Keywords Search

66. Professional integration and education for young mothers

66.1. Short description

The project for young mothers is a pilot project aiming to improve the employability of women between 16 and 25 years with young children, no professional training and dependent on social assistance. Although it is a typical case of a management programme aiming to motivate, this project has some innovative features. These are first linked to a new – with respect to the context – social investment perspective. Second, innovation is evident in the organisation and the implementation of the programme. Let us look first at the context in which this project appeared.

66.2. Internal organisation and modes of working

In 2001, the city council, with its left majority, decided that unemployment should be tackled by the city (fight against unemployment is primarily a cantonal responsibility). In 2004, a concept was implemented in collaboration with an association named “Jobs instead of assistance” (Arbeit statt Fürsorge). As a result, the Competence Centre for Labour (Kompetenzzentrum Arbeit) was created, which started its activities in 2005. The Competence Centre provides professional and social integration. One of its main focuses is the struggle against youth unemployment. It collaborates with the canton and encourages inter-institutional collaboration20; collaboration is particularly close with the social services.

Over the last few years, a growing proportion of young beneficiaries that become mothers between the age of 16 and 25 years was noted. They identified motherhood (particularly successive motherhoods) as a risk as some of the participants never completed any professional training. These women are seen as isolated from the labour market by their parental duties, resulting in a lifetime dependency on social assistance. The Competence Centre for Labour consequently developed a pilot project addressing this particular group.

Bern’s basic strategy against unemployment consists of four points. The first is to provide low threshold offers. The underlying idea is that people differ greatly in their capabilities, in other words their ability to convert opportunities into positive outcomes. Education institutions and the labour market would be too demanding for some people who can neither complete professional training nor step into the working world. Welfare programmes against unemployment should note the capabilities and improve accessibility to education and jobs. This perspective is based on an individual and structural explanation of unemployment. The labour market is very demanding, and some people, no matter how they try, cannot meet these expectations.

A second point is the principle of “supporting and demanding” (fordern und fördern). It is close to Giddens and New Labour’s “no rights without responsibilities” (Giddens 1998). Support depends on cooperation. The collaboration with social services establishes a system of carrot and stick. Non-cooperating beneficiaries receive deductions of their allowances. Another example is the implementation of “test jobs”. If civil servants have doubts regarding the motivation of social assistance beneficiaries to get a job, the latter are hired as road-mender, for example, where their “real” motivation to work can be tested. If they do not come to work or do not cooperate, allowances can be cut. Those are typical features of activation policies of an “enabling state” (Gilbert and Gilbert 1989) that requires cooperating citizens.

The third point is the orientation toward empowerment and employability. The aim of the Competence Centre is to improve people’s capacities and employability, including skills and knowledge, but also attitudes and behaviours. Some programmes focus on getting people (or maintaining them) used to the working world. The part-wage jobs and the “social firms” are examples.

The fourth and last point is multidisciplinary work and partnerships. Inter-institutional collaboration should bring together efforts of the different public stakeholders in welfare, amongst others, the social insurances and social services. It should also define the responsibilities and coordinate actions of cantonal and communal stakeholders. Furthermore, public-private partnerships (PPP) are encouraged. Networking is seen as essential as there is a consensus over the fact that the State alone cannot tackle unemployment.

These guidelines in the fight against unemployment are part of a whole workfare programme. It is a central point of Bern welfare strategy as a job is seen – in the discourses and the documents – as the best way to ensure social integration and avoid dependency on social assistance. Forcing beneficiaries to work is seen at the same time as a tool to promote professional – and consequently social – integration and as a tool to fight against welfare fraud (Cattacin et al. 2002). It also sorts the willing from the unwilling (or undeserving) welfare beneficiaries.

