How Save the Children is helping children overcome discrimination in Romania

Our next group of IWitness Global Citizens is travelling to Romania to visit some incredible projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Diana Stanculeanu, who coordinates Save the Children’s project Raising Children in a Stigma-free Society, is here to explain some of the hurdles Romanian children have to overcome.

Roma children, children with disabilities and child victims of abuse are the most discriminated against groups of children in Romania. Stigma associated with being Roma, having a disability or being from a highly disadvantaged family is so strong that it affects the way educational services for these children are designed. Often teachers in primary and pre-primary education, social workers and other professionals lack specific professional and communication skills that allow them to fully attend to the needs of children.

As a result, 80% of children who never go to school in Romania are Roma children and only 20% of Roma children attend kindergarten classes. Around 63% of Romanian children are physically abused at home and disciplined with corporal punishment, with one in eight abused children developing severe emotional and behavioural difficulties.  And most of the 69,000 children registered as having disabilities are not included in the main school system.

These factors combine to put the educational path of these children at risk, unless efforts are made to build inclusive school climates that follow the child’s needs, instead of having schools that demand children fit their institutional needs. Children from disadvantaged groups are being excluded despite international evidence that attending pre-school and primary school increases their chance of achieving social and economic inclusion later in life.

The Romanian educational system has failed so far in offering solutions for such challenges. Excessively oriented towards academic achievement and passing on information, schools fail to pay attention to children’s overall wellbeing and development. Save the Children Romania pilots and presents key stakeholders from central level with models of practice that take into account the needs and perspectives of all children. Our programme, Raising children in a stigma-free society, contributes to building a culture of inclusion in Romanian schools where all children have access, are welcomed and valued for their diversity and have their needs met in appropriate, flexible teaching and learning environments.

Our million thanks to the IKEA Foundation and IKEA colleagues around the world, who make it possible for Save the Children Romania to fight discrimination in pre-primary and primary education and society by building a culture of inclusive and safe learning in Romanian schools.