why are there fewer and fewer host families?

why are there fewer and fewer host families?

Red alert: couples welcoming young people placed by child welfare are fewer and fewer in number, even though they play an essential role. The subject was on the menu of a parliamentary commission of inquiry dedicated to the dysfunctions of the sector before the announcement of the dissolution of the National Assembly.

For her 8th birthday, Lola* received a gift of spinning tops, a football outfit and a pink t-shirt. This May afternoon, in the vast dining room with gray wallpapered walls, Lydie Servonnat and her husband look with tenderness at the youngest of the four children they are hosting as a host family. Arriving at the age of 7 months, the little girl has already spent a good part of her childhood in this warm home in Bourgoin-Jallieu (Isère).

Of course, she knows nothing about the difficulties of the profession of those who raise her and the vocation crisis in the family assistant sector. Between two bites of raspberry cake, Lydie Servonnat blurts out: “We are slowly dying. » After having looked after little Gabriel for several years – in addition to her own offspring – to help a couple with impossible working hours, this former photographer wanted to go further by opening wide the doors of his house to “kids who really need us to get by”. Her husband, very involved with Emmaüs, immediately followed her.

Needs are exploding

Fifteen years of service and nine foster children later, the fifty-year-old sees with bitterness the situation getting worse each year. Childhood Social Assistance (ASE), entirely financed by the departments to the tune of 9 billion euros, only has 38,000 family assistants – the “assfams”, in the jargon – compared to 50,000 when Lydie was started the job.

Yet the needs are exploding (see chart below) . In 2009, around 152,000 young people under the age of 21 were placed outside their family environment; their number reaches 208,000 today, including 75,000 in host families. “There are more and more parents addicted to drugs or alcohol,” explains Claire Weil, clinical psychologist and trainer of retired family assistants. And as abuse and sexual violence are better detected within homes, the need for placement becomes more frequent. » Added to this phenomenon is the increase in the number of “UMAs”, unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, who represent 19% of the young people concerned.

For two years, children in care have been sent first to homes, social children's homes (Mecs) or nurseries. Problem: these structures are themselves saturated. Newborns have to stay longer in the maternity ward, which exposes them to “hospitalism” syndrome, an inability to interact with others due to profound emotional deficiencies. Some teenagers find themselves left to their own devices in old hotels, where there are not enough adults to supervise them. Like Lily, 15, suffering from serious psychological disorders, who committed suicide in her room, in Puy-de-Dôme, last January. There are also those who are still waiting for a place – 3,350 according to the Magistrates’ Union.

The department's services are constantly working in an emergency. “We spend a lot of time trying to push the walls. You can find a bed for a child in a host family for one night, but the most difficult part is finding lasting accommodation,” says Clémentine Mouilleron. The Child, Youth and Family director of Savoie oversees a team of 160 family assistants, when, ideally, according to her, at least forty more would be needed. Specialist judges are sounding the alarm: seven out of ten admit having given up on ordering placement due to lack of beds.

Faced with this worrying situation, on April 30 the deputies launched a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the dysfunctions of the ASE (on hold, pending the next legislative elections, Editor’s note) . Interviewed, Sarah El Haïry, the Minister Delegate for Children, Youth and Families, presented family assistants as “one of the responses to the acute crisis facing child protection”. Because if it is not free from abuses – certain cases of abuse have hit the legal headlines – this formula remains considered by those in the sector to be the most beneficial for children.

Seven days on seven

All the more reason to try to understand the reasons for such a vocations crisis. First observation: these emergency parents arrive late in a profession that they often choose after having experienced their first professional activity or having raised their own children. Their age is around 55 on average. “More than 50% of them will retire by 2033,” warns Sarah El Haïry.

This is the case of Bernard*. At 58 years old, this family assistant from the Pays-de-la-Loire region has decided to stop in 2026, even if the law authorizes him to continue until the age of 70. He knows it, he will hang up at the very moment when the two teenage girls he is welcoming take flight. “At least I made my contribution,” he sighs.

Second observation: family assistants rarely have the opportunity to take a breather. In fourteen years of service, Bernard has only taken two weeks of leave. Because he did not want to “add uprooting” to these children battered by life, he confides. “The lack of time for oneself is one of the realities to take into account when entering this profession,” adds this fifty-year-old who has never complained about his working conditions.

