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Psychosocial results of welcoming minors from protection centers into collaborating families

In Andalusia, Spain, the Collaborating Families program is a protection measure regulated and administered by the Junta de Andalucía through the Service for the Protection of Minors (SPM). This altruistic and solidary resource is led by adults who are available and decide to commit to sharing moments of leisure during certain periods of time (generally, weekends, holidays and vacations) with a girl, boy or adolescent who resides in a protection center . Normally, coexistence with the boy or girl takes place at the home of the collaborating family or at the place where they spend their vacations.

The research “Collaborating families: a study on families, sheltered childhood and adolescence and collaboration processes”, developed by the University of Seville and the association Crecer con Futuro in collaboration with the Ministry of Equality, Social Policies and Conciliation, all these entities in Spain, confirms the scientific evidence that considers family alternatives to residential centers as the most positive for the correct psychosocial development of children under the guardianship of the public administration.

This study was carried out by Esperanza León, head of the project, Nuria Molano and Jesús M. Jiménez-Morago, from the teaching staff of the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education at the University of Seville, together with the psychologist Ana Isabel Gallardo.

As reflected in the study, in general, the adaptation of the minor to his collaborating family was very positive. 92.4% of the collaborators were very satisfied with the adaptation. The personal relationships of these minors with the members of the collaborating family were scored very positively, reaching a score of 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 5. The family climate was, in general, quite positive, with low parental stress levels. Regarding integration in the school environment, half of the families that participated in the study (52.2%) valued it very positively.

On the other hand, in relation to the evolution of the boys and girls studied, significant progress has been observed, both in the evaluations of the collaborating families on the different areas of development explored (physical, cognitive, emotional and social) and in evaluations on the academic field (adjustment, performance, motivation and integration). The vast majority of these families (83%) were satisfied with the evolution of the boys and girls.

In general, these results underline the important positive effect that alternative measures to centers and family references exert on this group of minors in collaboration within the framework of this resource.

In the research, 64 collaborating families active in Seville capital and province participated, along with 53 minors who were in collaboration with them and who at that time resided in various protection centers in the same province and its capital. Based on the information provided by the collaborating families participating in the study, the authors set themselves, among other objectives, to analyze the characteristics of the sociodemographic profile of the collaborating families; study the sociodemographic characteristics of children and adolescents in collaboration; know the way in which the first moments of collaboration and adaptation of these minors to the families developed; explore the current state and evolution of boys and girls during collaboration, as well as the satisfaction of families with this and other aspects of family collaboration; examine the psychological profile of collaborating families, in addition to family functioning and dynamics; and to study the socio-emotional development and the behavioral adjustment of boys and girls in collaboration, as well as the presence of symptoms related to attachment disorders, among other aspects.

The average age of the collaborators was around 45 years, with a predominance of higher education and an active work situation, with jobs outside the home. Mainly, the collaborators carried out work related to teaching and social sciences and the collaborators worked in the field of public administration and education. The majority family structure was that of collaborating couples with biological sons and daughters.

In relation to the sociodemographic profile of the girls and boys, the average age was around 14 years, all of them enrolled in school and half of them completing Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO). The vast majority of these minors have brothers or sisters, although only half live with them in the center.

The medical history of these minors reflects that, for the most part, they are healthy boys and girls, although a quarter suffer from some chronic disease, syndrome or disorder diagnosed at the time of the study and about a third present some type of disability, in their mostly of a mental type. Regarding the history of previous mistreatment identified, the percentage of neglect (26.4%) and psychological abuse (24.5%) over other types of abuse stands out.

In relation to the history of institutionalization, almost all the boys and girls had passed through other protection centers – with an average of 8 years in residential care – before starting to collaborate with the families. Similarly, those boys and girls who had passed through a greater number of centers previously presented more emotional problems and with their classmates. Those who entered the protection centers at an earlier age also showed more behavioral problems, as did those minors who had spent more time in a situation of institutionalization. (Source: University of Seville)

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