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Disinterest of child protection for kinship care in the north of France


Aim. June Thoburn's cross-national comparison (2007) of the main trends in child protection noted that in France there are less children who are fostered by family or friends than in most other countries. This paper will examine how this issue might be understood.

Method. This is a preliminary study. We interviewed a judge, two «educators», a foster family composed of the foster child, her grand-parents, and finally we met the social worker in charge of the case. The interviews were recorded and transcribed to elaborate new hypothesis to prepare further interviews.

Findings. Kinship care is not a well-known issue in France: only 7% of children in care are in kinship care (Thoburn 2007, 30).

They are mostly living in their extended family. Sometimes the relatives close to the biological parents, are designated by the judge as «tiers digne de confiance» (reliable family). In Germany, the percentage is as low as in France, while the estimated percentage of kinship care is much higher in the UK (18%), in the USA (23%), and in Australia (40%).

We don't have tangible results yet. Indeed, this research is only at its beginning. We started gathering some data about kinship care and took some contacts in our area.

What is the legislation dealing with kinship care in France?

There is a huge gap between legislation and reality. Indeed, in the article 375-3 of the civil code, the law states that «If the protection of the child requires it, the children judge fosters him/her:

  1. To the other parent,
  2. To an other member of the family or a reliable person,
  3. To the local child protection service,
  4. To residential or foster care,
  5. To educational or sanitary care.

The judge of the Observatoire National de l'Enfance en Danger (Oned) that we met pointed out that the order of these five possibilities must be respected. In fact, interviews with social workers who prepare the judge's decision show that this point of the law is not actively taken into account.

What are the data available on this topic? Have they changed since June Thoburn's report?

The last counting available in 2010 confirms this number: 7% of the children in care are in kinship care in France (Serie stat 171, tab8.ase). In the two départements of our area Nord - Pas-de-Calais: among the 11407 children in care, 818 children are in kinship care (7% in Nord, 5% in Pas-de-Calais).

In our recent interviews what are the early data provided by people in charge of care and by families?

The foster family and the social worker in charge of the case gave us some new perspectives that may build some new hypothesises:

- Kinship care is not considered as a stable solution, but as a temporary one for one or two years. This is only one of the possible solutions to maintain the links between the child, his/her parents and his/her extended family.

For the understanding of the French situation, one must know that there are two different judges: one of them focuses his intervention on the child. We will name him the «child judge». The other one has broader function: he manages family's disputes for example in case of divorce. We will name him the «family judge». The social workers and educators point out that the child judge who is more often in charge of the decision of kinship care, has to take a new decision each one or two years in regards to the duration of the kindship care. On the contrary the family judge can take a long term decision. His decision is only reviewed when one of the parents claims for the child custody. However this judge is rarely appealed.

- The kinship parents' proposal is not considered as a pragmatic solution. It is viewed with suspicion. The educators refer to it using psychological vocabulary: «what is the secret of this family?» «The grandparents must have a guilty conscience for being so involved in bringing up their grandchild», «What are they trying to repair?». They are afraid by the eventuality that the kinship parents erase the memories of parents from the child's mind, even if the French laws protect the parents' rights. For example, in kinship care, the parents always retain parental authority, so that kinship parents must include the parent in the decision-making process regarding school, health etc.

Our study would like to understand why kinship care is considered by social workers and educators as the most difficult solution, or at least the most difficult one to manage in comparison to the others.

Conclusion. This paper aims to present our early results and to prepare for a wider study in the Nord - Pas-de-Calais area. In the next phases of the research, we forecast to focus firstly on the process that leads families and friends from unofficial foster family to official foster care and secondly to examine the support available in the formal kinship care in France. But this first step showed me the necessity to examine in priority when kinship care is used and why.

Main references

Broad, B. (2001). Kinship care. Le placement choice for children and young people. Dorset: Russel House Publishing.

Farmer, E., Moyers, S. (2008). Kinship Care. Fostering effective family and friends placement. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Holman, R. (2002). The unknown fostering: a study of private fostering, Dorset: Russel house publishing.

Kamga, M., Tillard, B. (2013). Le fosterage à l'épreuve de la migration. Jeunes bamilékés du Cameroun accueillis en France. Ethnologie française, XLIII, 2, 325-334.

Stein, M. (2009). Quality matters in children's services. Messages from research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Thoburn, J. (2007). Globalisation and Child Welfare: Some Lessons from a Cross-National Study of Children in Out-of-Home Care. Norwich: University of East Anglia.

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