Fran and Luca with their daughter in permanent foster care, prepare dinner at home.
Fran and Luca with their daughter in permanent foster care, prepare dinner at home.Gianluca Battista

Luca and Fran’s life turned upside down nine years ago. The couple’s routine became racking as parents when Carla (fictitious name), then 14 months old, walked through the door. Luca and Fran are one of the 902 host families in Catalonia. They discovered the existence of the reception program through the LGTBI association of which they are members. “One of the possibilities that were within our reach to start a family was this. And it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We encourage people around us to do so. We have already got ten families”, says Luca proudly.

But they are not enough. The Department of Social Rights has launched an alert to find more foster families and increase that number of 900, “which has been frozen for 10 years,” admits Núria Valls, Secretary for Children. “We need more families because the children would be better off in families than in centers,” she adds. The Ministry prefers not to quantify the magnitude of the need, but the figures speak for themselves: there are some 3,000 minors under the supervision of the Generalitat living in different types of centers, to which are added some 500 adolescents between 16 and 17 years of age living in floors. One step away from coming of age, they are a difficult profile to fit into homes, by choice or lack of interest. “Families only want young children. The elderly are stigmatized and accused of criminals. But, in reality, they are all victims”, claims Valls.

A minor passes into the guardianship of the Generalitat when a risk situation is detected —via the police, hospitals, school, justice…—, or when the parents themselves give up the child. Specifically, according to Social Rights, in 42% of cases there has been negligence, in 12% there is physical or psychological abuse, in 10% they resign, while in 0.5% there are abuses. But the bulk —45%— are the cases of unaccompanied migrant minors.

At the end of 2022 there were 8,678 minors supervised by the Government. Most of them (58%) end up in a center or in a flat, depending on their age. The most common thing is to reside in a residential center for educational action (CRAE), where an average of fifteen minors of different ages live and it is where they stay while a family appears or they already reach an age —16 years old— and a degree of autonomy to go to a supervised apartment.

As for the remaining 42% —3,629—, they are hosted by families. In two out of three cases it is possible for relatives —grandparents or uncles, for example— to take care of them, while foster families represent a still reduced reality: 902.

There are four types of foster care modalities: emergency (she takes babies in for a short time), simple (the minor is expected to return to the parents), permanent (when the return to the parents is expected to be difficult) and collaborators (hosted only during weekends or holidays). Additionally, the department led by Carles Campuzano has just launched a pilot test to create a type of reception specialized in mental health, so that minors with mental health or behavioral problems can reside with couples in which one of the members has training specialized in psychology, psychopedagogy or social education.

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The Department focuses on finding emergency families —currently there are only 98, but in 2022 the Generalitat assumed guardianship of almost 200 babies under one year old— and also collaborators (about 130). “Starting out as a collaborating family is a good way to get to know the system gradually, and then they will possibly be encouraged to take on other forms of foster care,” says Valls.

The protection system, in figures

Minors cared for. Last year it closed with 17,982 minors cared for; of these are 8,678 supervised.
minors under guardianship. 42% live with a family, while 58% live in centers and flats.
families. There are 902 foster families; Of these, 98 are urgent, 330 simple, 300 permanent, and 129 collaborators, among other modalities.
Centers. The system has 322 centers and almost 3,700 places.

The usual profile of the host is a “family of a medium-high economic level, with children and who want to help other children. With economic and emotional stability and with a life project ”, Valls details. Those who apply as candidates first have to go through a process of several briefings, interviews and evaluations, a process that can take about eight months.

“In the meetings, the reality of the children is explained to them, the casuistry of the families that cannot take care of them, the requirements that are requested for the reception and the type of reception that there is”, details Núria Verge, person in charge of the reception program of the Red Cross.

Salvador and Quima are a couple who attended this meeting at the NGO on February 23 in Barcelona. “We have been turning the idea around for a long time, we saw an ad and we thought that now is the time,” explains Quima, who already has an adult daughter. The couple is open to all types of reception. “We want to provide a service to society, we adapt to what the child needs,” adds Salvador.

