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Dr. Gas: “Children Are the Least Protected Social Capital and Should Be the Main Focus of Social Policy”
“Children should be the main focus of social policy, as they’re the least protected form of social capital. Numerous studies have shown that children are also the most affected by unemployment, abuse, poverty and family breakdown”, said the Director of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya’s (UIC) Institute of Advanced Family Studies (IESF), Dr. Montserrat Gas, during her opening address for the conference, The Best Interests of the Child and Fostering: Present and Future, which took place on Monday, 17 November 2014.
The conference formed part of the Joaquim Molins Figueras Family Policy Programme and was organized in collaboration with the UIC’s Faculty of Law. It was intended to mark both the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was launched in 1989 and will reach its anniversary on Thursday, 20 November 2014, and the forthcoming Child Protection Act, which is expected to enter the statute books in early 2015. The target audience for the event were family mediators, lawyers and organizations that work with families.
One of the main issues tackled at the conference was the regulation of fostering, which was conceived as an alternative protective measure to placing children in sheltered accommodation. Fostering, whether it is on a stable, permanent basis, or simply temporary, is always focused on providing children with a stable environment when temporary, atypical circumstances make it incompatible for them to remain at the home of their biological family. “With temporary foster care, the intention is to give children a family experience with a view to integrating them back into their original family in the medium or long term, once the situation that took them away from their family has been resolved”, said Encarnación Abad Arenas, a lecturer from the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) in Nou Barris, who spoke from her personal experience as a foster parent.
María Luisa Santamaría, a lecturer from the Universitat de les Illes Balears, then went on to talk about the changes proposed in the draft Child Protection Act, which is expected to be approved during the first half of 2015. She also spoke about the improvements that still need to be made to the law in order to fully respect the rights of children and adolescents, along with those involved in protecting them (parents and foster parents, for the most part). “It is necessary to clarify some of the questions and concerns raised by foster families while they are fostering children in their homes”, said Santamaría, who also drew attention to the absence of parent-child roles in light of the fact that fostered children already have families.
A judicial perspective was provided by Jesús del Cacho, who has sat as a magistrate in Tarragona since 1999 and has a great deal of experience in family-related matters – which, he said, have grown exponentially in recent years. “With regard to children and criminal liability, I collaborate closely and regularly exchange experiences with professionals in a variety of different countries, and especially with Guatemala, by means of a delegation comprising two public prosecutors, a psychologist and a consultant criminologist from the Guatemalan Ministry of Justice. These situations increasingly require comprehensive, ground-up intervention by a range of different specialists working together”, he stated, when discussing his own day-to-day experiences of the legal issues surrounding fostering.
An academic perspective was provided by Professor Carlos Martínez de Aguirre from the Universidad de Zaragoza, who spoke about the position of fostering within the legal framework for child protection. He argued that fostering is conceived by both national and regional legislation as a measure to protect children and, within this, has a dual function: it can be used as a temporary instrument, but also as a definitive protective measure. Professor Martínez then detailed the various forms that such a protective measure could take and the specific purpose of each type of legally recognized fostering, before concluding with a brief look at the reforms proposed by the new legislation.
He was followed by Carmen M. Lázaro, a lecturer from the UIC’s Faculty of Law, who spoke about the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). “In its latest pronouncements the CRC reproached Spain for its lack of a uniform process to determine the superior interest of the child, but also praised its development of fostering programmes – particularly for foreign children – and its international cooperation in this regard. The Spanish government’s National Plan II, which is based on the Committee’s recommendations, aims to promote family-based solutions ahead of institutional ones”, she noted.
Núria Canal, the Director of the Catalan Institute of Fostering and Adoption (which is part of the Government of Catalonia), had the last word on an issue that requires urgent action and increased awareness across all sectors of society, not just because of the anniversary that was marked by the conference, but also because of the sheer numbers involved. “We don’t get involved in the matters that have led us to this situation. The circumstances of the children’s original families are the responsibility of the General Directorate for Childcare, which is a different organization with different competencies. Our interests lie in explaining and publicizing this social necessity by talking about the types of fostering available and providing specific details on educational action living units (UCAE), which are a type of fostering that requires special training on the part of foster families”, she said, bringing the debate and analysis to a close.