There are times when everything seems to turn upside down. Problems accumulate, situations explode and if there are children involved, life can get very uphill. In these cases, the Community of Madrid has the invaluable help of emergency foster families, an outstretched hand and an open door when the others are closed. Now, the aim is to increase the number of couples who are willing to give part of their time to care for children between 0 and 6 years of age in conflict situations for no more than six months.
One of the members of the family unit must have absolute availability, to be able to take care of all the needs of the child. It takes a lot of motivation for such a generous dedication.
Those responsible for the Family Council have thought that now, when the wave of solidarity with the Ukrainian refugees has pushed so many people from Madrid to offer to help, it may be a good time to remind them that not only in distant wars, but also in the municipality next door there are children who need our help.
Paula transmits sweetness and also calms with each word. She has been taking care of children for eleven years, together with her husband and her youngest daughter, in her case, in addition to the calls of special difficulty. In total, eleven children have already passed through her house, in a "very intense" job and where love and pain necessarily coexist.
“It is not easy – he admits –; the experience is extremely demanding, but that is also what enriches you and teaches you how to live». In her case, her husband and she experienced some complicated situations, the kind that make you rethink the future. “And since we came out of all of them whole, and we were so grateful to life, we decided that we had to honor it in some way.”
So, they lived in Nerja (Málaga), and one day Paula found herself at the Town Hall counter with a brochure on foster care. «It was something that broke into my life; there is something in urgent care that makes you fall in love and begins to call to your heart». Her decision, however, was slow to be made: up to three years, when already installed in Madrid, her husband suffered a heart attack. «We wanted to launch ourselves into this when we had a very organized life; but with him, you realize that there is a part that you cannot control ». And they took the step. "It was the best decision we could make."
To join the program, what is really needed is desire: from 25 years of age, married couples or unmarried couples – "also of the same sex, or single parent", explains the general director of Children, Families and the Promotion of Fertility, Alberto San Juan– can participate, as long as a family member has absolute availability. You don't need a 'casoplón', or a high level of income. In fact, the regional government offers financial aid to these couples since their incorporation into the program is approved, so that they can cover the expenses of the child. “It is not so much that the activity is professionalized, but it is so that it compensates them”, around 1,500 euros per month. The Community also contributes to extra expenses, such as glasses or prostheses, and facilitates the entire schooling process for minors.
When they embarked on this adventure, Paula and her husband had two daughters, one who was older – now emancipated – and another who was 8 years old, and she has lived the entire experience firsthand. «We went with the baby cart to her school to look for her, and she introduced him as her little brother. And she has had eleven little brothers », she smiles. She has incorporated it naturally, she knows that we share life with these children, they are 'brothers of life' ".
He reflects on a process that «is very enriching, highly educational; In today's world, it is difficult to teach values if they do not see how they are applied, if they only remain in words and do not go into action». That is why in his house they continue on this path, against the tide of everything because "the world sends you other messages, that you satisfy all your needs... and you are going a little blind". Because if there's one thing she's learned as an emergency foster family, it's that "love always adds up, never subtracts, and the more you give yourself, the more you have to give."
Now, Paula is dealing with a two-month-old baby, the last member of the family. "He was premature, positive for cannabis and cocaine, and spent the first month in the hospital." Paula will take care of him and attend to him until the Administration finds a way out for him, in a few months. And that, the separation, is the hardest moment: «Yes, the pain is very present. In this experience, not everything is ideal and beautiful. The child leaves, he always passes. Your mission is not to enter the life of a single child. And parting is never easy. A feeling that, over time, ensures that "he is becoming satisfied, for the help you have given him."
He keeps memory of all the children who have passed through his arms. The normal thing, she affirms, is that “the families where you go communicate in some way, send you photos, letters, or even let you see it. Some, the least, decide that the story starts from them. But more often than not, they include you, because you are part of that child's biography."
Those responsible for the Ministry of Family, Youth and Social Policy, directed by Concha Dancausa, want to increase the number of these foster families: "We want there to be fewer and fewer children in juvenile centers," explains Alberto San Juan, general director of Infancy, Families and Promotion of Fertility. Now they have about 1,500 children under the age of 6 in these centers, and they want to "drastically lower this figure."
For this reason, the shock plan they have in place to promote foster care, especially the emergency one. San Juan values the dedication and generosity of these emergency foster families, who "are 24 hours at the service of the Community, always on call to take a child when the need arises." Experience tells them that most of the new families that join this reality do so hand in hand with others that are already welcoming.
There are many formulas, he instructs, depending on the possibilities of each one: «There are temporary receptions, during a course, permanent, emergency and even weekend». His primary objective now is to get more families involved in this operation, in which there are now more than 1,000, because "we have children who could go into foster care and they don't come out because there are no families." The solution in these cases is an institutionalized center, which "are great and the children are well cared for there, but they are not a family."
Saint John insists that “love heals; there are children who come from very difficult situations, so serious that the administration has had to separate them from their parents. And children have the right to live in a family: theirs, and if they can't, those of the community. We are not looking for heroes, just families willing to care for these children."
The need these children have for care may even open unexpected paths for other people: as Alberto San Juan recalls, “when we opened the register of adoptive families, 1,500 showed up; but there are only 30 or 40 children a year for adoption. Most of these applicants will not go on to have an adopted child. If they knew fostering, perhaps it would fill them. Although the objective with these little ones is always to return to their families, it is an immense satisfaction to have collaborated in bringing that family back together."