This workfare approach is mixed with a social investment perspective: “measures are not free, but the money is well spent. The city of Bern invests for the future, in order to avoid more ‘fixing’ costs”21, says the director of the welfare, education and health department. As we will see, the investment component is the main justification brought to convince of the project necessity and the legitimacy. It is neither justified by the extent of the need, nor because it is a public problem22, but because it is economically efficient. Therefore, the project is cheap and should, at the same time, enable savings.

66.3. Target group

The Competence Centre for Labour has three target groups: (1) people dealing with lack of training, (2) unemployed people and (3) people facing long-term unemployment. The project for young mothers takes place in the first field. The cause of unemployment is here supposedly the lack of training and the abandonment of any professional project in order to concentrate (willingly or by necessity) on parental duties.

The project addresses mothers between 16 and 25 years old, who meet the social assistance criteria and with no professional training. Following social services, around seventy people actually (in March 2013) meet these criteria in Bern. For now, ten women are involved in the programme23. They are volunteers and should be involved for the long-term until they reach their aim. Objectives are set considering their double role, mother and worker. Their personal situation must allow them to dedicate themselves to a professional activity. Even if it is no criterion, participants often are lone mothers (nine out ten24). Thus, the first task will often be to find day-care for their children.

In a case management approach, the project provides tailored programmes seeking to improve participants’ capabilities and employability. The outcome should be either a job or training. The programme is flexible in terms of duration. Some attend a full-time programme, others just come for one day per week. It mostly depends on the arrangement regarding child care. As it is very individual, women can start at any time of the year. The programme includes education, coaching and work modules. Coordination is central. Participants have the possibility to develop their work experience and professional perspectives, as well as defining their role as a mother. The aim is to show that there is an alternative to potential isolation – or at least distancing from the labour market – caused by motherhood.

The programme mainly consists of a coordinator in charge of defining the needs of the participants and of coordinating the different parts of the defined programme in several external institutions. Some offers are provided by the Competence Centre, but others are outsourced. Offers can be divided in three fields. The first is education. A teacher provides individual support to fill the gap in school knowledge (in German or mathematics, depending on the needs). The second is coaching. Individual advise is provided, as well as parental advise (on how to raise children and to manage the everyday life with children, or health issues), and advise on job applications (how to write a résumé, how to manage a job interview). The third field is related to work. Participants are taught the reality of the labour market, for example, “Punctuality is one of the simple but essential skills we teach here,” a civil servant stated. Participants can take part in workshops (of the Motivation Semester25) or internships (in the regular labour market). A task of the coordinator of the project is to develop a network of companies that could potentially hire participants.

66.4. Conclusion

The first innovative aspect is the social investment perspective added to a workfare approach. The matter is not whether or not social assistance must be earned, it is not about moralising and disciplining unemployed people. The project is about saving money. Similar to Primano, the project for young mothers aims to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Mothers of participants often are, or were, dependent on social assistance themselves26. There is a high risk that these young mothers spend their entire lives receiving allowances. Furthermore, it would be quite likely that their children would follow this path.

In presentations and assessments about the project, the most prominent argument is a costs-benefits analysis. The evaluation led after the pilot-phase use of a tool named Social Return On Investment (SROI27) to estimate the potential financial benefits of the project28. The assessments consists of two levels: profitability (or cost-effectiveness, Rentabilität in german) and efficiency (Wirkung). This investment perspective based on a cost-benefits analysis leads to a broad consensus between the two leading coalitions (the more social-democratic one and the more liberal one).

The second innovative aspect resides in the concept of the project. It is a very flexible structure. The pilot-phase lasted for 18 month at a cost of 170,000 euros. The project uses existing infrastructures only (infrastructures of the Competence Centre, of the Motivation Semester, of the Youth Department, the parental advising, etc.). According to interviewed civil servants, a flexible structure and low costs are conditions for success for such pilot projects. Of course, not having its own premises and employees requires a high degree of cooperation from all involved partners. Yet, as it has been pointed out, obstacles to cooperation in a welfare system are numerous (Demailly and Verdière 1999). Conflict regarding power, territories, budget, recognition and expertise are likely to restrain cooperation. In our case, all stakeholders have to understand and support the project, as well as see their own interest in participating. Regular hearings were organised with partners and stakeholders, from the conception phase to the evaluation phase.