Host families receive a base aid of 400 euros per month, but supplements are added as needed. Thus, the final figure ranges between 750 and 1500 euros.

One of the elements that is affected in these talks is how to approach emancipation or separation. They are all aware that sooner or later their foster child will leave. “Your job is to protect the children for the necessary time, there is a possibility that the mother will claim them, we know that it is not a permanent situation. But there also comes a time in life when the children grow up and leave home”, says Luca. Not knowing when that moment will come, he speaks of Carla as “my daughter.” “Many people give importance to the biological issue, DNA and surnames, but this does not make you a father. What makes you a father is love and sharing a life. Who gets up at night if she’s sick? Who accompanies her to the activities or solves her doubts about her life? ”, Raises the father.

Apartment for migrant minors under guardianship in a municipality in Vallès Occidental.
Apartment for migrant minors under guardianship in a municipality in Vallès Occidental. Gianluca Battista

620 adolescents in flats

While waiting to be welcomed into a family, the minors remain in centers (very restricted to the press) or in sheltered apartments, mainly occupied by unaccompanied migrant minors. And it is that this group accounts for almost half of the guardianship files that the Generalitat currently has open: 2,392 in 2022, basically 17-year-old adolescents from Morocco or sub-Saharan countries. Most are highly autonomous, so they are transferred to flats —there are about 170— where they live with various young people and are assisted by an educator.

Aimad, from Morocco, and Ebrima, from The Gambia, both 17 years old, live in an apartment in Vallès Occidental with two young people from Senegal and India. Here they combine language courses with occupational training. Sitting at a table where they wait for the tea they have prepared themselves, Aimad explains that he studies in the morning and likes to play soccer in the afternoon. He says that he would like to work as an HVAC installer. Ebrima prefers carpentry and is in a building rehabilitation workshop.

Míriam Carrasco, director of the sheltered flats service of the Pere Tarrés Foundation, argues that staying in these homes is a setback towards adult life. “The intention is to cover the part of maturity and accompaniment that they would have if they were in a family, so that they can make the transition correctly and learn to move socio-culturally, because soon they will have to do it alone.”

“I want to work, earn money and open my own butcher shop”

At the age of 16, Yassin El Baeid told his mother that he wanted to leave Morocco and see other countries, following the path that other friends and young people like him had taken before. So, despite the fact that he did not know how to swim, he got on a boat and reached the coast of Andalusia five years ago. After a tour of several cities —thanks to the support network of friends and acquaintances from the Casablanca soccer club—, he arrived in Barcelona and entered the protection system for unaccompanied migrant minors.
In 2022, the Generalitat assumed the guardianship of 2,392 minors as Yassin. Mainly —between 90% and 95%— they are males aged 16 and 17, from Morocco or sub-Saharan countries.

Yassin has gone through several flats for young people. The age of majority caught him in full confinement and he was able to extend the stay until he was 21. He Now he lives at the house of some friends, but he is looking for a room. During this time he has studied Catalan courses and a PFI (a sort of basic FP for students without ESO) in butchery. Since May he has been working at Mercabarna.

Despite the hard road traveled, he assures that he has not lived any bad experience. “There are two paths: the good or the bad. If you behave badly, you lose everything, but if you behave well, things go well for you and they help you, ”he explains over coffee before going to work. With everything, she was left with a thorn in her: “When my brother died I could not go home and hug my mother because the borders were closed due to the covid.” Until 2021 he could not travel again, she recalls while showing the video of the surprise that she gave his mother.
She also admits that she sometimes notices racist attitudes: “When someone passes by you you see that they take their bag because they think you are going to rob them. But it is normal because there are people who do it and it gives us a bad image”.

He assures that he does not think of returning to Morocco with his parents and three brothers. “Here he lives calmer and more freely,” he sums up. Before leaving, he explains his dream for the future: “To work and earn money to pay for a flat and open my own butcher shop.”

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