We want our babies back!

The story of two sets of twins, taken into care in Faro last week after the eldest siblings were found barefoot and alone in the rain at 2am, has inflamed social media. An online appeal is busy raising money while parents Samuel Garcia and Mónica Figueiredo have vowed they will do everything in their power to get their babies back. Our reporter Sara Alves has been talking to the devastated couple whose first visit with their children – now in the care of the Aboim Ascensão children’s home – was marked by emotion.

Samuel Garcia does not mince his words. “I want my children back, and I will do everything necessary” to get them.

His two eldest children – a boy and a girl aged three – were found last Thursday (October 22) shortly after 2am.

They were barefoot and in their pyjamas, playing in a children’s play area 500 metres from their home.

The youngsters had taken advantage of the fact that their mother was asleep, and their father was out – working the night shift at a gaming hall – to sneak out of the family home.

They were found by a man who very quickly got in touch with the authorities.

The CPCJ – commission for protection of children and minors – was already aware of the family, due to the fact that the youngest children – also twins and 18-months-old – were born prematurely and needed medical attention after birth.

As a result of this latest incident, the CPCJ considered all the family’s children to be “at risk” and effected legal steps which have seem them placed in the care of the city’s Refúgio Aboim Ascensão for a period of six months.

Father Samuel, 39 and his partner Mónica, 35 are at their wits’ end. They now face the trial of being re-evaluated, to judge whether or not they can guarantee the safety of their children.

Samuel told us that he has been in this situation before – explaining both he and the children’s mother are “victims of exhaustion and accumulated stress” as they have no help or support as they struggle to raise their young family.

Samuel explained that, try as they might, they have “never managed to get a place” at any of the local crèche facilities.

Added to their problems is the fact that the youngest twins were born prematurely and one still needs medical supervision. Indeed, the baby is now in hospital, Refúgio boss Luís Villas-Boas has since explained (see below).

On Monday (October 26) the parents arrived at the Refúgio for the first time to visit their children.

Garcia told us it was “very hard. We were both in pieces. It is horrible. We don’t feel comfortable with any of this. We are put in a room with all the other parents with their children and under constant supervision. It’s so sad. My kids were taken away in tears”.

He told us the couple had bought presents for the children but “they did not let us give them.

“We are only allowed to see them on Mondays and Tuesdays for an hour each time,” he added, visibly deeply upset.

As for the outpouring of public sympathy and support, Garcia feels very grateful, saying: “People have been incredibly supportive and it gives us strength. They understand what we’re going through.”

Hundreds have taken to social media to show support for the couple. On Facebook, the group “Quero os meus gémeos de volta” (“I want my twins back”) had nearly 4,000 members, with many leaving commentaries, at the time of going to press.

There is also a petition directed at the CPCJ entitled: “Hand back custody to parents of the twins found in Faro park”, while an account to help the family with donations has been created. Within the first two days, over €400 had been collected.

Local companies have also offered to supply services free of charge, we have been told.

Garcia explained that the money coming in will hopefully mean the family can rent a house in Portimão, which is the town where he has “guaranteed work” as well as family members who could help look after the children.

The plan is that the children’s mother will stay looking after them to start with, “but as soon as we can find a crèche, she will also start looking for work”, said Garcia.

|| Authorities’ hope for happy ending. “We are not a prison,” affirms children’s home boss

As the online appeal continues to show support for the family, Nídia Cavaco, president of the CPCJ, has talked to Sara Alves, affirming the legal steps taken this far are simply to remove the twins temporarily. “As soon as the parents reorganise their lives within normal parameters so that they can duly exercise their responsibilities, the children can return,” she said.

Cavaco added that the intention was “always that the children should return” to their parents “when conditions were right”.

These conditions include them being “integrated into a socioeducative environment” with their parents in jobs “with adequate schedules, among other requirements”.

The CPCJ boss stressed the situation had been inflamed by press intrusion and that the CPCJ does not wish to speculate further.

“It is time to draw the line,” she told us.

Refúgio director Luís Villas-Boas was equally businesslike, saying the children were all well, despite one being currently in hospital.

He stressed the parents’ first visit had “not gone badly. We do not have stars here”, he said, referring to hotel ratings. “Our house rules are 30 years old, and we don’t make exceptions. Parents have to adapt. In three decades of existence and caring for over 2,000 children, I have never heard our staff described as prison guards, like the father here has. That was an insult to the Refúgio. We offer levels of care here that are better than anywhere else in the country.

“My desire is that the children are returned to their family as soon as possible,” he told us. “It is the destiny that all the children here deserve.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the appeal set up to help Samuel Garcia and his partner care for their four children can do so this way:
IBAN – PT 500 038 0000
4034 0767 771 63
NIB – 0038 0000 4034 0767 771 63