Lack of places, interminable delays, understaffing… Child protection is at the end of its rope. “We are unable to protect children with dignity,” warns David, a specialist educator in the North. He is currently exercising a right of partial withdrawal, like many of his colleagues, exasperated by the lack of means to take care of children entrusted to Childhood Social Assistance (ASE). According to the National Observatory for Child Protection, more than 300,000 minors were followed by the ASE in 2020. Each year, more and more children are concerned. However, the number of social workers is stagnating.

On June 2, several rallies were organized in France to denounce the disastrous conditions of the Childhood Social Assistance. When a judge decides on the placement of a child, it is because he considers that the danger is serious and imminent. But “for several months, the leitmotif has been that the ASE has no more places”, reports Léa *, judge for children in the East of France, who admits to having had “non-effective placements”. “It’s not a very high number but we must not forget that these are children behind, not files,” she adds.

“10% of children have no place”

Last December, David exercised a partial right of withdrawal in order to defend a file: that of a child who had to be placed but for whom, six months later, no solution had been found. “These six months tipped this child into an ingrained pathology, when we could have avoided that”, regrets the specialized educator. Olivier Treneul, former specialized educator and member of the Sud dans le Nord union, estimates that “10% of children have no place”. “It’s scandalous that we tell children that we are there to protect them and that we don’t do it right away,” says Emilie*, children’s judge in Bobigny.

And this lack of space also concerns 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, for lack of space. ” It’s unbearable. He is a hospitalized kid, ”he underlines.

Children are neither “commodity” nor “numbers”

More than the absence of places, it is the reception conditions that are insufficient or even devastating for the children. Because, “in the context of an emergency placement, we always find a place, we push the walls, if necessary, we add a mattress”, illustrates Léa*. “Some children are in cots, in the hallways,” breathes David. And the problem is often only solved for one night. The next day, social workers set out to find a more lasting solution, sometimes in vain. The myth of Sisyphus. If Sisyphus traded his enormous stone for the crushing responsibility of the life of children.

It’s outrageous that we tell children that we are there to protect them and that we don’t do it right away. »

“We put it three days in one place, then we renegotiate three days elsewhere. It is enormously violent to say to a child that we must protect: you will be there for three days and after that we don’t know where you will go,” sighs Olivier Treneul. ” The Department [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 before finding a permanent place”, regrets David, who recalls that children are not “merchandise” or ” figures “.

Siblings separated for lack of space

Tossed from one reception center to another, the children entrusted to the ASE, already damaged by a complex, failing and abusive family environment, lose all bearings. To the great displeasure of the social workers who struggle to try to find solutions adapted to each case. David remembers a baby that needed to be placed. “He stayed in the service all day – therefore in offices – and we found a place of reception in the middle of winter at 7 p.m. It was night. For him, it is unbearable. Everything is amplified at night, especially the anxieties of children, ”he says.

Worse still, peculiarities can add to the complexity of an already daily puzzle, such as in the case of disorders that require special follow-up or large siblings. “I have a few big siblings. Sometimes we want to keep them together but we can’t, even if it would be good for them. Explaining to them that we have no choice, that we have to separate them from their brothers and sisters, it is difficult for them to understand”, underlines Léa*. Sometimes the placements are even staggered.

” How do we do ? Eenie Meenie ? »

In the same family, it happens that a child is placed “two weeks” after the decision, the second “two months after” and the last “four months later”, describes the children’s judge who evokes a “DIY”. David recalls the story of four children who were to be placed on May 2. “We were told: we only have one place. How do we do ? Eenie Meenie ? We go to see the mother and we say: choose the child that we are going to place first? “, is indignant the educator. Social workers refused to place any of the children. More than a month later, only three of them have found a place in the system.

Even more worrying, Olivier Treneul denounces reports of social workers buried or delayed by the hierarchy. “Reports have not been sent to the magistrates because we ‘do not have the space'”, denounces the trade unionist who assures that, if they are sporadic, these practices “are developing”. By the time the file is “found”, the situation may have drastically worsened for the child who was the subject of a report.

Consequences on the decisions of the judges

Aware of the “crazy work overload” of social workers, the judges are adapting. Emilie* regularly gives up calling a hearing to avoid soliciting them and Léa* assures that the ASE’s lack of means “plays into [s]we appreciate”. “We have to think about what we propose to the child as a project. Do we offer him better outside the house? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. »

Reinforced measures are however possible in the children’s homes. They allow educators to support parents. They help them to understand what is essential for the child, encourage them to make medical appointments, advise them on structures… “It’s educational assistance, not policing”, emphasizes Léa*. This accompaniment allows parents, who are sometimes ill-treated unwillingly, to work on their parenthood.

“Scandalous” delays

But here again, the means are not up to 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 a year to eighteen months for Emilie*, in Bobigny. . “It’s scandalous as a delay”, sighs the judge who adds that, unsurprisingly, certain situations “collapse in the meantime”. Months, even a year and a half, it’s endless on the scale of a child’s life.

It is also a vicious circle. “We arrive more easily at a placement, because we did not intervene early enough. We let the situation deteriorate,” explains Léa*. Emilie* remembers an adolescent in care who had returned to the family home, under cover 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”, regrets Olivier Treneul for whom the “protection of the ‘childhood cannot be rationed’. Social workers often go beyond their prerogatives to try to maintain the sandcastle at arm’s length. Recently, a 17-year-old young man was housed by the ASE in a hotel “while awaiting his majority”.

While almost a quarter of homeless people are former foster children, David and his colleagues managed to find him an apartment service. “A beautiful story,” says the educator, modest about the number of hours of his free time that were needed to write it. “With our working conditions, we risk missing out on something. Me, I’m sure it happened to me ”, breathes Olivier Treneul. Today, “if colleagues only exercise a partial right of withdrawal, it is because they do not want to abandon the children, they feel guilty, they forget their health, he adds. Some colleagues leave to save their skins. »

In certain services of the ASE in Bobigny, “we are on 40% of vacation rate”, underlines Emilie. And the situation could quickly deteriorate. “We have fewer and fewer foster families and the age pyramid of family assistants is quite high,” warns the children’s judge. Work overload, lack of consideration, overwhelming responsibilities, loss of meaning… Everyone is worried about the difficulty of recruiting in child protection. And consequences for those they are meant to protect. “We have to defend the status of the child,” insists David, who adds: “If the financial side takes precedence over the children, we still have a problem. »

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