Lack of space, unlimited delays, low staff … Child protection is at the end of its rope. “We are unable to protect children with dignity,” warned David, an expert educator in the North. She is currently exercising the right to partial withdrawal, like many of her colleagues, annoyed by the lack of ways to care for children assigned to Child Social Assistance (ASE). According to the National Observatory for Child Protection, more than 300,000 minors were tracked by ASE in 2020. Every year, more and more children become anxious. However, the number of social workers has stopped.
On June 2, several rallies were held in France to condemn the catastrophic state of childhood social assistance. When a judge decides on the placement of a child, he considers that the danger is serious and imminent. But “for months, the latemotif has been that ASE has no place,” Leah * reported, referring to the children’s judge in eastern France, who acknowledged the existence of an “ineffective place”. “It’s not too many numbers but we shouldn’t forget that these aren’t the children behind the file,” he added.
“10% of children have no place”
Last December, David exercised a partial right of withdrawal to protect a file: a child who had to be placed but for whom, six months later, no solution was found. “These six months have turned this baby into an underlying pathology, when we could have avoided it,” the special educator regretted. Olivia Trenuel, a former special educator and member of the Sood Dance Le Nord Union, estimates that “10% of children have no place”. “It’s scandalous that we tell children we’re here to protect them and we don’t do that right now,” said Emily *, a judge for children in Bobigny.
And the lack of this space worries children as well. Nursery, dedicated space for children with care and an adaptive environment, saturated. “We were recently informed that the babies who were ordered to be placed stay in the maternity ward for weeks, even months,” Emily * explains. Olivia Trenuel also remembers a child who was in the maternity ward for a month and a half due to lack of space. “It’s unbearable. She’s a hospitalized child,” he underlined.
Children are not “products” or “numbers”
More than the absence of space, it is a reception condition that is inadequate or even destructive for children. Because, “in the context of scheduling an emergency, we always find a place, we push the walls, if necessary, we add a mattress”, illustrates Leah *. “Some kids sleep, in the hallway,” David sighed. And the problem is often solved for only one night. The next day, social workers set out to find more lasting solutions, sometimes in vain. The myth of Sisyphus. If Sisyphus trades his huge stone for the responsibility of crushing the lives of children.
It’s offensive that we tell kids we’re there to protect them and we don’t do that right now. A
“We put it in one place for three days, then we reconsider it in another place for three days. It’s extremely violent to tell a child that we must protect him: you stay there for three days and then we don’t know where you will go, “Olivier Trenuel sighed. “Department [qui finance la protection de l’enfance depuis que l’ASE a remplacé la DDASS qui était nationale] Seeing that a child has found a place but has not checked whether the child has created 15 child care centers before finding a permanent place, David regrets, who thinks that children are not “businessmen” or “statistics”.
Siblings are separated due to lack of space
Thrown from one reception center to another, children assigned to ASE, already damaged by a complex, failed and abusive family environment, lose all bearings. Great dissatisfaction of social workers who struggle to try to find adaptive solutions in each case. David needs to establish that he has a baby in mind. “He was at work all day – so at the office – and we found a reception at 7pm in the middle of winter. It was night. It is unbearable for him. At night everything stretches, especially the children’s concerns, ”he said.
Worse, oddities can already add to the complexities of everyday puzzles, such as the need for special follow-up or older siblings in case of disorders. “I have some older siblings. Sometimes we want to keep them together but we can’t, although it would be good for them. Explaining to them that we have no choice, we have to separate them from their brothers and sisters, it is difficult for them to understand “, underlines Leah *. Sometimes placements are even staggered.
“How do we do that? Annie Mini?”
In the same family, it happens that a child is kept “two weeks” after the decision, the second “two months later” and the last “four months later”, the children’s judge describes who provoked a “DIY”. David remembers the story of four children who were laid to rest on 2 May. “We were told: we have only one place. How do we do that? Annie Mini? We go to see the mother and we say: Choose the baby we are going to put first? “Educators are angry. Social workers did not agree to place any children. More than a month later, only three of them have found a place in the system.
More worryingly, Olivia Trenuel has condemned reports of social workers being delayed by burial or classification. “Reports have not been sent to magistrates because we have ‘no place’,” he said, denouncing trade unions who assured that these practices were “evolving” if they were scattered. When the file is “found”, the situation can be fatally bad for the child being the subject of the report.
Consequences on the decision of the judges
Aware of the “crazy work overload” of social workers, the judges are adapting. Emily * refrains from calling for regular hearings to avoid their request and Léa * assures ASE of lack of funds ” [s]We appreciate it. “” We need to think about what we offer the child as a project. Do we offer him better outside the home? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. “
However, it is possible to take strong measures in children’s homes. They allow teachers to support parents. They help them understand what is essential for the baby, encourage them to make appointments for their treatment, advise them on the structure … “It’s educational support, not policing”, Leah * emphasizes. This consistency allows parents, who are sometimes unintentionally abused, to work on their parents.
But here again, the way is not up to the challenge. Depending on the region, assistance in the open environment – so at home – can take four to six months, from one year to eighteen months for Leah * in East France, for Emily in Bobigny. “It’s as scandalous as the delay,” sighed the judge, adding that, surprisingly, some situations “already broke down”. Months, even a year and a half, it is endless on the scale of a child’s life.
This is also a vicious cycle. “We got to a placement more easily because we didn’t intervene early enough. We let the situation deteriorate, ”Leah * explained. Emily * remembers a teenager who returned to the family home behind the education system. But when the judge accepted the case, he realized that the academics had not intervened. “The relationship between this teenager and his mother was disastrous, he was put back on,” she explains.
These workers who “save their skin”
“Today, child protection is in the same state as a hospital: we are no longer able to treat those we are responsible for,” laments Olivia Trenuel, for whom “childhood protection cannot be rationed.” Recently, a 17-year-old man was placed in a hotel by ASE “waiting for his majority.”
Although about a quarter of the homeless people were former foster children, David and his colleagues were able to find him an apartment service. “A beautiful story,” says the educator, humbled about how many hours of his leisure time he needed to write it. “With our working conditions, we run the risk of losing something. I, I’m sure it happened to me, “Olivia Trenuel sighed. Today, “If coworkers exercise only a partial right of withdrawal, because they do not want to abandon children, they feel guilty, they forget their health,” he added. Some coworkers go to save their skin.
Some of ASE’s services in Bobigny, “We’re at 40% off the holiday rate”, underline Emily. And the situation could get worse quickly. “We have fewer and fewer foster families and the age of family assistants is quite high,” warns the children’s judge. Excessive work stress, lack of consideration, irresistible responsibilities, loss of money সবাই everyone is worried about the difficulty of hiring children. And the consequences for those for whom they are protected. “We have to protect the dignity of the child,” David insisted.