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24. Prevention Visits

24.1. Short description

The concept of prevention visits was implemented by the Youth Office9. The intention is to visit all parents in Münster with a newly born child. The prevention team, responsible for coordinating and realising these visits, started its work in August 200810. From a practical point of view, these prevention visits aim to assist parents with their children’s upbringing. From a political point of view, these visits serve as an operative instrument to improve local child protection, based on intensive and early family contact.

In particular, the responsible local authorities hope to improve the relationship between families and the Youth Office as well as to prevent worst-case scenarios such as abuse or neglect of children or even infanticide (cf. the local media coverage from June 2008). The implementation of these prevention visits was an initiative of the Youth Office itself, particularly from the head of the office. The concept of these visits follows the so-called “Dormagener model”11 of prevention visits, developed in 2006. The Youth Office adapted the concept to the situation in Münster. A specific aspect of this “Münster model” is that all families are visited, not only socially disadvantaged ones from poorer areas as is done in other cities.

24.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users

The participation in the family visits is voluntary for all parents. First of all, each family with a newly born child (these are about 2,400 per year in Münster) receives a letter of inquiry by the Youth Office. If they do not object, they receive a second letter in which the prevention team suggests an appointment. The concept offers different services. First of all, the prevention team informs the parents in an individual way about different issues relevant to parents: parental benefits, child care facilities and preventative health care offers. In this context, families receive information leaflets in line with the respective nationality of their child and the district of the parents’ home. If desired by parents a midwife accompanies the visits.

Furthermore, the first parent letter (Elternbriefe) is handed over to the families personally. These letters offer a total of 46 educational assistances (i.e. advice on the issues breastfeeding or protective vaccination). Dispatch to families is staggered over the period from the first month of life up to the 8th birthday of the child12. These parent letters are conceptualised by the working group Neue Erziehung e.V., a nationally organised NGO13. They are also available in many other municipalities, but not every Youth Office sends them to families for such an extended period. “This staggered dispatch is very expensive. But it is a very early help”14, explained an employee of the Family Office15.

One of the main goals of these prevention visits is to ameliorate the negative image of the Youth Office, amplified by the supra-regional media16. To underline this aim, every child gets a welcome gift from the Youth Office. This toy symbolises that the prevention team does not want to take the children away from their parents but it wants all families to benefit. Parents should get the impression that the Youth Office might be useful for every family member and in every (difficult) situation. Families should realise that they can rely on the Youth Office as a service provider. Ergo, prevention visits are seen as a sort of “door opener” by the employees of the Youth Office.

“About 10 years ago (…), the Youth Office had the image of a supervisory authority. If its employees detected any irregularities, they might take the children from their families. We have to get away from this image because we are service providers. Our job is to assist parents in educating and developing their children to happy and capable human beings (…). If you talk about these questions in a situation with positive connotations, parents will find it easy to remember even in stressful times (…). This is a door opener”17.

24.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

The prevention team is composed of six qualified employees working part time. As members of the prevention team, they are employees of the Youth Office. This underlines the main purpose of the prevention team that it should serve as ambassadors for the office. Volunteers, as in other German municipalities, would not have direct access to the services of the Youth Office, the head of the office explained. This is one of the reasons why the Youth Office decided to integrate the visits into the office itself. Through funding the visits as part of the annual budget, they were institutionalised in a financially sustainable way.

Each of the six employees should care for about 400 newly born children per year. They coordinate all appointments and visits. The Social Democrats criticised this ratio. They argue it would be impossible for six employees working part-time to care for 400 children18. During the year 2009, 2,069 families were visited, almost as many visits as were expected. Figures for the first year of implementation (2008) are not available19. Already in the development phase, there were difficulties in finding political majorities for the programme. Many politicians did not want the prevention team to visit families living in wealthy social environments as well. The head of the Youth Office explained: “Then I said, either all or none (…) child protection issues affect everyone (…) it is a visitation service, not an inspection service.”20 Today, the Youth Office is very satisfied with this programme. “That’s the best programme we have carried out in 3 years”.21

The local media praises the programme as “a good step22”. For evaluation, Münster takes part in an empirical study about German municipalities that have introduced the instrument of prevention visits23. With reference to the first results of the participating municipalities, as well as the high demand of this instrument by municipalities in North-Rhine Westphalia, the empirical study evaluates the instrument of prevention visits positively and sees it on the path towards a “regular offer” (Regelangebot) (Frese and Günther 2012: 251). According to the Youth Office, many families did not know about the services provided until the prevention team informed them about the different offers. Others call the Youth Office in order to ask when the prevention team will visit them24. These experiences encourage the Youth Office to continue these prevention visits. With their fixed budget, they can be seen as an integral part of their prevention programme.

24.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

This social innovation supports the core value of prevention and especially the prevention programme of the Youth Office. “We have to begin with prevention and must be careful not to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. This is our standard”25. The office aims to achieve public consensus by arguing to be preventing worst-case scenarios picked up by media, politics and society. At the same time, they had to convince local politicians that they do not want to control families. This process shows an innovative aspect: it was the Youth Office itself who started the initiative and implemented it against political resistance. Neither civil society, nor local politics had an active role in this process.

According to this aspect and the second goal of the prevention visits (improvement of the Youth Office’s image), one can infer signs of a change in welfare governance: public administration increasingly acts as a partner for civil society (families), not as a hierarchical instance. Negative reactions in the beginning show that local politics and civil society perceived the Youth Office as an intervention authority (Ordnungs-/ Eingriffsinstanz). The increasing number of prevention visits carried out over the last years (2009: 2,069, 2010: 2,314, 2011: 2,080)26 shows the high demand of prevention visits by families. In a quarter of those prevention visits in 2010 (497), the Youth Office identified a high demand for advice, information as well as support. In more than 1,000 cases, the prevention team informed parents about the offers of local services focussing on child care (Youth Office Münster 2012: 87). This way, prevention visits have contributed to the intended image change of the Youth Office away from a controlling organisation to a service provider. In addition to this, the evaluation of prevention visits in different cities underlines the positive effects of the specific Münster Modell: parents participating in the study emphasise the positive effects of both working with employees of the Youth Office as well as visiting all parents in the city (Frese and Günther 2012).

Since its implementation 4 years ago, the instrument of the prevention visits has become firmly institutionalised within the field of local welfare politics in Münster. This is apparent in the merger of prenatal advice and the prevention team in 2010. In June 2011, the unit “Prenatal advice, prevention services and family visits” was founded. This step enables better networking between early years services and the expansion of existing cooperative governance structures (Youth Office Münster 2012: 85).


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24. Prevention Visits

Categories: Child and family care

24. Prevention Visits