Child protection professionals at their wit's end


Social work is in crisis – and in particular the child protection sector. This is the sad observation that emerges from the world of the field: specialized educators, social workers, foster families, technicians of social and family intervention...

As proof, the strikes organized by professionals in order to denounce their working conditions: incessant turnover, recruitment difficulties, overload of files, loss of meaning, low salaries.

However, how can we ensure quality work with the vulnerable population that constitute the 312 minors and 500 young adults supported by Childhood Social Assistance – about half of which is the subject of a placement measure (2019 figures) when you yourself feel weakened by your working conditions?

One of the major problems is the lack of staff. To remedy this, it happens that the social and medico-social establishments taking care of minors and young adults use temporary workers or unqualified people.

The quality of the service and the need for stability required by child protection are then difficult to guarantee. Other establishments just can't recruit anymore and remain understaffed, shifting the workload to the existing team.

Among the family assistants, approved professionals of the host family who receive young people in their homes, the situation is no better: many are overcrowded, the "exceptional" overrun of the maximum number of children accommodated, namely three, becoming the norm.

La wave of retirements that is coming is not going to improve the situation. Thus, for children, a form of institutional mistreatment is added to family abuse.

Aggravating factors

The challenges faced by social workers in child protection, while not new, have arguably been exacerbated by the health crisis with intense work overload.

These "field emergency workers" had to meet new challenges without necessarily being supported by public authorities.

For example, during the first confinement, they were not immediately among the priority people in terms of childcare, unlike health professionals to whom places in crèches had been allocated.

Moreover, the reality of child protection is enough to discourage the most seasoned professionals. The budgetary charges to which the departments are subject (particularly since the introduction of the active solidarity income in 2009 – which now constitutes the largest item of expenditure for the local authorities) no longer allow them to carry out all of their protection missions. from childhood.

Thus, an educational assistance measure ordered by a juvenile judge can take several weeks to be implemented, even several months depending on the territory in which you are located. Indeed, even if the reception offer is expanding, the demand remains higher and above all, the solutions proposed are not necessarily in line with the needs of the children.

[More than 80 readers trust The Conversation newsletter to better understand the world's major issues. Subscribe today]

The intervention of the social worker will then take place in a family context that is more than degraded and will lose all its meaning. How do you explain to a child that he is in danger with his parents but that it is not possible to ensure his immediate protection?

In addition, the profiles of children taken into care under child protection have evolved over the years. Indeed, the France has had to deal with migratory flows and the arrival of unaccompanied minors on its territory without necessarily having the adequate means to ensure the material care of these almost 20 children (000 figures), hence the placements in the hotel with the drifts that this can generate.

The language barrier, the traumas suffered during the trip, the different customs constitute as many obstacles for the professionals.

In addition, some children in child protection structures suffer from medical problems : thus, in a 2011 report, the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs noted that a quarter of the children cared for under Child Welfare were affected by mental disorders.

Faced with these new faces of children, the staff is not sufficiently trained and equipped to provide adequate support.

In addition, the image of the social worker has been scratched following reports denouncing the failures of the Childhood Social Assistance, phenomenon that some professionals call “ASE bashing”, which can unfortunately result in a mistrust of families vis-à-vis the institution of child protection and a devaluation of trades.

The proposed solutions

In order to deal with this vocational crisis, the National Convention of Child Protection Associations (CNAPE) has sounded the alarm and made a number of recommendations to promote the attractiveness of these professions.

Proposals consist, for example, of an increase in wages (some social workers do not earn more than the minimum wage, an improvement in working conditions (easier access to crèches for example), a positive communication campaign aimed at the general public in child protection professions or even an adaptation of professional training.

On the side of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE). In an opinion adopted on July 12, the same recommendations are issued: giving meaning to social work, guaranteeing a rate of supervision of the public and ratios of qualified personnel, focusing resources on training, launching a national campaign on social professions.

The difficulty will again be due to the financial resources that should be injected to respond to these grievances. The legislator has already carried out the increase in the salaries of professionals, via the Ségur premium, of 183 euros net monthly. But in a global context of purchasing power crisis, this seems quite insufficient.

In reality, the crisis experienced by child protection personnel can only be resolved with appropriate means and a response to the needs of actors in the field. During his re-election, Emmanuel Macron declared that he wanted to make child protection a major cause of his five-year term, without however offering this theme a dedicated ministry, which could have been a strong marker. In the meantime, it is sometimes the departments, leaders in child protection, who mobilise themselves. But will this be enough to provide the 64 vacancies in social work?

Amelie Niemiec, Associate Researcher of the Children and Families Chair of the Faculty of Law of the Catholic University of Lille, Catholic Institute of Lille (ICL)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/fizkes


In the Company section >

Recent news >