There are circuits that perpetuate hardship. Like that of women who were children under State guardianship and lose custody of their daughters, who also become under State guardianship. There are no official figures of these generations that are chained in the tragedy, because the trail of young people who leave these shelters is lost, about 4,000 each year. But here are two testimonies of mothers who were welcomed into protection “homes” and who have later faced a system that took theirs away. One of them, MJR, achieved the return of her daughter; the other, Lydia Mouta, continues to fight to recover the three children she was raising with her partner when he, Borja, committed suicide. They were not married, he had not legally adopted them and they ended up in a foster home, where they remain.
At the end of last year there were 49,171 minors under the care of Spanish institutions, according to the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda. The majority in “residential care”, that is, institutions, due to an administrative resolution that considers the minor to be abandoned . “They are called ‘homes’ but they are not, at least in my case,” describes MJR, born in León in 1975 and who was in a juvenile center from the age of 5 until she was 18. “The treatment was very harsh, constant verbal abuse and they also beat us, for anything. The first thing was to cut the hair of the boys. It seems silly but it is somewhat traumatic. The conditions of hardship are reflected in another datum. According to the Judiciary, each quarter around 140 minor victims of gender violence are registered.
Emancipated at the age of 18, compared to the average 29 of those who grow up with their families, without financial or affective support or of any kind, “they enter a vicious circle,” says Victoriano Fernández, president of the Association of Families for Society of the 21st Century, which provides support to a hundred women who are trying to regain custody of their children. «It is not possible to be sure how many guardianships are now mothers whose children are guardianships, but we do know of cases. After going through these centers in their childhood, it is normal for them to form broken families and have children who will repeat their history. It will be like this as long as the focus on the part of the public administration is to take the children. They say that there are families that are not suitable. If there are, we must help them.”
A case in the dark
Of the minors who end up in an institution, only 16% are “reintegrated into their family”, according to official data. This was the case of MJR’s youngest daughter. Although with her eldest son there was no State intervention (“he was an easy child,” says her mother), with the youngest daughter, who arrived twelve years later, a process was initiated that He ends up with his daughter in a juvenile center, when the little girl is nine years old, in 2016. «She begins to behave very badly, she does not want to go to school, she does not want to get up or shower, she hits us», recalls MJR «The girl he behaved so badly because no rules were set for him. She spent a lot of time with her grandparents, because the school was in her town and my husband picked her up when she finished work».
The school complains to the authorities about the delays and the lack of cleanliness. “They make a report to minors,” says MJR, who as a child witnessed her mother’s death alone, lived thirteen years in a juvenile center and, after giving birth to her second daughter, had a psychotic outbreak that had her hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital for more than three months. Social services began to visit her. “They had me very stressed, I didn’t let them pass without warning.”
A month and a half later, according to MJR calculations, «they took her to a center for minors five kilometers from León. They offered me the same center where I was, and I told them I’m not crazy », she recalls. «Once they give you that paper to sign (the transfer of custody) I couldn’t do anything to prevent them from taking it away. If she refused me, they would also take away my custody, and I would lose the rights to the girl. Recommended by all, my husband and I signed.
Follow the instructions
Once the girl is admitted to an institution, the parents look for a lawyer, go to the scheduled visits every 15 days, and after a while they are allowed to take her home on weekends, without overnight stays. Social services propose a ‘family integration plan’, which implies “having people at home”, in the words of MJR Accept. A year later, in July 2018, the girl is handed over to him, but he must see a psychologist “three hours a week” and let a social worker help him with “housework and homework for the girl”. The daughter is already a teenager. The file is closed.
“His is an exceptional case,” maintains Fernández. The figures prove him right. Half of the minors in institutional centers leave there only because they reach the age of majority, and another large part because they are taken care of by families. The cases of mothers who try to recover their children are repeated and it is verified with other stories heard. “They took the girl from me,” says MG, who has a 10-year-old daughter under State guardianship for “a year and a half.”
In December of that year, when it is shown that the mother does not have parental authority, they are returned
A fight still unfinished
Lydia Mouta was also a warded girl, who is now trying to recover her partner’s three children, under the guardianship of the Cantabrian social services. The children were growing up with her and her younger brother at the time he killed himself a year ago. When she was six years old, Lydia’s mother went to prison for drug trafficking, and years later she relinquished custody of her. She, born in 1982, lived in a reception center in Vigo until she was 17 years old, when she “threw me out on the street.”
After a long and painful life journey, in 2012 he moved to Basauri, in Vizcaya. He later met Borja, who had three children, whom social services admitted to an institution in Ugao. “We first saw them at meeting points, then watched and then let them out,” she recalls. “There are three children. One of 18 months, the girl of two years old and the eldest of seven ». In December of that year, they are returned to him, says Lydia. “The kids had a rough time.”
In February 2020, she went to visit her mother in Cáceres, with whom she maintains a distant relationship. She had just had a child with Borja and she wanted her to meet him. The pandemic and confinement arrived. While she was in the south, social services took Borja’s three children back. From the first guardianship, they were under supervision. Both could visit the children once a month, while the request to reintegrate the family was resolved and the reunification plan of the Vizcaya social services was followed, with difficulties.
“He hanged himself the day we had a visitor, December 12,” Lydia recalls. «I have followed the fight alone. I have been denied foster care. They have used my past…». His case is in court. She awaits the oral visa that has been delayed until September.
MJ and Lydia raise their voices to discover a hidden situation that destroys them and that affects several generations of women in situations of vulnerability and social disadvantage, defenseless against institutional bureaucracy. “My mother was also a guardian,” Lydia maintains. Two cases of an undetermined figure, since there are no studies -not even in the Ministry of Social Rights- that focus on the lives of those who were girls under guardianship and see how their children are condemned to repeat their steps. The two testimonies collected in this report have been verified with documents -judicial, administrative- and images.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.