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Fostering adolescents: how to recover the relationship with the mother thanks to another woman’s help


What NATUR& is. NATUR&-Onlus was born in 1995 from the environmental experience of the Circolo Legambiente Laura Conti in Seveso which started its activity at the beginning of the '90s as a response to the big disaster of Icmesa in 1976. This peculiar style of environmentalism mixed up with the experience of the Libreria delle donne (women's bookstore) in Milan. Since its birth the Association takes active part in the process of empowerment of the resources offered by the area through a rich net of exchanges and co-operations with the other non profit groups and institutions in town. During these years such a co-operation allowed the creation of innovative projects in the field of social worker practices which have been approved and financed by the Regione Lombardia, Province of Milan, and non profit foundations. Since 1997, when Regione Lombardia approved and financed the experimental project «La Canturera di NATUR&. Un'esperienza di affido oltre la comunità e la famiglia nucleare (A foster care experience beyond the community and the nuclear family)» (Beretta 2002), the core of its social work in the area has consisted in fostering adolescents and supporting critical family situations in order not to separate and institutionalize their children.

From 1997 to 2013 NATUR& fostered 30 young women from 13 to 21 and older for an average time of three/four years referred by the Juvenile Court (except disabled and psychiatric situations) in charge of Social Services for adequate placing in institutions or community, supported by the local community. The Association hosted four different kinds of situations: girls from social emargination (12), from psychiatric families (6), girls with light cognitive disability (3), lightly psychiatric girls (5), foreigner girls from vulnerable families (4).

Rationale. This paper tries to give a wider contribution, in order to organize and think about the results obtained in these years in foster care activity[1].

Method. The working practice of the Association in foster care takes its origins from a basic knowledge: the life experience of the women who started the experiment. The evidence that came out was that a young woman needs first of all to be nourished by another woman's love in a relationship that gives the young woman the possibility to come back to her mother and contemporarily opens for her the true fulfilment of herself. The political practice experienced by the Libreria delle donne in Milano and defined «fostering practice» became the principle that allowed those women to get inspiration for the present from the creative power of the original relationship with the mother. In order to make this happen it is necessary for a woman to learn how to create a link in which free acknowledgment of difference from another woman takes a symbolic and social dimension. The Association decided to bring this rich knowledge and practice into its innovative social work.

From an operative point of view this model of intervention implies fostering young women in a community by the house of the Association a part of a historic Villa in Seveso surrounded by a wonderful park owned by the municipality. The girls' every day life is followed step by step by an educational team composed of professional educators and other professionals; anyway every girl is singularly fostered to an adult woman of the Association, independently from her marital status. Every girl then creates a peculiar relationship with her foster mother, who keeps a strong link with the educators (Piussi 2006; Giovannetti, Moretti 2012). The educational project is shared by the working team which includes the foster mother together with the social service in charge and the other possible clinical services according to the method of the community case management: the core of this method consists in the main value which is given to the closer and most important figure, the foster woman in this case, whose emotional contribution is considered the most important part of the project (Guay 2000; Sanicola 2009). A particular attention of the working team, which has the girl in charge, regards the relationship with the natural mother (and father) so that the emotional contribution of the foster woman can be guaranteed without shadowing the primacy of the parents.

Conclusions. The central target of the project aims to recover a grateful and respectful relationship by the fostered girls towards their natural parents. During the years the central target of the project has always been reached with the creation of a trust and affection relation with the foster woman. Although differently according to their respective abilities, all the young girls have acquired correct tools to afford a sufficiently free and dignified adult life. For this reason we consider that this method, built and experimented in a number of working years, has the characteristics to be proposed to other subjects to contribute to improving the adolescents fostering projects, with particular attention to young women separated from their natural families or without the family support.

Key references

Beretta, G. (2002). Storie di affidamento. L'obbligo leggero. Napoli: Liguori.

Giovannetti, A. and Moretti, M. (2012). Affidi sostenibili. Molfetta: La Meridiana.

Guay, J. (2000). Il case management comunitario. Napoli: Liguori.

Piussi, A. (eds.) (2006). Paesaggi e figure nella creazione sociale. Roma: Carocci.

Sanicola, L. (2009). Dinamiche di rete e lavoro sociale. Un metodo relazionale. Napoli: Liguori.


[1] We thank Dario Angelo Colombo for the cooperation to the idea of this paper.


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