The puzzle of welcoming children placed with family assistants

In the North, around 10,000 children are placed. – GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

  • In 2015, the Nord department chose to promote the placement of children under the care of justice in foster families rather than in specialized establishments.
  • Around 5,500 children and teenagers are welcomed into their families by 2,600 family assistants.
  • As many caregivers approach retirement, the department is struggling to recruit.

Accused by her ex-husband of not taking care of their three children. In February, a family affairs hearing at the Lille court highlighted the shortcomings of a family assistant, these professionals who take in children and adolescents placed under the care of justice.

“For two months, she was followed by a social educator for her own children and yet she continues to keep three others entrusted by the social assistance to children of the department”, denounces Romain *, the accuser. Because, even if a conviction for mistreatment is pronounced, it will not cause the withdrawal of accreditation. The file related only to his own children.

In the Nord department, this withdrawal of approval remains rare. “About twenty administrative procedures are triggered each year, and not all of them lead to withdrawals,” points out Aurélie Pruvost, head of the family reception center at the departmental council. However, according to Romain, there are many shortcomings due to a lack of resources, training and support.

“You have to have fiber and strong kidneys”

One thing is certain, these placed children suffer from more or less serious educational deficiencies and their reception requires very specific skills. “You have to have fiber and strong backs”, explains Hélène *, family assistant in Douaisis. All this for a salary that does not reach the minimum wage, if we only keep one child. Because these family assistants (98% are women) are employees of the department, under contract.

In the North, in 2015, the departmental council took a turn in the investment policy. Seven hundred accommodation places have been abolished in specialized establishments, in favor of host families, for reasons of cost, assumed by the executive. “This is a purely accounting vision, denounces the South union, the majority in the department. We have even seen abuses consisting in encouraging people touching the RSA to become a family assistant. A sleight of hand to save money. “

Placement remains a puzzle

However, applications have never rushed to the gate to compensate for the closure of residential accommodation. “It’s a real job to take care of these children. The prices are too low and the working conditions too difficult, ”according to Sud.

The placement therefore remains a puzzle. According to the department, 5,500 children or teenagers (i.e. two thirds of judicial placements) are welcomed into families by 2,600 family assistants. That is to say an average of more than two children per household, sometimes wandering from one place to another.

“Approval is legally only given for a maximum of three children, but we can go up to five, in certain circumstances, with a derogation”, recognizes Aurélie Pruvost. This is particularly the case with Hélène, who doesn’t really have a choice.

Difficulties in recruiting

“It’s the department that decides. I am replacing two people on sick leave. So I have two children in relay for over a year. But it is not necessarily the number that is complicated to manage. It all depends on each person’s character, ”she explains. However, the lack of family carers is starting to be painfully felt.

Romain has often observed drifts. “When a foster family leaves for the weekend, it entrusts the children to another who does not necessarily have the approval to receive them. It is a common practice and everyone closes their eyes, ”he denounces.

Aurélie Pruvost believes, on the contrary, that “these behaviors have disappeared”. “Supervision and supervision have strengthened in recent years,” she confides, nevertheless confirming that she has difficulty recruiting new people. “It’s a peculiarity of the North: the average age is around 53 years. So there are a lot of people retiring. “I still meet assistants who are over 65 years old,” says Hélène.

A reserve of reception places?

In the meantime, reception conditions are deteriorating in some areas. In 2018, a social worker testified: “We spend our time looking for places. Children placed by a judge sometimes find themselves in our waiting rooms for lack of accommodation solutions. And, in the end, they are forced to return to their parents. “

“Social workers often feel overwhelmed. On average, they take care of between 33 and 38 children per day, underlines the South union. And again, the figure has fallen, but sectors, such as interior Flanders or Dunkirk, are suffering from a shortage of professionals. “

The idea would be to create a reserve of reception places with a waiting allowance. “It would allow the placement to be adapted under the best conditions. Some children need a cocoon. Others, on the contrary, would be better off in a collective structure. Each case is different “, underlines Soraya, a family assistant from Roubaix, who deplores, moreover,” a significant turnover and the lack of training “.

“The better we are going to treat them, the better off society will be”

“It often happens that some families break down. Sometimes you have children who resent you for trying to replace their families. Or the father or mother deprived of their rights who do everything to ensure that the reception goes badly. We live in very difficult situations, ”she insists.

In 2012, eight family reception services were created in each of the territories to develop support for families from an educational team and dedicated psychologists. “These services make it possible to improve support and better integrate family assistants”, according to Aurélie Pruvost. For Soraya, “the reception of these children is still managed in a too administrative way, without also worrying about the needs of the children. However, the better we treat them, the better the society will be. “

* The first names have been changed.

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