Whether it is employed or independent, there are various ways to become a minor’s legal representative. Caritas currently employs around a dozen guardians. We appreciate the contributions of independent guardians and work to organize exchanges with them. As recently demonstrated by a report from Vluchtenlingenwerk Vlaanderen (the Flanders Refugee Agency), much like our staff, independent guardians also need training and quality mentorship. Below, Laurence Bruyneel, guardianship coordinator for Caritas explains her work.
What is an independent guardian’s role and how does it differ from that of and employed guardian?
Laurence Bruyneel: All guardians of young minors have an obligation as a legal representative to look after their general wellbeing. Therefore, whether you are employed or independent, your job is essentially the same. Guardians must support the unaccompanied foreign minor in many different situations throughout the long steps that lead to adulthood, including preparation for adult life. Regular contact and the establishment of trust are crucial both to accurately assess the minor’s hopes and needs, as well as to best defend their interests.
The big difference is that employed guardians receive a salary from an organization, such as Caritas International, and that independent guardians are, as the name implies, independent. They thus sometimes have another job on the side. Guardians can always count on our support at the Helpdesk if they encounter any difficulties.
What difficulties do guardians run into?
Laurence: They must build trust with the minor, provide unconditional support, and, at the same time, maintain a bit of distance. It’s a daily balancing act. Preparation for CGRA interviews is also often complicated, especially when it’s a guardian’s first time and they have limited familiarity with the process.
To start, they receive basic training from Guardianship Services. Through our Helpdesk and other training sessions that we organize, we strengthen their specific skills, knowledge, and know-how to help them be better mentors to minors. Due to the reactions to the Helpdesk that we’ve received, we know that guardians appreciate the new and targeted perspective we can provide regarding their case. Many independent guardians don’t work in teams and enjoy the opportunity to interact with others. This is a very important need.
How does one become an independant guardian?
Laurence: Anyone concerned by the issues facing unaccompanied foreign minors who does not have a criminal record and who has strong organizational and people skills can apply. There can be no conflicts of interest, and the applicant must be an adult residing in Belgium. There is no required education level. A candidate can apply at Guardian Services and will then be invited for an interview.
Are there enough guardians for unaccompanied foreign minors in Belgium?
Laurence: Yes and no. There are more guardians in certain regions and less in others. In Limburg, for example, Guardian Services is carrying out a recruitment campaign. However, there is a constant need for guardians with a specific profile, depending on the target audience. There are also those who decide to stop being guardians. All of this means that there is a constant demand for new guardians. Also, authorities are not always able to register all minors because they do not all report to Guardian Services.
Transmigrant minors, for example, are very difficult to register. They are mistrusting of authorities and are scared of not being recognized as a minor. Transmigrant minors are a very mobile group and are difficult to identify, but we’ve been able to reach out to them and make estimations about their number and characteristics through collaboration between our offices and others in field. They are a very specific group that is very vulnerable and is in particular need of protection.