Lack of seats, endless delays, understaffing … Child protection is at the end of the rope. “We are not able to protect children with dignity,” warns David, a specialist teacher in the Nordic region. He is currently exercising a partial right of withdrawal, like many of his colleagues, annoyed at the lack of funds to care for children entrusted to Childhood Social Assistance (ASE). According to the National Observatory for Child Protection, more than 300,000 minors were followed by ASE in 2020. Every year, more and more children become concerned. However, the number of social workers is stagnating.
On June 2, several rallies were organized in France to condemn the catastrophic conditions for the welfare of children. When a judge decides on the placement of a child, it is because he assesses that the danger is serious and imminent. But “for several months, the leitmotif has been that ASE has no more places”, reports Léa *, a judge for children in the east of France, who admits to having had “ineffective placements”. “It’s not a very high number, but we must not forget that it is children behind it, not files,” she adds.
“10% of children have no place”
Last December, David exercised a partial right of withdrawal to defend a case: that of a child who was to be placed but for whom a solution had not been found six months later. “These six months got this child into an ingrained pathology where we could have avoided it,” the specialized educator laments. Olivier Treneul, a former specialist educator and member of the trade union Sud dans le Nord, estimates that “10% of children have no place”. “It’s outrageous that we’re telling children we’re there to protect them and that we do not do it right away,” said Emilie *, a child judge in Bobigny.
And this lack of space also applies to infants. The nurseries, places dedicated to the little ones with care and an adapted environment, are saturated. “We were recently informed that infants whose placement had been ordered remained in the maternity ward for weeks, even months,” explains Emilie *. Olivier Treneul also remembers an infant who stayed a month and a half in the maternity ward due to lack of space. “It is unbearable. He is an inpatient,” he stressed.
Children are neither “goods” nor “numbers”
More than the absence of seats, it is the reception conditions that are inadequate or even destructive for the children. For “in connection with an emergency placement, we always find a place, we push the walls, if necessary, we add a mattress”, illustrates Léa *. “Some kids are in cribs, in the hallways,” David breathes. And the problem is often only solved for one night. The next day, the social workers set out to find a more lasting solution, sometimes in vain. The myth of Sisyphus. If Sisyphus exchanged his huge stone for the crushing responsibility for children’s lives.
It is scandalous that we tell children that we are there to protect them and that we do not do it right away. »
“We put it three days in one place, then we renegotiate three days in another place. It is extremely violent to tell a child that we must protect: you must be there for three days, and then we do not know where you are going, ”sighs Olivier Treneul. “Departments [qui finance la protection de l’enfance depuis que l’ASE a remplacé la DDASS qui était nationale] sees that a child has found a place, but he does not check whether the child has made 15 childcare centers until he finds a permanent place “, regrets David, who remembers that children are not” goods “or” figures “.
Siblings separated due to lack of space
Thrown from one reception center to another, the children entrusted to ASE, who are already damaged by a complex, failing and abusive family environment, lose all orientation. To the great dissatisfaction of the social workers who are struggling to try to find solutions adapted to the individual case. David remembers a baby that needed to be placed. “He stayed in the ward all day – that is, in offices – and we found a place to stay in the middle of winter at 7 p.m. It was night. For him, it is unbearable. Everything is amplified at night, especially children’s anxiety, ”he says.
Even worse is that peculiarities can increase the complexity of an already daily puzzle, such as in the case of disorders that require special follow-up or big siblings. “I have a couple of big siblings. Sometimes we want to keep them together, but we can not, even if it would be good for them. To explain to them that we have no choice, that we should separate them from their brothers and sisters, it is difficult for them to understand ”, emphasizes Léa *. Sometimes the rankings are even staggered.
“How do we do that? Elle Belle?”
In the same family, it happens that one child is placed “two weeks” after the decision, the other “two months after” and the last “four months later”, describes the child judge, who evokes a “DIY”. David remembers the story of four children who were to be placed on May 2nd. “We were told: we have only one place. How do we do it? Elle Belle? We go to the mother and we say: choose the child we have to place first?”, The educator is indignant. Social workers refused to place any of More than a month later, only three of them have been accommodated in the system.
Even more worryingly, Olivier Treneul condemns reports of social workers being buried or delayed by the hierarchy. “Reports have not been sent to the judges because we ‘have no place'”, condemns the trade unionist, who assures that if they are sporadic, “this practice is under development”. By the time the file is “found”, the situation may have drastically worsened for the child who was the subject of a review.
Consequences for judges’ decisions
Aware of the social workers’ “insane workload”, the judges adapt. Emilie * regularly refuses to convene a hearing to avoid calling on them, and Léa * assures that ASE’s lack of funds “plays a role in [s]we appreciate “.” We need to think about what we are proposing to the child as a project. Are we offering him better outside the house? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. “
However, reinforced measures are possible in orphanages. They allow educators to support parents. They help them understand what is important to the child, encourage them to make medical appointments, advise them on structures … “It is educational assistance, not police work”, emphasizes Léa *. This accompaniment allows parents, who sometimes abuse against their will, to work on their parenting.
But here, too, the funds are not for the challenges. Depending on the region, support in an open environment – therefore at home – can take from four to six months, for Léa * in the East of France, up to one year to eighteen months for Emilie *, in Bobigny. . “It’s outrageous as a delay,” sighs the judge, adding that it is not surprising that certain situations “collapse in the meantime.” Months, even a year and a half, it is infinite in relation to a child’s life.
It is also a vicious circle. “We arrive at a placement more easily because we did not intervene early enough. We let the situation worsen, ”explains Léa *. Emilie * remembers a teenager in care who had returned to the family home under the guise of educational measures. But when the judge took over the case, she realized that the educators had not intervened. “The relationship between this teenager and his mother was catastrophic, he was placed again,” she explains.
These workers who “save their skin”
“Today, child protection is in the same state as the hospital: we are no longer able to treat those for whom we are responsible,” laments Olivier Treneul, for whom “the protection of ‘childhood cannot be rationed’. Social workers often go in addition to their powers to try to preserve the sand castle at an arm’s length.Recently, a 17-year-old young man was accommodated by ASE in a hotel “while awaiting his majority”.
While nearly a quarter of the homeless are former foster children, David and his colleagues managed to find him an apartment service. “A beautiful story,” says the educator modestly about the number of hours of his free time it took to write it. “With our working conditions, we risk missing something. Me, I’m sure it happened to me, ”breathes Olivier Treneul. Today, “if colleagues exercise only a partial right of withdrawal, it is because they do not want to leave the children, they feel guilty, they forget their health,” he adds. Some colleagues set off to save their skins. »
In certain services of ASE in Bobigny, “we are at 40% of holiday rate”, emphasizes Emilie. And the situation can quickly worsen. “We have fewer and fewer foster families, and the age pyramid of family assistants is quite high,” the child judge warns. Workload, lack of consideration, overwhelming responsibility, loss of meaning … Everyone is worried about the difficulty of recruiting for child protection. And consequences for those they need to protect. “We have to defend the status of the child,” David insists, adding: “If the financial side takes precedence over the children, we still have a problem.”