one to turn to if they had a problem.

The common theme of the surveys reflects the disadvantages faced by people of GRT background. As identified by the Government, people from GRT backgrounds have poorer educational outcomes – in 2012-3 just 17.5% of Traveller children and 13.8% of Gypsy and Roma children pupils got their five or more good GCSEs, compared to 60% of other white children.

Whilst GRT boys in Young Offenders’ Institutions were not more likely to be involved in educational activities, they were more likely to be involved in vocations training or a job within the establishment.

So the situation is not good, but there are glimmers of hope. From the Catholic point of view, chaplains and faith workers, such as those provided by CSAN member the Irish Chaplaincy or the religious sisters in the Travellers’ Network run by CARJ (Catholic Association for Racial Justice) are providing support. A listening ear and a prayerful reflection can provide much relief in what can be a threatening and difficult environment. Their work can be the difference, as testimonies from across the prison estate show.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.