How volunteers support refugee families’ access to childcare in Germany: ‘Sometimes I ask myself, am I supporting a flawed system?

Siede MunchAnna Siede and Sybille Münch

The integration of migrants and refugees is often proclaimed to be a ‘two-way process’, leading not just to a transformation of the newcomers but the whole society. This requires efforts from both the state as well as civil society, ideally in co-operation. That’s how many policy documents in Germany phrase it. And indeed, since 2015 and now with the current arrival of Ukrainian refugees, we see unprecedented levels of civic engagement. So, where do we stand with regard to these new forms of interaction between state and society that are called “co-production”?

In our recent article, we zoom into the views of volunteers who supported refugee families in gaining access to childcare. Their accounts show an ambivalent picture, captured within three types of experiences in the context of co-production. First, the volunteers shared situations in which they felt they collaborated with state actors based on complementary abilities, pursuing the common aim of facilitating refugee families’ access to childcare. However, volunteers regard some of the rules of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) system, as well as the behaviour of officials in authorities, as obstructing inclusion. For example, as childcare registration and communication with authorities depends heavily on knowing German and authorities do not provide proactive assistance, refugee families are often dependent on volunteers. This led to volunteers contesting exclusion by defending the interests of refugees against individual street-level bureaucrats or by engaging in advocacy. Finally, some volunteers regarded some of their activities as falling within the responsibility of the state, leading to the question of whether volunteers are replacing public services. As a result, their activities feel imposed in this context, leading to a high degree of frustration and self-doubt.

What can we take from this for the implementation of integration policy? Our article shows that volunteers play a significant role in facilitating the integration of refugees, including by complementing public support offers, but also by contesting and challenging them. The aim should be to make use of this potential, but at the same time protect volunteers from overburdening. This makes it important not only to coordinate and support volunteers, but also to facilitate open communication. Regional or local networking events are a useful tool for collecting feedback on challenges by various actors. Ideally, these should be moderated by external actors to balance potential conflict between different local stakeholders. For example, regional refugee councils facilitate events that bring together various professional stakeholders and volunteers.

Finally, our article shows that authorities and day-care centres don’t always act according to the proclaimed policy aims and sometimes favour exclusion rather than inclusion. Governments should ascertain the readiness of authorities and educational institutions to act inclusively for diverse families. They should, in particular, support a common understanding of integration, coach staff to understand the needs of different groups and ensure that there are means to accommodate the needs of families who do not speak German fluently and are not familiar with complicated application procedures. This can involve making intercultural training a necessity, providing interpretation services, including via video, as well as ensuring staff have space to respond to individual families’ needs, for example by taking more time for explanation and support.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics

Siede, Anna, Münch, Sybille (2022) An interpretive perspective on co-production in supporting refugee families’ access to childcare in Germany Policy and Politics DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16427784089756

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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