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New helpline and targeted educational help for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers

Education: Secondary / Thu 29th Jul 2021 at 08:53am

TWO new services for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people in Essex have been launched.

A new helpline – 01206 485007- offers free and confidential Covid-19 and mental health support to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

And the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has awarded a £66,800 grant to Essex County Council for GRT targeted educational initiatives  children and young people.

The Helpline

The helpline is open 8am to 7pm Mondays to Fridays and from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and provides a safe space for people to talk and to get support. It is run by the Essex Wellbeing Service and has been planned with members of the GRT communities. Calls will not be recorded and callers can remain anonymous. 

Call handlers will ask callers to talk as much or as little as they want about their situation and what’s worrying them. If the caller agrees, they can refer them on for additional support. They will also check back in with the caller in a few days.

People can call the helpline as often as they like.

The suicide rate in the Traveller community is six times higher that the general population, according to the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study (1).  This increases to seven times higher among Traveller men and 11% of Traveller deaths are accountable to suicide. Prejudice, poverty and a lack of accessible services are contributing factors.

James Quinn McDonagh is head of a clan of Irish Travellers in Essex and an advocate for protecting the travelling community from Covid-19, reducing bullying and stigma around mental health in the travelling community

He said: “Putting this helpline out there will be a great benefit to the Travelling community in many ways. This will be really useful to support the community in terms of access to covid support and mental health support for travellers. Too many young travelling men have died from suicide though mental health and I personally believe this will be a great benefit and well done to all who were involved putting it together.”

A spokesperson for the Traveller Movement UK said: “Traveller communities are in the middle of a mental health crisis with more and more people not knowing how to cope with life’s pressures and stresses. Most families have been affected by suicide. This new mental health helpline will be a real lifeline for hundreds of Travellers in Essex.”  

Education project

The new grant is part of a £1 million Government programme announced last Thursday (22 July) focused on boosting educational attainment, tackling exclusion and drop-out rates and improving employment prospects for GRT children(2). Essex is one of five areas chosen for the pilot programme, because the highest  county has number of GRT pupils attending primary and secondary schools, according to data from the DfE 2020 National Pupil Database (3). 

Educational attainment among GRT children and young people is significantly lower than the national average (4) and many drop out of school at secondary level as families choose to home educate. Cultural differences and misunderstandings, racism, nomadic lifestyles and family mistrust of the education system are all factors. 

The Essex project will:

  • help pupils in year 6 transfer from primary to secondary schools by working with parents and schools and offering dedicated support with school applications. 
  • deliver cultural awareness training in schools
  • help broaden the aspirations of GRT young people in Basildon and Braintree not in education, employment or training (NEET) through a weekly drop-in and a six-week programme of support.

Cllr Graham Butland, ECC’s Lead Member for Devolution, the Arts, Heritage and Culture, said “Access to education is crucial to improving life chances while being able to reach out when you need support is essential to mental wellbeing. Through this targeted education support and the dedicated helpline for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people I hope we can start to build the community’s trust and ensure no community is left behind in our efforts to level up Essex.”

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