Infant and Children welfare and Institutional Abuse in Spain
by Dr.Carlos Gonzalez  author and pediatrician     

I have in my  hands the book La crianza del niño. Lecciones de puericultura (Raising a Child: Lessons in Early Childhood Care) by Dr. Enrique Suñer Ordoñez, published in San Sebastián in 1939. Dr. Suñer had founded in 1923 the National School of Early Childhood Care, and after Franco’s triumph, he was again director of this institution and of the General Council of Official Medical Colleges# in Spain. In his book, between samples “of memory, admiration and affection to His Excellency the Head of the State, to our Generalisimo#”, he proposes to separate from their mothers the children of communist (reds) war widows and to give them in adoption to “national” families or to put them in institutions:
[…] to emphasize the necessary conduct to be followed with those children of our enemies today; of the orphans of parents who, within our territory, will surely received from their mothers an inoculation of resentment as deep as inextinguishable. […] are we to leave all these infantile and youthful souls in intimate contact with the source of the poison that causes hatred? Clearly NOT. […] It is necessary to erase this hatred; It is necessary to neutralize this poison with the only antidote that can make it inactive: with the use of a deep charity entrusted to our women, those of our Spain, those that lodge our feelings. Our Nation demands an immense effort from our families. This effort is the adoption in our very own homes if possible, in the establishments in which the destitute lodged ones can be watched, by women like godmothers or little mothers who will give them the affection,  will attend to them and will care for them as if they were their own children. The adoption of these children of the enemy who hate us will be the only way to fight the great national problem that threatens us in the postwar period.”
What other dictatorial regimes did in a clandestine form, the systematic kidnapping of the opposition’s children, in Spain was done in the open and it was written on paper. Perhaps that is the reason why the idea that certain mothers are dangerous for their children penetrated the Spanish System of infant and child care; not because they are going to mistreat them, but simply because they are going to educate them badly. The idea that certain children would be better in a “good family”, or even in an institution, rather than with their own mothers. Once established, that idea can be applied to other cases, and be served as moral justification for other attitudes.
There has never been a condemnation, a rupture, a solution of continuity in our childcare system. Thirty years later, the same people that after the war kidnapped the offspring of the ‘Red’, or other younger professionals, disciples or subordinates of the previous ones, continued kidnapping other children and giving them in adoption#. They were no monsters, they “simply” believed to have a superior knowledge and a superior right. They “knew” that some children, specially children of poor women or adolescent or unmarried mothers, were not going to be well attended by their own mothers; and therefore it was their duty to separate them from their mothers in order to find them a good family. That system needed the complicity or silence of hundreds or thousands of professionals, who hardly would have been able to sleep every night without convincing themselves that they were doing the right thing for the well-being of the child. And again, thirty years later, those same professionals or their younger disciples and subordinates continue separating the children from their mothers, without scruples, hesitations,  or even remorse. Because they still believe that the children will be better away from their mothers.
The case of Habiba is not the only one, it is not unique. I have seen them with my own eyes, I have spoken with their lawyers, fellow pediatricians have explained to me their frustration when a mother of limited resources rejects the idea of asking for help to the social services: “no, there is where they take our children away”. In the Internet you can find similar stories of mothers and their children:
The problem is that our legislation (Spanish) allows these institutions dedicated to the welfare of children, to take them away from their parents without a judge’s order. They have absolute power to withdrawal custody, and in those cases, the burden is on the parents to go to the judges and request their own children back, which had often happened, but is always too late and it happens when the child has already suffered serious psychological damages.
See for example the Guide: Guía Básica de la Dirección General de Atención a la Infancia y a la Adolescencia de la Generalitat de Cataluña (General Guidelines for Infant and Adolescent Care from the Catalonian Regional Government)
In page 13 the difference between “abused minor” and “neglected minor” is explained; the latter occurs when “it has been observed any form of negligence or inadequate exercise of the duties of protection established by the law concerning the guardianship of the minor or there is lack of the basic elements for the integral development of his/her personality”. A situation of neglect is declared through the “reasoned resolution by the competent administrative organism […] The parts involved and the District Attorney must be notified so that the rights of those affected  are guaranteed”.
“The neglect declaration entails the automatic assumption of the tutelary functions over the minor on the part of the competent organism (DGAIA). It implies the withdrawal of custody of the father and the mother or the ordinary tutors during the time of application of the measure. The DGAIA can delegate the guard of the minor under its care”
That is to say: those who can declare neglect, for reasons as random as “any form of inadequate exercise” are the civil employees; they do not have to request authorization to the District or General Attorney to do it, but only to inform them after the decision has been made and the child removed, they can also keep the child or decide to give him to whom they consider.
We are not talking of protecting a minor in a situation of abuse. It is enough for them to declare such perceived neglect as what they call a “situation of risk”. In the case of “risk of abuse” the reaction gives me shivers: Can you imagine if it were possible to jail someone who never in his/her live has robbed a bank, but because “there is a risk that he/her might rob a bank” someday?If we were considering a case of risk of abuse, that would be the only occasion in which, like in sci-fi movies, a future criminal could be punished before committing a crime. That that is not remotely the case here. There is no need for suspicion or fear of abuse or any other crime. The “risk” is a generic and indefinite risk, we really do not know to what kind of risk are they referring to, perhaps the risk of having a spoiled and entitled child, or a child who does not “socialize” adequately, or God knows what. These are risks that, even if they were to become real, do not constitute a crime.
And these institutions, where do they send this “protected”children? Normally they are sent to subcontracted private centers that receive money for each child and that have an intereset, like hotels do, in obtaining the maximum possible occupancy. The only difference is that these private centers receive much more money than what is paid in a hotel.
Here you can see statistics concerning more than 8000 “protected” children:
47.6% are protected in their own family. 18.3%, in other family, foster family, or in adoption. 34%, 2,785 minors, in the type of center above mentioned. But the costs of each type of refuge is very different, according to the report of June of 2009 of the Síndic de Greuges, the Catalonian Ombudsman:
As it can be seen in page 236, the administration spends 1,275 euros per year for each child living with their own family, 2,597 euros per year for each child living with extended or foster family, 3,129 euros per year for each child given in adoption, and between 30,000 and 40,000 euros per year by each child living in a center, depending on the type of center! It would much more economically efficient to give financial aid to the families without resources instead of taking the children away from their own families. But our system distrusts families, mainly the poor ones, and prefers to spend the money in centers controlled by professionals.

Translated for Todos Somos Habiba platform by Jesusa Ricoy, any questions please email jesusaricoy@gmail.com