The special support team for parents who were victims of the unemployment benefit scandal is being expanded. In total, there are now more than three hundred registrations from parents whose children have been removed from their homes.
The fact that the suffering, even when the compensation in the benefits case starts, is still not a little, is something they also see at the Support Team for the Benefits Case (OT). Take one of the mothers guided by the team. She is recognized as the victim of the affair and received the first financial compensation of 30,000 euros. She was forced to buy a car from them – she had long since lost her house, as had her child. If she can’t sleep with family or friends now, at least she has a roof over her head thanks to that car.
A total of 2090 children were removed from their homes. To help their parents, the support team was set up by Minister Franc Weerwind (legal protection). “It’s not always about returning the children,” says Judith Peeters of OT. For example, the Support team, which will soon be expanded by ten additional staff, helps unravel what has happened in victims’ lives. Aiming to help parents regain control of their lives or to make a parent’s voice heard. “But sometimes it’s also about small, practical matters that we help with.”
Transfer is also not always desired, because transfer requires that one has control over life
Return is not always desired
So far, 10 children have been placed back with their biological parents. Contact between parents and children has been restored in 11 families, and more appropriate help has been arranged for 61 parents. In 23 cases, access rights were extended. ,,Replacement is not always desired either, because moving requires that you have control over your life. That, for example, you no longer live in your car.” Many foster parents are still struggling with the problems caused by the government. That it was recently revealed that the recovery operation to compensate the victims could take until 2030 shows that there is still a long way to go for many parents.
There is interest in the experiences we learn
If parents go that route, they will also have to give it a place where recovery is not always possible. “If a child of a benefit parent lives with a foster family for nine years, you can’t fix it. Those nine years will never come back,” says Peeters. “Sometimes it’s also about recognizing it.”
At first there was some criticism of OT. It has no power to make custody decisions or to direct aid organizations to take a particular course of action. “We ignored that criticism and decided to go to work first. We don’t want endurance ourselves, because then we would lose our neutral position.”
No one wants to catch members of the Support Team making harsh statements about youth care, which is already plagued by money and staff shortages. “Our strategy is not to stick our heads over the parapet and above all to mediate, even if it doesn’t always go as we would like.”
More and more parents are signing up
More and more parents are now reporting through word of mouth, but also through media attention. According to Peeters, it shows courage that, despite their great distrust of the government, they still take the step towards an organization set up by the government. The constant enthusiasm also means that the team needs to be expanded. There will be 10 new, experienced ‘process supervisors’, making a total of 55 employees who have direct contact with the parents.
These vacancies are not difficult to fill: they are seen as important. There are also no time limits for the process facilitators – they can devote as much attention to the parents as is necessary. It is attractive to employees. The support team is a temporary organization which should disappear when the services parents with placed children have been sufficiently helped. But when exactly the work will be finished, it is also difficult for Peeters to say.
Nevertheless, the hope is that the legacy of the Support Team will eventually be one that will benefit all parents who have to deal with youth care. The first learning moments have already been put on paper. And it’s clear that many more parents with custodial or supervised children need a neutral party they can turn to.
Peeters hopes that such insights may eventually mean something to a larger group of parents of children in foster care. “In any case, we can already see that there is interest in our experiences and the experiences that we collect, also from the Ministry of Justice and Security.”
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