Comparative Social Work: Children Protection in England and Germany
Social work practice in relation to child protection has gone through changes in both England and Germany due to global and local processes. International social work policy and professional standards driven by the juxtaposition of neo-liberalism and social justice has become a cornerstone of national and local professional practice contexts. Practice relating to safeguarding children has developed globally through the process of political globalisation, “…connecting large scale societies together in a whole variety of ways, from …international political agreements… electronic communication technologies and more fluid migration patterns.” (Giddens, 2009:110) Policy development and implementation by Supra-National organisations such as the United Nations are often created as universal ‘blanket policies’, with the aim of promoting equality and social justice for all. For example child protection policy in both countries has been influenced by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989). However “…local policy and practice will nevertheless be influenced by national contexts and ‘mediated by country specific institutional arrangements’ – a process…describe(d) as ‘glocalization’.” (Lyons et al 2006:34) Further to this national policy development is often not constrained to its boarders and can influence policy development internationally. “Increasingly, national policies are ‘rarely purely domestic in impact’ but have international implications, either because they impact directly or because of ‘social policy emulation’.” (Healy, 2001 cited in Lyons et al,2006:28) Global communication and the availability of data and research has become instantaneous. International and professional leaders and academics are able to compare and contrast theoretical perspectives, policies and practices and adapt them to fit local contexts. Further to this economic globalisation has a profound effect on the development of domestic policy. This is often dominated by “…the neo-liberal drive for efficiency …forcing…social work into a ‘business performance mould’” (Harris cited in Ferguson et al 2005:91) with an emphasis on free markets, performance indicators and the economic rights of the individual.There is evidence of contemporary ‘social policy emulation’ between both countries, the most recent being the steady development of pedagogical approaches in social work practice and education in England and the new Federal Child Protection law (2012) in Germany. However these areas of practice have been glocalized by being “reinterpreted locally, leading to an interpenetration of the local and global scales that creates context-dependent outcomes.” (Ejderyan 2007) Context dependent variables range from national history, distribution of power and resistance, social work values, ethics and theoretical underpinnings as well as “Child Protection policy, legislation, systems, services, programs, resources (financial, human and institutional), research, education/training and information.” (Svevo- Cianci et al 2010:51)
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been ratified by both Germany and England, and has had a significant influence on legislative and practice developments in both countries. The treaty grants all children a universal set of rights setting out in detail that “…every child needs to have a safe, happy and fulfilled childhood regardless of their sex, religion, social origin, and where and to whom they were born.” (Department for Education 2013) This is formalised in 54 articles and two optional protocols, articulating that “…that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.” (unicef 2013) Further to this unicef (2013) states that the convention has four core principles which inform child safeguarding practice, these are; non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. These principles are expected to be central to policy development in all areas of intervention work with children including social care, health care, education, home life and the judiciary system etc. Commitment to Article 19 of the UNCRC is central to child protection provisions in England and Germany. This article stipulates that children have the right to “[p]rotection from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them.” (unicef United Kingdom, 2012)Research into the effectiveness of the International implementation of article 19 has been conducted by Svevo- Cianci et al (2010). This research supports the assertion that Glocalisation has an effect on Child Protection policy and practice development, highlighting a disparity in the way universal treaties are enacted within international borders. For example Svevo- Cianci (2010:49) found the UK to be one of three countries worldwide to have a high level of child protection in terms of effectiveness and established systems, whilst rating Germany as having a moderate level rating in the same categories.
The government structure and welfare models inherent in England and Germany have a profound effect on the implementation of UNCRC compliant child protection legislation and policy at a national, regional and local level. These structures also influence the effectiveness of established systems through the rate in which they are reactive to change. For example Germany is structured under a co-operative federalism model, meaning that the functions of the state are divided asymmetrically between the Bunderstag (Federal government) and Bundestrat (Regional Governments or Länder). “A predominant proportion of legislation lies with the federal state (Sec. 72ff Basic Law); however, a predominant part of the administration lies with the Länder (Sec. 83ff Basic Law)”. (Schieren, 2011:3) Political power is further devolved at the local level as “…the Länder leave a significant part of their administrative duties to… local government (Municipalities)…” (Schieren, 2011:3) Both the Bunderstag and the Bunderstrat can exercise absolute veto meaning that without a consensus enacting legislation is difficult and slow at reacting to change and crisis. This political model is enshrined in the German constitution and cannot be changed, this comes as a direct consequence of the devastating effect of the dictatorial Nazi regime (1934-1945), and aims “…to prevent another failure of representative democracy in Germany and to establish effective safeguards against dictatorship and the disregard for human rights.”(Limbach, J. n.d) Kaufman (2013:175) states that “[c]ompared to England…the powers of the central (German) government are…more strongly constrained…” This has contributed to a lack of timely progress towards national legislative changes in child protection policy and procedures. Under the Federal Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz, KJHG) “[m]unicipalities are free to organise and structure the Jugendamt (youth welfare office) how they wish, as long as they stay within the legal framework.” (Bain 2008:3103) Through a lack of comprehensive legal frameworks, there are a variety of child protection models in existence throughout the German municipalities. However this is regulated to some extent at the Länder level of government. Each Länder has at least one Landesjugendamt (Land Youth Office). Their role is to offer guidance through consultations, training and supervision. Guidance is also published by the Landesjugendamt for social workers and managers to use when planning interventions. The final level of political power and influence is held by the voluntary sector. Social care interventions are often outsourced by the municipalities to the voluntary sector who is “…given precedence in service delivery over statutory bodies.” (Schieren, 2011:3)This preference therefore provides private services with political power at a local level. This creates a disparity in the way child protection is conducted in the federal republic, including how professional collaborative practice is maintained, with each service vying for ‘clients’.