However, success not only depends on partners, but also on the city council, which has to endorse the concept and the strategy against unemployment. Scientific evaluation was often mentioned in interviews as a key element of acceptance in the political field. The risk and efficacy of the measure have to be well documented. For example, the presentation document states that having basic training reduces the risk of being unemployed by a factor of three and the risk of being poor by a factor of 2.5 (based on Strahm 2010). The assessment report undertaken by an academic institution provides “evidence” of efficacy. It highlights the effects of the measure on the participants as well as the effects on the global welfare budget. The estimated return on investment is certainly of primary concern for many politicians.

A last factor for the appearance and the success of such a project is an existing, similar project elsewhere. To sum up, it is good if it is innovative, but it is reassuring if it is not the first experience of this kind. Programmes for young unemployed mothers exist in Zürich and Luzern. Bern had the opportunity to learn from their experiences. It also helps to convince of the merits of the project. If it exists and works in Zürich, why not try it in Bern? In a hearing where assessments of the pilot-phase were presented, representatives of the cities of Zürich and Luzern were present, as well as other city representatives interested in implementing a similar project. If the “federal states as laboratories” idea existed, it is through this method sharing of ideas and information. Over the coming years, the project could appear in other cities, but it could also by scaled up at a regional level in Bern. A discussion in scheduled.

Some limitations of this innovation can be highlighted. First, the model of the working lone mother advocated as the only way out of poverty by the unemployment strategy can be critically addressed. Even with full-time child care, working full-time turns out to be impossible for the mother, for example if the work place is distant from home. Furthermore, participants’ chances to get a skilled and well paid job are thin. This means that these lone mothers, even following the Competence Centre programme, are condemned to become and probably stay working poor. Indeed, statistics show that lone parent families are highly exposed to a risk of poverty29. In addition, with a high activity rate, the mother and her child spent less time together. This contradicts recommendations of educational programmes such as primano.

Another critical view could highlight that the changing role of women in society corresponds mainly to aspirations of women from higher social layers (Esping-Andersen 2009). The working mother as a model of emancipation and equality of men and women probably does not match the situation of every participant. For ethical and economical (demographic) reasons, the State should not spread (even unintentionally) the idea that having children only is for those who can afford it. A preoccupying fact has been mentioned by a manager of the programme: none of the participants had more children after the start of the programme30.


Content keywords

Keywords: Activation | Activation policies | Case management | Child care | Child education | Citizen initiatives | Citizenship | Civil society | Co-funding | Co-production | Collaboration | Community | Community development | Democracy | Deregulation | Development | Diffusion | Disability | Employment services | Empowerment | Enabling | Entrepreneurialism | Entrepreneurship | European Social Fund | Family caregivers | Family Centres | Family needs | Family-minded | Gentrification | Governance | Grassroots initiatives | Housing corporation | Housing policy | Incubator | Integration | Labour market | Labour market integration | Local context | Local governance | Local governments | Local initiatives | Local welfare | Local welfare system | Lone mothers | Lone parent support | Micro-credit | Municipality | Neighbourhood | Neighbourhood revitalisation | Network | Networking | Participation | Partnerships | Personalising support | Political administrative system | Precarious working conditions | Preschool education | Privatisation | Public administration | Regional government | Segregation | Single mothers | Social and solidarity-based economy (SSE) | Social capital | Social cohesion | Social economy | Social enterprise | Social entrepreneurship | Social housing | Social housing policies | Social inclusion | Social investment | Social media | Subsidiarity | Sustainability | Third sector organisations | Unemployment | Urban gardening | Urban renewal | User choice | Welfare governance | Welfare mixes | Workfare | Young mothers | Youth unemployment

66. Professional integration and education for young mothers


66. Professional integration and education for young mothers