The emancipation rate stands at twenty-nine years, youth unemployment is around 30%, and 90% of hiring is temporary. This is the context in which thousands of young people must emancipate themselves every year, at risk and without family support. Everything is even more complicated if you emancipate yourself after being a minor under guardianship.
They are young people who have had to leave home in very different circumstances or without parents who can take care of them, either temporarily or for a long time. The emotional burden behind foster children forces them to grow in advance and mature within a society that stigmatizes them and, in the case of foreigners, discriminates against them.
The complexity of the situation is exacerbated when all this has to be experienced during childhood. Ensuring their protection and assistance is a paramount task on a social scale that is often made invisible. We cannot put faces to all the protagonists of these stories, but we will try to provide data that bring us closer to their reality, lived from Catalonia. We spoke with Josep, a foster father, and Joan Carles Martín, the director of services of ASJTET Girona, which is managed by the Suara cooperative.
Catalonia, a pioneer in the support program for ex-foster children
The statistics of the Department of Social Rights of the Generalitat count, as of May 2021, 7,590 minors in terms of protection, of which 334 have arrived this year. Catalonia was a pioneer in recognizing the need for protection for ex-foster children and has legally done so since 2010. The rest of the Autonomous Communities have joined to a greater or lesser extent, but the network that has been created in Catalonia and its geographical position remain a call for foreign minors arriving in the country.
The Generalitat has a large support network for minors under guardianship through the DGAIA, the Directorate General of Child and Adolescent Care, which is responsible for safeguarding the rights of children and ensuring that they are offered opportunities and quality of life. From here derives, among others, the CRAE, the Residential Center for Educational Action, which hosts hundreds of children who do not have access to foster families.
Once the state tutelage is over, Catalonia offers them another resource: the ASJTET, the Support Area for Foster and Ex-Foster Young People, which accompanies them, by means of a network of resources assigned to the entities, in the process of emancipation between the ages of 18 and 21. Professional support to access a home, which may or may not be assisted; academic support to accompany them in training, and employment to gain independence, along with a minimum benefit to which they can access to begin this new stage of emancipation, often forced by context.
Children looking for a future
In the case of Josep, the foster father of an eleven-year-old boy, the process of emancipation is still a long way off. Foster care involves being with the child until the parents recover; therefore, nothing can assure them that they will be together at 18 years old.
It will be the child who decides, in due course, where he wants to live, but no doubt they will want to contribute to his growth: “He is very clear that he does not want to go back with his parents; he tells us that his parents do not have a good quality of life, and he wants quality of life. We have told him that he can come with us and, if he wants to continue studying, we will also help him”.
They are an example of how foster care can mean the birth of a second family that, despite not being of blood, provides the child with an emotional care that he had never had. He and his partner are a part-time collaborating family; therefore, they only see him on weekends and holidays, although they keep in touch during the week and often make video calls or go to see him at football matches.
He tells us that it is 100% emotional support and that, thanks to this experience, the child does much better at school. In fact, on the day of returning to the centre where he spends weekdays, he constantly asks them for the minutes left until the time of leaving and “returning to his raw reality” that still has to accompany him for seven more years.
Three-way emotional charge
“In this world, you can learn in two ways: from well-done things or from badly done things. These young people have learned to do things right because their parents’ guidelines were to do them wrong.” Joan Carles’ words describe the reality of many young ex-foster children. A three-way emotional burden for young people, who suffer from it greatly, but also for foster families and social professionals who are dedicated to helping them and trying to make things easier for them.
They find that the life experiences they drag on tend to be especially harsh on the natives. Unstructured families; poor quality of life; parents with no interest to give their children a dignified life; abuse and rape; and so many other circumstances that make access to guardianship an opportunity for some young people to make progress, and perhaps the only one. Others, though not the majority, will look forward to eighteen years to return with their parents.
An emancipation marked by social stigma
It is suffered by the natives and is aggravated in the case of foreigners. The difficulty of social integration for ex-foster children adds to the personal circumstances and the emotional burden that most carry. “The common feature they all have is that at home they have not been protected or loved”, says Joan Carles. A reality often too complex to live without family support, and where the support from ASJTET and from entities such as Suara becomes vital.
Fortunately, the support network is wide in Catalonia, but the demand is even wider. The mass arrival of young foreigners in recent years has saturated the system and has meant that many natives are not protected if they are not in a very precarious situation. For all of them, social inclusion is key so that they can adapt to society: “This is the wheel that should be broken in a good state of well-being, to ensure that the children of people who have been cared for are not cared for too”. A social task of integration that is often tainted by racism and that has led their lives to be the subject of political campaigns.
Racism, the added difficulty for young immigrants
In Catalonia, the minors who have made the migration process are currently 1,353, 95.9% of whom are boys, and 60.7% are seventeen years old, that is, near the age of emancipation. Guarding these foreign minors means that parents give up their child.
After years of experience, Joan Carles remarks that “you don’t leave your country, your home, on a boat or under a truck, or come to a place where you are alone just because you feel like it.” Many pursue the European dream that offers them an opportunity outside their village, where their destiny is already set. Others do it following family orders of going to work and sending money. Different reasons that describe a harsh reality: thousands of minors risk their lives in search of a future.
He explains that at Suara they find difficulties every day for young foreigners to access jobs or housing, despite having an income, speaking the language, and studying. “We need a society with memory. Many of our grandparents travelled to survive after the postwar period; I don’t know if we are returning what we owe. But we do not lose hope: we are there and will continue to work. It’s a work of architecture, of putting things one on top of the other, so that they can hold on and move on.”
Joining efforts to offer them a dignified life
Josep comments, from his experience, that the reception and everything that surrounds the minors under guardianship is not only an invisible issue but, when it is talked about, one opts more for the morbidity of the situation than for the support and the attention the situation really deserves. “There are many children who cannot find families and, fortunately, in our sector, we are a showcase. Adoption is known, but foster care is not.”
The psychological work for is hard for everybody, but the reward is even greater, and all witnesses agree in this. After all, this is what life is all about: contributing, accepting weaknesses, adding strengths, and letting everyone do their bit in order to build a free and fair society where everyone has a place and, above all, an opportunity, regardless of their origin or experience.
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