Child walks along a pavement
Point of view

Impulses For A Change Of Thinking

Child and youth welfare services must remain capable of acting, ensure child protection as their primary duty and properly integrate future duties in terms of quality and quality. To do so, sufficient professionals are urgently required.

It has been evident for several years that the municipalities have been struggling to find professionals in many places and that an increasingly large gap is opening up between the growing need for workers and the supply of workers. Public and independent providers of child and youth welfare as well as professional associations are expressing concern that they cannot (can no longer) adequately perform the current (basic) duties, e.g., in child protection, or maintain other residential services or facilities. Furthermore, when the German child and youth welfare law (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz, KJSG) comes into force in 2021, new additional duties in various areas of action are to be implemented immediately. Additional challenges are cause for increasing concern for the sector, e.g., the provision for children and youth with disabilities in the German Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch, SGB VIII), the increasing immigration of unaccompanied foreign minors and the planned introduction of a right to all-day childcare. With the current number of available professionals, these duties are only just being managed – both in terms of quantity and quality.

Although the number of professionals in the social sector has doubled since 2006, there are still not enough of them to cover the need. The causes include increasing staffing requirements, for example as a result of the demand for all-day care at schools and improvements in the quality of childcare. To make it more difficult the forecasts are in part not very reliable: although the numerical data regarding employment situation in the kindergarten sector is good, it is a different story for the residential support sector, social services of the youth welfare offices (Allgemeiner Sozialer Dienst, ASD) in general, and also in regard to professionals in training. There is no reliable Germany-wide data that makes it possible to produce forecasts, and with them a well-founded calculation of human resources. The problem is additionally exacerbated by the accelerated generational shift.

How can you successfully attract skilled workers?

Improvements on several levels are required. Effective strategies and measures for attracting professionals in child and youth welfare are needed. In this regard there is a consensus between the German national, federal state and municipal governments. It is a question of continuing to reliably manage the specialist demands in terms of quality, and of generally making careers in education/social pedagogy more attractive. To do so, on the German government and federal state level it is primarily legal framework conditions that must be changed. And in the municipalities, it is primarily a question of reacting flexibly to the situation. In this regard, there have already been good practical experiences, creative and pragmatic proposals, innovative approaches and specialised policy demands.

Difu supports this professional discourse. The municipalities and Difu have repeatedly notified the German federal government of the limiting framework conditions and the main reasons for all the problems surrounding the shortage of professionals: the professional workers requirement, different lists of professionals in the federal states, the collective bargaining law, training curricula and too few study places. Since the demand for professionals has exceeded the capacity of the training institutes for several years, the capacity should be increased in general, but above all for dual study courses. Procedures for the recognition of foreign qualifications must be sped up and involve less bureaucracy.

Initiatives and programmes on a national level to attract professionals are a step in the right direction, however, these activities have not been consolidated. There was a good response to the national programme "Fachkräfteoffensive" (skilled workers drive) (2019-2022) by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ). It focussed among other things on practice-incorporating and paid training for care workers. Such support programmes should be continued and made more flexible with the required qualification of the employees in mind. Successful modules from this programme, e.g., reissuing the practice-incorporating and paid training for care workers, would be an important tool to attract professionals. The training to become a care worker should also be restructured according to the 2021 joint statement by the German trade union ver.di and the municipalities’ umbrella organisations. The core points are remuneration during training and more comprehensive practical guidance during training.

Performance-focussed payment as the basis

The municipalities regard the collective bargaining law as the largest hurdle to jump in order to flexibly deal with the shortage of professionals, despite the options of a “broader” interpretation of the classification foundations. With regard to the increasing diversity of different professionals in inclusive child and youth welfare services, it should be considered whether the actual work rather than qualifications should be the basis for payment. In practice, there are already independent providers that are successfully implementing this model. It is only in this way that suitable “lateral entrants” can be deployed to help overcome the shortage of professionals. More and financed post-qualification concepts for social work and professional development could also help.

In general it is necessary to undertake changes upon whose basis the required (professional) workers can be paid according to their work. This is a demand on the legislator and the collective agreement partners and is also seen as an important step towards the societal recognition and appreciation of the relevance of social work. Discussions regarding the payment of workers in social jobs have clearly increased over the past three years, above all in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Considerations about having to make this professional sector more attractive, e.g., with more attractive contracts, also apply to professionals in child and youth welfare services.

The professional workers requirement

The professional workers requirement is another overriding framework condition that the municipalities have to deal with when trying to cover their staffing requirements. In the legal interpretation, it is only applicable for public youth welfare services. For private providers there is no mandatory professional workers requirement either in regard to the operating licence law or contract law. There is no definition in law regarding what a “professional worker” is; therefore there are no federal law guidelines in this regard. As a result, room for manoeuvre for the municipalities opens up so they can widen the field of suitable prospective employees beyond the “usual” professionals in social work and social pedagogy. A high professional standard is important. However, in the current crisis it should above all be a question of defining which skills are needed in what institutions, without lowering standards or simultaneously insisting on “professional standard” on principle. It is about job profiles that are less formal and more content based, and working in a multi-profession team. Section 72 German social code (SGB VIII), which names personal suitability, professional qualification, further training and practical experience as requirements for social work, can also be deployed. The “personal suitability” (regardless of qualification) should be considered much more as a criteria for filling a position.

Regardless of how the German government and federal state levels deal with the demands, many municipalities are already pursuing ways to quickly and flexibly deal with the pressing problem within the existing framework conditions. These methods include their own training of professionals, which has been shown to have a binding effect. Permanent job advertisements, municipal further and advanced training opportunities for social professions as well as flexible working hours models are also part of the municipalities’ portfolio of offers as an employer. These efforts should be expanded and experience of them should be shared. Difu is making a contribution in this regard.

Nevertheless, the demand for changed framework conditions still very much remains so that the municipal situation is not forced to become a permanent “makeshift”. Our children and young people truly do not deserve this!