The major policy influences on child and family services in Germany and Ireland. Comparison and contrast

Elaboration, 2007

35 Pages


Table of contents


1. The changes of family life and family policy
1.1 Families
1.2 Family Policy

2 Ireland
2.1 Historical Developments
2.2 Relevant Acts and Policies
2.3 Social Work with families and children
2.4 The Childcare Act 1991

3 Germany
3.1 Historical Developments
3.1.1 Social Policy in the GDR and after the reunification
3.2 Social Work in child and family services
3.2.1 Social Work and Social Pedagogy – the difference
3.3 Germany’s Child and Youth Services (Kinder- und Jugendhilfe) and Youth offices embedded in the federal system
3.4 The KJHG or SGB VIII and other relevant policies
3.4.1 The act’s principles, aims and provisions
3.4.2 Endangered and delinquent young people

4. Conclusion – Contrasting major differences

References and Bibliography



Over the years the image of “the family” changed a lot due to political, historical, socio-economic, cultural, religious, demographic, social and many other influences and circumstances. It is not possible to talk about the family anymore or give an explicit universal definition, as various family forms exist in our modern society nowadays. A common term used to describe this state is “Plurality of Family forms”, meaning that family not only consists of married couples with children but also relatives, non-marital partnerships with or without children including same sex couples, marriages without children, lone parents and many more. The Family can be understood as a dynamic social system.[1]

In order to draw a clear picture of how Social Work in child and family services works today and what it is influenced by, it is necessary to start from the very beginning.

The first part shortly reflects on what is meant by the terms “family” and family policy.

The following two sections shall provide an insight into both countries’ history of politics and policy making for this target group.

We learn about the differences of the two systems especially in relation to policy influences on child and family service provision in connection with Social Work.

The essay concludes with a comparison of the two state’s policies.

This work’s main focus lies in contemporary policy influences on Social Work within child and family services. It can only provide a superficial overview of definitions and historical changes. However, they need to be mentioned as they embody the basis of today’s developments. It is beyond the scope of this essay to address all historical events and therefore the focus lies on the main developments from the last century until today.

If the interested reader requires further information they may refer to the bibliography section for a comprehensive list of further readings.

1. The changes of family life and family policy

1.1 Families

In many respects Germany and Ireland faced similar changes in the ways in which their families developed, basically as a result of increasing industrialism. However, due to their different cultural backgrounds each of these countries will be addressed separately in regards to the topic.

What is meant by the term “family”?

According to Daly’s Report the UN broadly defines family as : “any combination of two or more persons who are bound together by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibility for, inter alia, the care and maintenance of group members, the addition of new members through procreation or adoption, the socialization of children and the social control of members.”[2]

Another shorter definition is the article 16(3) of the universal declaration of human rights: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State".

Or simply the “Compact Oxford English Dictionary’s” definition : “A family consists of a domestic group of people (or a number of domestic groups), typically affiliated by birth or marriage, or by analogous or comparable relationships — including domestic partnership, cohabitation, adoption, surname and (in some cases) ownership (as occurred in the Roman Empire).[3]

The Irish constitution states that the family is based upon marriage and protected by the state. In the German Basic Law family is not particularly based on marriage, the wording of the article is just that marriage and family are under the state’s special protection. Other forms of “family” are not explicitly outlined.

Many citizens want the constitution to acknowledge the variety of family forms and demand to have their particular rights rooted. Both countries are currently discussing and changing their views as more and more people, unions, associations and pressure groups stand up for amending the legislation.

Ideally the family is the best context within which a child should grow up in, as it should naturally be a place of safety, comfort and wellbeing. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

The above definitions are very limited as they do not particularly include or even exclude certain types of family as they exist nowadays like lone parents, unmarried or also same sex couples with children.

