“We had cold sweats, we were on deck 24 hours a day, but the public service and the educational link were maintained.” After nearly two months of confinement, Jean-Christophe Brihat, territorial director of judicial youth protection in Seine-Saint-Denis, is breathing. Its teams take care of nearly 4,000 young people a year, or 1,700 daily in different types of structures: training and reintegration centers, shelters, but also closed educational centers (CEF) and neighborhoods for minors prisons. So many profiles whose follow-up was out of the question, despite the health crisis in coronavirus.
Family returns, but strictly supervised
With “as a compass the reconciliation of the health imperative and the maintenance of the educational mission”, everything has been reorganized, thanks to a good dose of “innovation and mutual aid”, as this otherwise problematic department is capable of. . Structure by structure, the support has been adapted.
At the Villepinte penitentiary center, the minor quarter with 40 places now only receives 30 young prisoners. In the centers and homes, “we went from 10 to 12 young people to 5 to 8 maximum, with, for each return to family, a reflection of the multidisciplinary team and the written agreement of the magistrate” details the territorial manager. And a link maintained at all costs, sometimes with a daily call and with the possibility for families or young people to reach a contact 24 hours a day.
Some young people had to be accommodated again in structures, either because “it didn’t hold anymore” after 15 days, for various reasons – “too complicated confinement, limited cohabitation, psychological weaknesses” – or, in one case, after the death of one of the parents of Covid-19.
“If we don’t take care of them, they take care of us!”
In closed homes and educational centers, confinement has changed essential habits. “The challenge was to maintain a rhythm and activities,” explains Jean-Christophe Brihat. “If we don’t take care of them, they take care of us!” Abounds, with a smile, Yasmine Bouthkili, director of a closed educational center, for whom “idleness is synonymous with possible transition to ‘act or runaway’.
The department had to deal with staff reduced by 30%, between medical vulnerability for some and the need for childcare for others. About twenty educators from the open environment were mobilized in reinforcement within specialized accommodation, on a voluntary basis. Two educators and the cook of the food truck, usually devoted to integration workshops, had to prepare meals for the closed educational center, whose cooks had fallen ill.
“At the start, some had somewhat unhealthy games: ‘if we blow you in the face, we can put you in danger while we are not afraid of anything’,” recognizes Jean-Christophe Brihat. But the death of a 16-year-old girl at the start of the epidemic put an end to these behaviors overnight. “Finally, this confinement makes it possible to put young people and adults on the same level: you are deprived of liberty by your judicial control, but ultimately you find yourself in the same situation as all French people and even all citizens worldwide” , reports for his part Yasmine Boutkhili.
“It has strengthened the ties between the young people and the team, we are not confronted with refusals of activities (as is regularly the case in normal times, editor’s note) and there is even empathy that has arisen in some, “she notes.
Bracelets and a keychain for caregivers
Within the CEF, two activities with an outside speaker were maintained, including leather goods, which arouses unexpected enthusiasm. At their request, the young people made leather bracelets and key chains engraved with a “thank you” for the care staff.
“We were watching TV, we saw a program on hospital staff, the galley in which they were, we felt our duty as a citizen to do that. We wanted to give them thanks,” tells Europe 1 Yanis * , 15 years old. The young man, in CEF after two years of detention thought he was “enjoying the outdoors”, but confinement turned his plans upside down. However, he says he hopes that everyone will grow up from this particular period.
Without wanting to draw a premature assessment, Zoheir Arrouf, professor of culture and basic knowledge, is optimistic. He notes that adolescents, “usually very resistant”, reveal themselves a little more. “And they are more pleasant! Maybe because they get up later …”, says the educator, the wake-up times having been relaxed. “They go to bed earlier, sleep better, wake up on their own.”
Change in sport too: exit football and basketball, hello badminton and table tennis outside. “My great satisfaction is to see that these young people, some overweight, others who have a drug addiction or who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, do sport every day, it is a remarkable effort “, insists Zoheir Arrouf. “We focus a lot on taking care of, taking pleasure in,” says Yasmine Boutkhili, who recalls that the PJJ must restore the bond of these difficult young adults.
“These young people need a lot of attention”
As for the host families, the 19 on which the department relies continued their care with reinforced support. “It’s a lot more shopping and a lot more cooking,” said Fathia Bouda is welcoming two teenagers aged 16 and 17, one of whom was removed from a home for the period of confinement. “They like pasta casseroles, sturdy dishes,” smiles this woman who also multiplies calls and SMS to PJJ services to keep them informed of the comings and goings of her restless residents. One goes out every day, and the other every other night, despite the confinement.
“The youngest, I scold him but he smiles: ‘Do not worry Madam, I am very careful, I do not approach people'”, she regrets, while telling that he takes off his shoes outside the door and wash all of his things as soon as he comes back. He was arrested several times by the police, brought back by the educators, but nothing helps. “These young people need a lot of attention, they are psychologically disturbed,” analyzes Fathia Bouda, who did not hesitate for a moment to continue the reception despite the pandemic.
“About thirty minors brought to the prosecution”
According to the territorial director of the PJJ Seine-Saint-Denis, confinement offenses are generally very low among minors. He counts in his paintings “a little thirty minors brought to the prosecution, a ridiculous figure in the eyes of the department”. And to underline that most of the young people concerned also cumulated other offenses, such as drug trafficking, at the time of their arrest. For the most part, they will participate in citizenship internships, particularly in connection with hospitals.
He prefers to retain “the remarkable work” of his teams. “At 8 p.m., I obviously applaud for the caregivers, but personally I also have a thought for the PJJ educators.”
* The first name has been changed