And yet… On a daily basis, it's 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Assistants are entitled to five weeks of leave per year and, since the Taquet law of 2022, to one weekend of respite per month. But we still need to be able to stop, when places of reception are lacking everywhere. On her farm in Tarn, Jacqueline hosts children for a few days to allow families to breathe. “You can’t imagine how many requests I have to refuse! » His summer schedule has been full since February.

In the departmental services too, the use of leave is increasing. “We try to match the interests of the child, the professional rights of family assistants and the places available,” explains the head of the family reception service Delphine Mako, from her office in Savoie.

Low pay

No wonder the most enthusiastic end up doubting. Especially at a time when “vocational” professions are no longer in vogue, the balance between personal and professional life has become a priority for many. During information meetings, applicants for approval often return to the subject: “Can I take a weekend off right after having the child? » “When do you take your leave? » Some simply didn't understand what it was about: “And the children, what time do they leave again?” » After these sessions, more than one gives up on completing their project.

Especially since the remuneration of assfams remains modest. Paid at the minimum wage by the departments or associations for the first child, they receive a decreasing salary for each new care – 815 euros precisely – to which is added the daily allowance, 17 euros per day and per person in the department of Isère, where Lydie lives.

Insufficient, in the eyes of the mother, who would find it justified to increase this amount to 25 euros, to avoid certain couples having to dip into their wallets in order to offer their residents what makes up the routine of a normal childhood : toys, physical activities, music lessons…

In recent years, moreover, young people are placed later and later, because the departments try to keep them with their parents as long as possible. When their placement becomes inevitable, they arrive even more damaged. Some continue insults and violent behavior. Like this little 4-year-old boy looked after by Guy* in Corrèze, who is not accepted either for lunch in the canteen or at school in the afternoon because staff and teachers are unable to contain him. “Before, establishments could manage,” saddens Guy. In fact, the little one is entitled to a social life assistant (AVS) but we are constantly refused his file. »

At home, he and his wife care for five children. “Meals with friends are over. And yet, there are people worse than us: we know some whose couple exploded in mid-flight! » Lydie, her colleague from Isère, confirms: “From my first welcome, I had a hard time, but I didn't want to give up,” she slips, without wanting to go into details. “It was a 4-year-old girl, very jealous of my two biological children. She always wanted to eat next to me or have her kiss in bed before them. » The mother admits that she ended up giving in to the little girl's demands. She, who spares neither her hours nor her expenses, is aware of this: “My work takes up a lot of space in my life and that of my loved ones. My 25-year-old son admitted it to me, he suffered a lot. »

Faced with the harshness of the profession, some of these second-chance families give up their weapons. “Last month, seven colleagues resigned in my department,” says Guy, used to meeting colleagues at the end of their tether. Lydie received this message from a colleague a few days ago: “I think I’m going to stop everything. » But the experts are unanimous, when resignations are added to the rotations of educators and department heads, the entire ASE chain is disrupted.

For sociologist Nathalie Chapon, who considers obtaining approvals still too rigid in the face of new family models, “we must now open up the profiles, particularly to homosexual couples and single parents”. In 2005, the year the activity was recognized as a profession by the State Family Assistant Diploma (Deaf), the profession mainly attracted married women – mainly childminders or stay-at-home mothers. Today, profiles are more socially diverse. At a time of family reconstitution, many single parents offer their services.

More than a job

Karine Dos Santos refuses to let herself be demoralized. Casually dressed and with hair clipped up, this former childcare assistant based in a residential area of ​​Blanc-Mesnil (Seine-Saint-Denis) says she deliberately “blocked her ears” so as not to hear those who were trying to dissuade you from embarking on the adventure.

She started last October, paid by the association L'union pour l'enfance, and is enjoying the beginnings of her new career with enthusiasm. “Deep down, I always wanted to do this job to provide a framework and love to children who need it. » She remembers her childhood in a public housing project, of certain kids she saw growing up without affection. “That must have played a part in my decision. »

Her children left the house, she had a spare room on the ground floor. “It’s better than turning it into a gym or an office.” » The fifty-year-old doesn't take her eyes off Ambre*, sitting on the floor among the toys. The little one, barely 16 months old and half her life spent in the nursery, shows her approval with shrill sounds from a wooden flute. Karine smiles and says that she would welcome a second child…

“But why are you still fighting? » 700 kilometers away, Lydie's loved ones don't understand. The response from the Isère assfam never varies: “There is no more wonderful job than being able to offer children a future. » In his large garden, the laughter of his four “little wolves” mixes with the creaking of the trampoline. For them, the time of tumult seems far away.

* The first name has been changed.

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