1.2 Family Policy

Family Policy, also including concerns of children, is closely interrelated with Social

Policy and can be briefly defined as “any governmental measure which has consequences, intended or unintended, for families. Family policy therefore refers to objectives concerning the well-being of families and the specific measures taken by government bodies to achieve them.”[4]

Family and general Social Policy involve a number of different policy fields such as health policy, education policy, welfare policy etc. They comprise political actions and elements of conduction with the aim to support and relieve families and children economically as well as in social and cultural terms.

State-run actions, which directly influence family life, can be divided into four forms of intervention. The first one is a legal form of intervention influencing the legal status of the family like Family law, Work law or Social law. Then there is economic intervention impacting the financial situation with e.g. cash benefits or tax relief. Thirdly, ecological intervention concerning families’ social and natural environments such as offers of local provision of social services but also questions of housing. Educational forms of interventions like training, advising and guidance try to improve social and personal abilities and qualifications of family members. [5]

According to Kaufmann [6] the most important motives of Family Policy are:

1. The promotion of the image of the family (institutional motive)
2. Promotion of births or their constriction (motive of social policy)
3. The quality of the population (eugenic motive)
4. The promotion of building up human capital (economical motive)
5. Combating poverty and family discrimination (social motive)
6. Combating gender discrimination (gender political motive)
7. Children’s rights and needs (Child welfare motive)

All this also affects the work in child family and services concerning the diversity of the Social Workers’ responsibilities.

Social Policy and Social Work are meant to work hand in hand. The Social State and its Social Policy are responsible and have to provide for acceptable and suitable socio economical conditions for citizens. The Social Work field should not be used to make up for the failures of policymaking. It should rather be worked with in partnership towards making this objective become attainable. [7]

To understand the main policy influences in that sector one needs to learn about how it actually developed.

The objectives of policy in Ireland, especially family related income support policy in form of child and maternity benefits and tax allowances, were and still are closely linked to the avoidance of poverty. It was recognized that children may place families under financial pressure and so the children’s allowances were introduced to alleviate such pressures. Policy on the family in Ireland basically started with families with children as they were most prone to poverty and its consequent problems such as poor health and social marginalisation.[8]

The following paragraph shall provide a further insight into Irish developments.

2. Ireland

2.1 Historical Developments

Ireland’s family policy developed very gradually and the State and the Catholic Church were its two main architects.

There were some important policy related developments in the early 19th century, which include for example the Non-contributory Old Age Pension Act in 1908, the Children’s Act in the same year and the National Insurance Act 1911, which also included a maternity benefit. However the Catholic Church stood in opposition to many of these provisions as every intervention would, in its eyes, undermine family privacy as well as the precepts of susidiarity.[9] The family at that time was seen as an untouchable and private unit, which had to take primary responsibility for its own welfare which the church also endorsed in its social teaching.[10] local

The state was always reluctant to intervene into family affairs until recent times as it believed in the absolute privacy of the family. This is manifested in the constitution of 1937 (see articles 41 and 42) and has also been reflected in the scarcely existing state provision of social services as well as in social and family policy.

In terms of child protection state intervention was also limited to exceptional cases.

This resulted in the development of en extensive voluntary sector especially in rural areas to provide services that the state did not or could not make available.

Voluntary bodies have been making a key contribution to all aspects of social service provision and community development since.

The protection and enhancement of the family founded on marriage was the primary concern of social policy. (Constitution Article 41.3.1) Both, the church and the state with its constitution supported and promoted the patriarchal family image. The head of the family and main provider was considered to be the father or husband and his dependants were wife and children. “Their rights, in the context of social provisions, were derived by virtue of their relationship to him.[11]

This family model is generally called the “male breadwinner” model.

An employment ban on married women was introduced in 1929, which shows how this sort of family model was promoted. Women were meant to take care of the home and children, which in article 41. 2. 1° was honoured as giving “ to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”.

The 1950s in Ireland were a time of economic stagnation, mass emigration and high unemployment. Emigration was always a big issue in Ireland, especially that of young people until recent times. In terms of Social Policy the family was still treated as a basic unit of social welfare and children were not the focus of the legislation at all. This continued throughout the 1960s.

