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Spain: the scandal of child placements

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In 2020, 50,000 children were under state guardianship in Spain. A high figure due to serious failures of the judicial system: compulsory placement is five times more practiced than in France because it often follows a precautionary principle. Unlike the Hexagon where a judge must decide, the decision is based only on files developed and validated by social workers. An act fraught with consequences because it is, most of the time, irreversible. A report by Anaïs Guérard and Laura Cambaud.

“Every day is a nightmare. I didn’t want to live anymore, to wake up the next day”. These are the words of Maria, Nicolas’ mother. They were separated for a long time by an administrative decision and never fully recovered.

Several families testify in this report from France 24 of the difficulties they encounter in recovering their sons or daughters. If a child cannot officially be withdrawn in Spain on the grounds of household poverty, in fact, it constitutes a troubling common denominator among parents who denounce the system.

The intervention of social services broke the hearts of many parents, often already economically weakened, and of their children who grow up, most of the time, in centers for minors. These structures, which are 80% private, are the subject of numerous scandals in Spain: opaque management, staff not always qualified, sex trafficking … The police thus discovered last year in Mallorca that 16 young underage girls were accommodated were part of a prostitution ring.

Young people coming out of terrible family situations only find a fragile refuge in these reception areas. They evoke humiliating practices, even mistreatment. Few agree to talk about it, even with their face hidden. The young woman called Claudia in this report ensures that she “does not wish anyone to go to a center for minors”.

Many lawyers speak of their powerlessness in the face of administrative decisions. Although the child welfare system is regional, the flaw in the system is felt across the country. It may have its origin in 2006, when Spain was marked by the affair of little Alba which had highlighted the stagnation of social services. This 5-year-old girl was left for dead under the blows of her stepfather. She survived but became quadriplegic. At the time, despite several hospitalizations caused by beatings, the institutions had not intervened, contenting themselves with the false testimonies of the mother who systematically protected her spouse, whom she nevertheless knew to be violent. Both are still in prison.

This family drama, which had strongly moved Spain, no doubt provokes, fifteen years later, a protective reflex, but sometimes abusive: decision-makers prefer prevention than cure. Even if it means withdrawing, on the basis of simple suspicion, children from their families.

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