21.1. Short description
Family centres are a complementary offer to kindergartens and day-care institutions pursuing a more holistic approach. Their innovative feature is to empower families by strengthening their competences instead of providing merely services to them that claim to substitute what the respective families cannot provide. This complementary and holistic approach of “family-minded services” represents a paradigm shift by offering support not only to one group (children) but also to parents. Another innovative aspect of family centres is to perceive families as partners to be (re)empowered and not as communities unable to perform. Currently, eight centres have been installed in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, mostly initiated by parents and sponsored by the Berlin Senate. Centres provide multiple family-related services and activities on a small scale, starting from giving families the opportunity to share leisure time together, receiving advice and participating in various courses that strengthen (e.g. linguistic and self-help) competences of children and parents up to regular working groups where service provides and families join in order to develop new service arrangements for the respective neighbourhood. As well-known contact points and low-threshold places to drop-in, family centres also support the work of the Child and Youth Welfare Office, e.g. by forwarding feedback from the “grassroots level” to the district department.
21.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
As all-in-one service hubs for the whole family, family centres represent a counterpoint to services organised in separate “silos” for singular groups. Family centres do not exclude classic childcare services to support families with their caring duties. However, according to their “family-minded” concept, parents are as well addressees of family centres whose competences should be strengthened. Which kinds of services are included in such a comprehensive approach strongly depends on the neighbourhood where the family centre is located. In short, bundles of services are offered, tailored to respective families’ needs. For instance, the intercultural family centre Adalbertstraße, a rather segregated area in Kreuzberg with a high number of immigrant families and transfer payment recipients, puts emphasis on helping families under stress. Owing to their main clientele, regular offers comprise of issues such as identifying and supporting families’ resources and self-help potentials, developing alternatives for families’ everyday live tasks and improvement of families’ language skills. Contrary to this, the family centre “Das Haus” in Friedrichshain, catering to a mostly middle-class clientele, is much more perceived as a place where families can spend their leisure time, e.g. by socialising and cooking. Furthermore, parents are invited to create their own support networks while having coffee in the family café or they may participate in the conception of new professional service offers. In both examples, family centres are meeting point and forum of support for families, parents, children and local multipliers dealing with all kinds of family issues.
21.3 Internal organisation and modes of working
Since 2006, two types of services provided by family centres coexist in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg: on the one hand, traditional kindergartens that revised their conceptual orientation by developing family-minded services; on the other hand, new established centres that were built with the help of neighbourhood initiatives and/or third sector organisations. In both cases the focus on families was combined with a much stronger focus on the social and urban space. This twofold approach is mirrored in organisational terms: in order to address families, instead of children only, family centres need to capitalise on local resources and networks. Hence, cooperation is key, be it with existing parent-child-groups, consultancy agencies of welfare associations or, of course, the Child and Youth Welfare Office. However, family centres are not merely a point of information about family-minded services in the district but services are also offered directly in the centre. This requires much acceptance by professionals and authorities, as family centres as embedded instead of competing institutions, where exchange, education and consultancy take place. Perceived this way, family centres may also function as local “think tanks” for networked family care services, as Birgit Bosse, manager of “Das Haus” in Friedrichshain describes: “We established an expert forum, organised and steered by us, for kindergarten, day-care centres, schools and parents in order to facilitate the transition from childcare to schooling.” Internally, Ms Bosse works together with a team consisting of three employees (in charge of parent and psychological counselling and conflict management) and a pool of flexible external specialists on a freelance basis. Additionally, the local job agency provides the centre with so-called “one-euro-jobbers”, in charge of maintenance activities. In formal terms, family centres make so called “service level agreements” with the district council on a yearly basis, stating exactly which specific offers are demanded. As in turned out, family centres have much leeway to propose innovative offers – e.g. theatre and artistic projects in cooperation with freelance artists – due to their practical knowledge of developments and needs at grassroots level.
21.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Family centres in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg have the full support and backing of the local Child and Youth Welfare Office. The latter pursues a spatial approach that divides the district into eight social environments to be vested with (at least) one family centre. “Our aim is to establish close contacts with families under stress. In this respect, family centres are a standard offer”, states Thomas Harkenthal, manager of the Child and Youth Welfare Office. Despite their rather short time of existence, family centres have succeeded in becoming local role models concerning child and family care. Now, Mr Harkenthal and his team attempt to scale-up family centres’ role as hubs providing services and networks. “There is much unmet need for additional educational offers tailored to the respective neighbourhood structure”, reports Mr Harkenthal. Moreover, the number of so-called family meeting points, conceptualised as small branches of family centres cooperating with huge kindergarten with 300 to 400 children, should be extended. Nevertheless, there is a discrepancy between the public support for (and belief in) the family centre approach and its effectiveness in reality. Anchoring family centres in the social and urban space needs much more commitment in terms of permanent positions and long-term planning security. Furthermore, authorities tend to underestimate the cultural change and practical re-learning that is needed to let family centres blossom. “Cooperation means sharing of responsibilities. Some huge service providers are still used to top-down chains of commands”, says Ms Bosse. In addition, she refuses to call family centres a “best-practice-approach” because she fears that such a perspective could easily turn into a one-(best)-model-fits-all approach. Instead, Ms Bosse insists on the need to give room for a profile that corresponds with the specific social environment of every family centre.