There was a huge need for change as working and education conditions were poor and one fifth of the population depended on Social Welfare payments. The biggest change occurred in the area of education, after a government report produced evidence of devastating failures of the system. In 1967 a system of free secondary education, which was inaccessible for most of the pupils up to that time due to fees, was introduced. Towards the end of the 60s Ireland was also influenced by international political events, liberalisation movements and education related protests, which had a big impact on ideas and concepts of social policy here.[12]

Irish families were subject to remarkable transformations due to the increasing industrialization process and family members joining its workforce. The image of the “male breadwinner” family model only began to change then. Further to this the state got more involved in family policy legislation and provision and instituted changes in Social and Family policy.

Ireland’s entry into the EU (or then E uropean E conomic C ommunity) was an important landmark in the development of social policy in 1973. The 70s brought important changes to family policy. For example the removal of the employment ban for married women in 1972 when marriage rates were at its peak. Furthermore, the Deserted Wives Benefit (1973) was introduced as well as several other benefits for women and the abolishment of the ban on contraceptives. These and other changes made the 1970s an important decade for women, which influenced their lifestyle choices and enhanced their opportunities. Further to this the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act (1972) was introduced as well as a supplementary Welfare Allowance in 1975, the Employment Equality Act 1977 and the Health Act of 1979 which legalized family planning services.[13] The new direction social policy took emphasized equality.

The Health Act, 1970 was also enacted during that period. The most important change it brought was the establishment of eight regional Health Boards for the administration of the health services in the State. The Boards were responsible for all health matters, community care programmes as well as the provision of social services, which include child protection services.

Pressure Groups criticized the lack of one overall authority at a national level to co-ordinate and take responsibility for childcare policies. In 2005 there was a move away from those individual Health boards. The HSE (Health Service Executive) as one overall directing body was introduced and is now responsible for Ireland’s health and social care needs. The HSE is divided into three service delivery units, which are Population Health, Community and Continuing Care (PCCC) that also includes health and personal social services in the community and other settings as well as the National Hospitals Office (NHO). Their services are organised through the four administrative areas: HSE West, - South, - Dublin North East and - Dublin Mid Leinster. All these again are subdivided into 32 Local Health Offices (LHOs) that deliver the services.

Debates around equality and sexual morality, especially abortion and divorce were ongoing throughout the 80s. But it wasn’t until the 90s that Social Policy in the context of family and child policies gained an important significance in Irish politics. Ireland faced several new challenges in that decade such as issues of asylum seekers, spread of drug use, overcrowding of prisons with ill, addicted young prisoners. Policies for dealing with these target groups were clearly urgently needed. Divorce became legal as well, which raised new tasks and problems.

In terms of the needs of families, the state’s concern resulted in the establishment of the “Commission on the Family” in 1996. Its task was to review existing provision and to make new recommendations on how policy can help to strengthen families. History of Family Policy actually started in 1997 only, when it became officially represented by restructuring the “Social Department” into a new “Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs”. It was changed again in 2002 into the “Department of Social & Family Affairs”. [14]

2.2 Relevant Acts and Policies

A landmark regarding child policies was the enactment of the Child Care Act in 1991, which focuses on the child and the promotion of the child’s welfare. This act revolutionized the area of child care as well as health and social professions in child and family services. It is the legislative basis for dealing with children in need of care and protection and therefore will later be focused on more closely.

Its predecessor, the Children Act 1908, related more to judicial matters. It provided legislation to protect children against offences and to provide for children who had committed offences. Child Protection between 1909 until 1969 was mainly in the hands of voluntary agencies, which provided residential facilities in form of Industrial and Reformatory schools. Still there was a large imbalance between the rights of children and the rights of parents with the power in favour of the latter.

There were two important pieces of legislation released during that time namely the Adoption Act 1952 and the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. The first one enabled the state to intervene directly into family relations and therefore was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. The latter was important as it considered the welfare of the child as paramount in any decisions made about the child itself.

