Roma Voices for Change: Identifying and managing child exploitation in Roma communities within Bradford

This project will explore how practitioners’ knowledge about Roma culture influences safeguarding practices when identifying and managing child exploitation within Bradford.

A group of Roma children smiling

Roma communities in the UK often receive little attention. They are either included in the broader grouping of gypsy, Roma and traveller (PDF), which overlooks the diverse nature of these distinct communities, or viewed through a migration lens and the notion that Roma communities are a threat to British society (PDF).

Roma communities have become marginalised within society, with an absence of Roma representation within key decision-making roles. Therefore, the needs of Roma communities are determined by non-Roma individuals. This raises questions around appropriateness and effectiveness of interventions.

Academics have started to explore the lived experiences of Roma communities in particular settings, such as health and education. However, less attention is given to how harm and abuse are identified and managed in these communities. Consequently, multi-agency safeguarding practices are unlikely to recognise the distinct needs of Roma communities, making it difficult to proactively identify and implement appropriate interventions.

This research project will evidence awareness of Roma culture amongst police, social care and health agencies, highlighting ways in which practices reinforce the marginalised positioning of Roma communities. The research team will create training material that will highlight best practice for identifying and managing child exploitation in Roma communities. It will be created with the voices of Roma individuals, ensuring change is done with Roma communities and not for them.


Within the UK, the true prevalence of child exploitation is unknown (PDF). From a legislation perspective, there is not a standardised definition of ‘child exploitation’, rather it is broken down into sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, and trafficking. Standard definitions of what constitutes these three forms of exploitation are limited, with only criminal exploitation being recently defined by the UK Government. When safeguarding concerns are addressed through multi-agency approaches, the lack of formalised definitions, as well as shared understandings, can be problematic.

Through discussions with Connecting Roma, West Yorkshire Police and other safeguarding practitioners, questions have been raised around the reporting and recording of child exploitation concerns. Specifically, how demographic information is recorded on risk assessments and the influence such information has upon decision-making processes. An ethnicity of ‘Roma’ does not often feature on referral forms, causing Roma children to be labelled ‘Eastern European’, ‘White – Other’ or ‘Prefer not to say’. This makes it difficult to establish the prevalence of child exploitation within Roma communities. Professional misconceptions of Roma culture, norms and values may also impact upon early identification of concern in relation to child exploitation.


Research Question:

To what extent does practitioner knowledge about Roma culture influence safeguarding practices and processes in relation to identifying and managing child exploitation within Bradford?

Research Aim:

The aim of this project is to explore professional awareness of Roma culture and how understandings influence the identification and management of child exploitation within Bradford.

To achieve this aim, these objectives have been identified:

  • Explore understandings of child exploitation within Roma communities in Bradford and identify factors that may facilitate or prevent engagement with statutory and third sector support.
  • Investigate cultural awareness amongst safeguarding practitioners (including police, social care, health, and education) and how such awareness may influence the identification and management of child exploitation within Roma communities in Bradford.
  • Develop culturally sensitive information that will help to raise awareness of child exploitation within Roma communities, as well as create culturally competent training materials that can be delivered to safeguarding practitioners located in Bradford and at a national level.


The research will adopt creative qualitative methods and be conducted in stages. Each stage will be developed alongside individuals from the Roma community, Connecting Roma, West Yorkshire Police, Bradford’s Children and Families Trust, as well as a stakeholder group. Ethical approval will be sought from the University of Bradford, as well as partner organisations if required.

Stage 1 – Literature Review

The first stage of the research process will be to conduct a literature review around safeguarding responses to child exploitation within Roma communities living in the UK. The review will be situated within the wider context of child exploitation, before becoming more focused on Roma communities and the vulnerabilities they face within the UK.

Stage 2 – This is Me Workshops

Two sets of four half-day workshops will be held with individuals from Bradford’s Roma community. One group will consist of up to 20 young Roma people, aged 13 to 18, whilst the other will be open to anyone aged 19 or older (capped at 20 participants). Workshops will be facilitated by co-investigator Dr Aicha Bahij (University of Bradford), who will use her artist experience to enable participants to explore their Roma identity and understanding of exploitation. At the end of the workshops, images produced will be printed onto tote bags, with original art being curated into an exhibition.

Stage 3 – Truth or Myths? How are the Roma perceived by Safeguarding Practitioners?

Stage 3 will focus on interacting with a range of safeguarding practitioners located within Bradford. This will include engagement with West Yorkshire Police and Bradford’s Children’s Trust, which brings together practitioners from health, social care, police, education and the third sector. Practitioners will be invited to participate in a semi-structured focus group. This will explore perceptions of the Roma community and experiences of engaging with and supporting Roma individuals and families, particularly in relation to child exploitation. This process aims to contribute to conversations around best practice.

Stage 4 – Production of Digitalised Training Materials

Through the process and findings of the first three stages of the proposal, the researchers will work with OnEvidence, an external research agency, to create digitalised training materials. These will help raise awareness of Roma culture and how safeguarding practices and processes relating to child exploitation can become more culturally sensitive.

Stage 5 – Write Up, Dissemination and Next Steps

The final stage of the research will involve a formal write up of emerging findings into a report, including an executive summary. The report will consist of an in-depth analysis of all data collected, focusing upon bringing together the various voices, experiences, and perspectives. The research team will make recommendations around improving best practice, alongside the relevance of the research at a national level. A dissemination event will be hosted at the University of Bradford in April 2025.


Lead investigator


  • Dr Aicha Bahij (University of Bradford)

Key Partners

  • Connecting Roma
  • West Yorkshire Police
  • Bradford Children and Families Trust
  • OnEvidence


Image from Connecting Roma.

Related research