Respect the child’s interest, why it is so complicated

“A sheltered child who wants to stay overnight? You almost have to go back to the chairman of the county council to get the authorization! exclaims Hervé Laud, Director of Forecasting and Advocacy for SOS Children’s Villages, one of the many associations that welcome children entrusted byESA, a department of the departmental councils, which is also responsible for the financing of this assumption of responsibility. According to him, the current protection of the child is “discriminatory, whereas according to the international convention on the rights of the child we must take into account the “best interest of the child”. “He prefers the original formula, in English, “the best interest of the child”, rather than its translation, “the superior interest of the child”, prone to misunderstanding.

“The logic of institutions and professionals too often takes precedence over the rights and basic needs of the child”, adds Geneviève Avenard, former child defender at the defender of rights. But “it is the satisfaction of the child’s needs, his safety, his health, his development, in his interest, that is at stake”, emphasizes the doctor Marie-Paule Martin-Blachais, scientific and educational director of the school. of Child Protection, and author of the report “Consensus approach on the basic needs of children in child protection”, submitted to the government in 2017.

First decisive moment: the assessment of his situation when the child, in danger in his family, is left by the judge to the ASE. An assessment which must then be renewed every year and even every six months for children under 2 years of age. While the Haute Autorité de santé evaluation reference system published in January 2021 provides a methodological basis, professionals appropriate it in their own way.

A support person

At the Rétis association in Haute-Savoie, which takes its inspiration from the basic needs approach, “each child has a support person, someone they have chosen from their entourage, such as an aunt or godmother, to be his third-party defender, who supports him emotionally, represents him and helps him express his point of view, especially during consultation meetings about the project for the child”, describes the Director General, Mohamed L’Houssni. The questions are discussed with the child before the meetings, because these “create stress, anxiety”, he clarifies. It is “a matter of language”, according to him. “We prepare him to mention in his own words what he experiences. For example, we evoke the house of worries, dreams and the “where things are going well”, which gives him the opportunity to say what the problem is and what he imagines as solutions, he says.

But to take into account a child in his singularity, the challenge is also to fight against well-established representations. Thus continues the idea that it is necessary to maintain a close connection with the parents, whose authority is untouchable. “We stop the visits if they turn out to be harmful to the child, because his interest takes precedence”, however, states Ludovic Jamet, assistant to the director of the accompaniment policies ofIdefi in the Seine Maritime.

“In France, we refer to parental authority, but what is at stake and legislated, as in many countries, is parental responsibility, with which rights and duties are attached. If parenting is harmful to the child, it can inhibit its development, fail to meet its needs and therefore be against its interests,” explains Marie-Paule Martin-Blacchais. “The question is not ‘who owns the child?’ but “what function do I perform with him?” An educator who is with the child 90% of the time should have this parental responsibility, which would give him leeway to mediate, for example, when a teenager asks him to go to a friend’s birthday party, and this transfer of responsibility would help for habitual and non-habitual actions”, pleads Hervé Laud.

Interdisciplinary work

According to SOS Children’s Villages, it is essential to preserve siblings because in most cases they are a very important resource, but they do not constitute a complete solution. “Each child has a unique place there, depending on their age, their experience, the connections they have with their parents, their siblings, or even the symbolic role they are given in the family,” which every childcare couple takes into account. he develops the team of specialized pedagogues, psychologists and school pedagogues who work with him.

It is this work in collegiality, interdisciplinary, even interinstitutional, which makes it possible “by refocusing on the basic needs of the child, to get out of the conflicts of views, power, between professionals”, according to Marie-Paule Martin Blachais. It is still necessary that everyone be trained in the process and supported in this direction. In 2019, some of Idefhi’s family assistants took part in action training. “Each basic need was examined by a group of family assistants, who questioned their educational practices and the tools they could rely on”, says Ludovic Jamet. The approach resulted in the publication of a collection of good practices and will continue with other groups.

A “breathing space” to avoid breakage

From 2018 to 2020, some also participated in action research with educators, socio-pedagogical leaders, psychologists, among others, to document the interruptions in the paths of children entrusted to ASE. This is actually one of the biggest problems raised by “ASE alumni”: the fact that they have been moved from one place to another, having changed host families, establishment without taking into account their affiliations, their schooling, their follow-up by health professionals, their projects or without anything being clarified, which compromises their development, their need for security or their studies.

To avoid these breaches, the professional group has made major proposals. “It is a matter of supporting speech, the child’s expression, thanks to a resource function, or ensuring that the educational referent builds the personal project with the child based on his needs”, says Ludovic Jamet. (1).

But it is also a question of “having a second place for the child, a ‘breathing space’, to anticipate the risk of breakage”, affirms Anne-Sophie Abgrall, director of “childhood and family” in the departmental council of Loire Atlantique. Since April, a new service, “respir’action”, created in collaboration with the regional health agency Pays de la Loire, has received children aged 9 to 15 with disabilities at three “relief points” during the day. ‘significant health problems, with disabilities and for some in the process of dropping out of school.

When a change is inevitable, “it is important to follow the transitions so that the separation is as painless as possible, explain the meaning it has and maintain the connections, keep a photo album, correspond by mail”, says Marie-Paule Martin Blachais. But everyone is wondering about the growing shortage of educators and family assistants, as well as the notorious lack of mental health resources, which puts the protection of children at risk. “Asking for funds adapted to the interests of children is a positive obligation that burdens the state”, with regard to the international convention on the rights of the child, emphasizes Geneviève Avenard.

A report from the Defender of Rights

In 2020, the Ombudsman published a report and a guide to the use of social workers. Child Protection accounted for 30.7% of the 2,758 children’s rights referrals it received.

“We want to listen to the teenagers about their needs”

Sylvie Crussière, director of children and families in the Finistère departmental council

“We are working on a new action plan on the protection of children, which emphasizes children’s listening and participation. For example, before any change, we schedule a conversation with the child to discuss it with him. In the fall, we will consult with teenagers about their needs through social media, asking them, among other things, “What would help you succeed in your studies? What are the important moments with your siblings?

This is a first consultation to be repeated regularly, with the aim of bringing out collective measures such as homework help. For children with significant mental disorders, in collaboration with the regional university hospital in Brest, we will set up a specific care unit, which will employ an educational and child psychiatric team. »

Contact : Sylvie Crussière, sylvie.crussière@finistere.fr

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