At the very beginning of the foster care story, we should talk about the poverty that is common among the Rromani community. In Rromani settlements, most of the families struggle daily in order to make ends meet, however if the family is functional, regardless of the difficult financial situation, the child still has the conditions for normal development. In those cases where such a status causes various forms of addiction, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, resulting in neglect of children and even domestic violence, social services are alerted. A social worker supervises and assists that specific family, and based on their report to a juvenile court, a proceeding may be initiated in which the judge may issue an interim care order. Often these are difficult cases where parents are deprived of their parental rights. This opens up the possibility of adopting a child, and I want to point out that babies and younger children have a far greater chance of being adopted in relation to older children.
Since I work as a teaching assistant for Rromani children, I am in everyday contact with children. It allows me to look at the richness of the child’s soul and the potential for the development of every child. Regardless the fact that a large number of children have no family support, they learn to read, write, do math, develop logic, and when you look at it, you inevitably wonder about the amount of progress they would reach if they had at least a little parental support. Ten years ago, I was thinking intensely about it. I used to see children coming up to the fourth or fifth grade of elementary school and then dropping out of school. I have a permanent scar upon my heart when I remember a boy who was extremely gifted in math, but in the end gave up on school, became criminal and at the end was placed in a juvenile detention centre. Even today he would have been detained in a juvenile prison, but once he was given permission for a vacation release, he had never returned. I was thinking of what it would be if I took such a child to my home and offered them love and conditions for success. That would be our common success. I decided to talk to a social worker who listened to me, explained to me the options for adoption or foster care and instructed me to acquire proper training. After that, I got the chance to foster challenged Rromani children who were mildly mentally challenged due to their severe life situation. I worked a lot with them and now I live with Ivan who is about to graduate from the high school, and when he came to live with me he was eight years old. Senada came to our family when she was three months old, and now she is in second grade high school. Brendon, who is visually impaired and entered school later, is now in the seventh grade of elementary school and is an excellent student.
At my initiative and with the support of my cousin who helped me decide to become a foster parent, fifteen Rromani families from my region have applied for foster care. In this way, all those who neglected their children realized that they could lose their children if they continued to behave in such a way and many have learned their lesson. I even noticed that my work in school has been alleviated as the foster parents greatly facilitated the development and advancement of their foster children. Nevertheless, there are still doubts and prejudices within the Rromani community that parents foster children exclusively for financial gain, and that is completely incomprehensible to anyone who understands how demanding it is to raise a child. Only someone who believes that a child is like a plant that needs to be watered occasionally in order to grow by itself could think like that. Providing a home to a child in which they would feel secure, in which the environment will encourage them and take care of their needs, requires parent’s spiritual and material investment during 24 hours a day. In addition, foster families almost always consist of biological children as well, so it is in my family and there is no difference between the children – they are all mine.
Foster families are mostly young families that must meet certain conditions in order to acquire the foster status in the first place. For example, they should have satisfactory living conditions that include a room, work desk, bed, chair, and shelves for the child so that they can study and meet all their work or life needs. One of the spouses must have their own income and permanent employment. No matter the fact that general opinion of the Rromani community about us, foster parents is not positive, I would like to emphasize the great advantage that comes from the situation when a Rromani family fosters a Rromani child. Little Rroma who has been fostered into the Croatian family during their upbringing will almost completely forget their mother tongue, for example the Bayash language spoken by the Rroma in this area. They will forget the customs, the culture of their people, and they will lose part of their identity. Since foster care implies only the temporary placement of children in another home until the situation in their home and family improves or until the court reaches the decision to return the child to their parents, and there have already been such cases, these children at certain moment find themselves in a Rromani settlement again. From that point on, they have to live again with their mother and father in, what is now for them, completely different environment. For children this represents a tremendous stress and shock, they have forgotten their language, they live in sixteen squared meters, where living room, bathroom and kitchen are actually the same area, often with new children born in the meantime and hiding from the sun behind their house. Return is incomparably easier if children were able to keep their Rromani identity while being placed in foster care. Still the most important thing is that foster parents are big-hearted and gentle soul people. There were also cases when parents refused to provide foster care to a Rroma child, but our local social worker in charge of foster care revoked foster family home licence of such families, correctly concluding that people who value a child with regard to their nationality do not deserve a child.
My generation, along with the younger generations of Rroma, has an important task, and this is bringing about changes in the Rromani community. Some good habits should certainly be preserved and proudly presented to others as special features of the Rroma people, but the customs that result in an unequal position of children, such as insufficient understanding of the importance of education or the so-called “cult of virginity” that puts young girls in an inferior position, should be condemned and dismissed. That is why I willingly organize and participate in different useful workshops, such as “Be a Man” which we have recently held, and I wrote about it in the Phralipen Magazine. I also support every family which finds place in their heart for another foster child.