Within the same period Social Work and Social Sciences became training courses, available in Irish colleges.[15]

In the early 70s there was a growing international awareness of non-accidental injuries to children, which had an impact on the Irish child protection system as well. In 1975 a committee was set up by the Department of Health that reported on this topic.

In 1987 the Child Abuse Guidelines for the first time defined abuse as “consisting of physical injuries, severe neglect and sexual or emotional abuse”. Responsibilities of professionals working in child protection were also clarified such as issues of mandatory reporting and limits of confidentiality. [16]

These events among others raised awareness of the abuse of children and led to children having rights through the passing of the above mentioned Child Care Act 1991. This legislation was deemed to “up-date the law in relation to the care of children, particularly children who have been assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused or who are at risk.” (Child Care Bill, 1988, P.1) In its third article it placed a statutory duty on health boards, now the HSE, “to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection.” It furthermore strengthened the HSE’s powers to provide child care and family support services. Under section 1 of the Act a child is a person under the age of 18; up to this age a child can be placed into care.

Another immensely important piece of policy in this area was the publication of “Children First: National guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children”. These guidelines are meant to “assist people in identifying and reporting child abuse and to improve professional practice in both statutory and voluntary agencies and organisation that provide services for children and families.” [17]

Embodying the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990 the Children First guidelines value the welfare of the child as of paramount importance as does the Child Care Act. The children’s and families’ needs have to be the core of child-care and protection activities and a partnership approach must inform the delivery of services. Voluntary agencies are given the responsibility to develop effective procedures for the reporting and management of child protection issues and the selection of their staff and volunteers. As other objectives it names the following:

1. A balance must be struck between protecting children and respecting the rights and needs of parents and families, but where there is a conflict, the child’s welfare must come first.
2. Children have a right to be heard and taken seriously. Taking into account their age and understanding, they should be consulted and involved in all matters and decisions which may affect their lives
3. For the promotion of the child’s welfare early intervention and support for families must be provided with the child being seen in a family setting rather that in isolation.
4. Parents have a right to respect and should be consulted and involved in matters concerning their child
5. Consolidation of inter-agency co-operation based on clarity of responsibility, co-ordination of information, and partnership arrangements between disciplines and agencies
6. Society has a duty of care to children and that individuals must primarily be responsible for reporting concerns or suspicions of child abuse. 18

In order to put the objectives into place Implementation-, Training-, Information- and Advice Officers were appointed as well as additional Social Work and administrative staff.

The Social Services Inspectorate (SSI), established in 1999, was asked to monitor the implementation of the guidelines and inspect social services in Ireland. It is administered by the Department of Health and Children (DoH&C) but will be established on a statutory basis.

1 Department of Health and Children, 1999, p.5
2 Department of Health and Children, 1999, p.6f

The “Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, 1998” was put into place to protect from civil liability any person who has reported child abuse in good faith. 19


[1] Barabas, F. K.; Erler, Michael. 2002.

[2] Daly, 2004, p.25

[3] (downloaded on the 12.04.2007)

[4] Aldous and Dumon, 1990, p.1370

[5] Strohmeier, Klaus Peter. 2003.

[6] Kaufmann, Franz-X. 2003. Familienpolitik.

[7] Woog, Astrid. 2006. p. 204

[8] available at: (downloaded on the 12.04.2007)

[9] Subsidiarity is the principle which states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. The word is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching. This principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate- sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. Available at:, 24.02.2007.

[10] Kiely, G. [], 1999, p. 361

[11] Kiely, G. [] ed., 1999, p.360

[12] Kiely, G. [] ed., 1999, p.360

[13] Kiely, G. [] ed., 1999, p.362

[14] Kiely, G. [] ed., 1999, p.363

[15] Quin, S. [], 2004, p.161

[16] Quin, S. [], 2004, p.163

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The major policy influences on child and family services in Germany and Ireland. Comparison and contrast
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