December 31 2012

Bread & butter issues for 1 in 4 children in Spain

31/12/2012 - Violence inflected by children on their parents is a cause of alarm, say overstretched family therapists who endeavour to strengthen an increasing number of Spanish families who struggle to cope. What is evolving among children living in poverty provides reason for concern. However, the response is practical, and in some ways beautiful.

Tourists making their way to Tenerife’s sand beaches, often stop off at a bank to top-up with cash. Heading towards the opposite side of Santa Cruz are over 120 children and parents, who greatly depend on a different bank. Every fortnight, a growing number of the Canary Islands resident’s receive a top-up from the Food Bank. This is one of many initiatives across the country where SOS Social Centres collaborate with various groups to address a sad reality; in Spain one in four children now live in poverty.

Malnourishment is one of many issues

In addition to the Food Bank, in Santa Cruz breakfast and lunch is also served up seven days a week to children at risk of malnourishment. This is the case in at SOS Social Centres in Madrid, Barcelona and Galicia where regular meals and clothing is a necessity for vulnerable families.

Families must be aware that they need help, say  therapists Raquel Rodriguez & Paloma Valles © SOS Archives
Families must be aware that they need help, say  therapists Raquel Rodriguez and Paloma Valles at the SOS Social Centre Cuenca © SOS Archives

Budgetary cutbacks have forced authorities across Spain to reduce the much needed social support required to help families cope in times of crisis.  At the Centro Social SOS Cuenca families first enter the doors in a state of uncertainty. “Many come here not knowing what their needs are,” says family therapist Raquel Rodriguez. “The important thing is that families are aware of the fact that they need help. Progress is rooted in their own assessment of the situation they find themselves in. If the realise for themselves that they are unable to provide their children, the therapy work becomes significantly easier.”

Raquel’s colleague Paloma Valles emphasises that such therapy normally involves fortnightly sessions that take place over a six month period. Since family therapy was first undertaken at Cuenca’s SOS Social Centre in 2006, the team has learned to sense changes in patterns of behaviour. “Lately, the rising number of parents stating that they have experienced violence at the hands of their own children has been alarming,” explains Paloma.

Liliana and her unemployed seafaring husband, Jorge, first entered the SOS Social Centre in 2008, after the government-run social support programme they previously depended on was downsized. Their three children were at risk of malnourishment. School attendance and the children’s aggressive behaviour also added to the family’s dire situation. “We didn’t know where to turn for help, since we have no relatives or friends in this community,” says Liliana, who was born in Uruguay. “Now, they are well taken care of and receive lunch and an afternoon snack. They are helped with their homework and they learn to behave properly. It was a lot of hard work to overcome our difficulties, but we are getting there,” says the grateful mother.

The unemployment rate among young people in the communities we serve is reaching 52 per cent  says SOS Children

Getting education back on track

Inadequate nutrition was linked to a reduction is school performance among children in Cuenca, Madrid and Zaragoza. A unique scholarship programme involving 341 school-goers has helped reverse the trend.


“The unemployment rate among young people in the communities we serve is reaching 52 per cent. In many households both parents are unemployed. If children drop out of education, then, they don’t stand a chance,” says Pedro Puig, National Director of SOS Aldeas Infantiles (SOS Children’s Villages).

His team in Madrid provide specific support to children who have been expelled from school. They are helped to study and get back on track, to ensure that – in terms of education – a glimmer of hope is kept alive. It is envisaged that the service will also be extended to street children for whom truancy is a major issue. A significant increase in free day-care facilities has been arranged to help unemployed parents seek employment and do what they can to strengthen their families.

“We are living through a beautiful and sad situation at the same time. Beautiful because people in Spain are in solidarity and we have never reached so many new friends as we do now,” says Pedro Puig. “On the other hand, others are calling to say that they lost their jobs and can’t continue to support SOS Children’s Villages. What is beautiful is their spirit. They are keen to stress that they will come back when normality returns to their lives. But the reality is, for the foreseeable future, they are unemployed and burdened with debts. Like us all, in times of crisis, our supporters can become vulnerable and they in turn need support. Our job is to help all families regain the belief that they can cope.”

Puig – who leads a staff of 700 – emphaisies that “children should not be stressed about paying bills. In 2013, a child in Spain should not have to worry about where his or her next meal comes from. Such things deprive them of their right to a happy childhood. Our priority is to protect children’s rights and ensure that they do not suffer.”

The fear of eviction plays heavily on the minds of young single parents in cities like Barcelona says SOS Children

 Openg doors for evicted mothers

In adolescence, a growing numbers of Spaniards face a multitude of issues that are compounded by the financial crisis that began in 2008. The fear of eviction plays heavily on the minds of young single parents who struggle to pay rent. The issue is particularly acute and getting worse in Barcelona. Here, teenage pregnancy spells disruption to education and diminished training opportunities.

 At the Centro Social SOS in Barcelona, a mentoring programme now opens new doors for teenage mothers. With the guidance of Individual mentors, young mothers are helped identify their specific needs and strengths. From this a combination of practical support is arranged to ensure mother and baby can thrive. Day-care services, training and job search opportunities combine to provide hope. To overcome the fear of eviction, accommodation is provided to such families in the interim, until such time as the young mother can confidently lead an independent life and support her family. 

In spite of the economic challenges in 2012, loyal partners and supporters ensured that SOS Children’s Villages Spain continued to support almost 20,000 children globally. During the year health projects in Haiti and Ethiopia have provided 4,600 separate much needed medical interventions. Decades of health care experience overseas will soon be put to use closer to home. Through the good will of medical volunteers, the pharmaceutical industry and a long established partnership with the Red Cross, and SOS Medical Centre will soon be opened in the capital, Madrid. The objective is to meet the urgent needs of immigrants and the unemployed who cannot afford basic health care. 

Someone there to care

In 2011 alone, 4,500 children and over 700 families were supported in a variety of ways at seven SOS Social Centres across Spain. During that time – in a worsening economic period – many supported families and young people have managed to regain the ability and the confidence to improve their lives and independently support their families. Their gratitude provides a boost to the various teams at SOS Children’s Villages. They keep in touch and remind those who have been supported, that the door remains open for them.

Experience has shown that some, who had become independent after receiving support, occasionally require a helping hand to bridge a specific gap. A small financial boost to cover the increased cost of public transport may be all that is required to keep a student from dropping out of college. A single parent facing pregnancy may want nothing more than a brief chat with a trusted friend at the SOS Social Centre to help see the beautiful side of life.