»Brückensteine Careleaver« is a project born in Germany in 2019. We talk about it with Lotte Barthelmes, communications and public relations manager.

1) How and when was your initiative founded?

Our initiative »Brückensteine Careleaver« came to life in April 2019. We are a nationwide association of various organisations working together to improve the situation of care leavers and to achieve a collective, positive impact in the field of Leaving Care through our projects. »Brückensteine Careleaver« was initiated and is mainly funded by the Swiss DROSOS Foundation – other funders include the Robert Bosch Stiftung as well as the region Kyffhäuserkreis in Thuringia. It is coordinated by Social Impact gGmbH: there is a separate team ensuring the cooperation of everyone in the initiative and supporting partners individually. The method of »joint action« is based on recognising that complex social challenges cannot be solved by individuals but require cross-sectoral cooperation between many organisations acting closely and in a coordinated manner. In this way, individual strengths are bundled: the projects of our Brückenstein partners have different focuses. The result is a comprehensive approach in which each partner can contribute their own strengths and learn from others. »Brückensteine Careleaver« is one of the first Collective Impact initiatives in Germany that is nationwide in scope and thus works on a supra-regional level.

2) What are your main projects and activities?

Together with our Brückenstein partners we test and develop different, coordinated approaches and offers. With the help of our projects, care leavers receive concrete support on – for example – finding accommodation, dealing with authorities or how to obtain (health) insurance. They can catch up on or continue educational qualifications, gain experience abroad and actively participates in social processes such as politics or interest groups. Furthermore we support professionals who work with care leavers and are committed to ensuring that the concerns of care leavers are taken into account structurally. As a »Collective Impact« initiative we also have overarching projects – such as a seminar series – in which all Brückensteine partners are involved. New and upcoming projects include the »Toolbox Leaving Care« as well as a Fellowship programme for care leavers and »Cariboo«, a digital platform providing care leavers with answers and tools through a peer-to-peer method. These projects are being developed as pilot models throughout Germany. Welfare organizations, professionals, young people living in residential youth care and careleavers are involved in all of them from the beginning as experts in their own cause.

3) How would you describe the leaving care practices/policies in your country? Do you feel like they could be improved? How?

The challenges care leavers have to face in Germany are manifold. In 2019 there were 227.000 placements in Germany of children and adolescents in homes or foster families. This is probably the most intensive welfare intervention in the lives of young people. The majority have to move out at the age of 18 and are completely on their own without any family support. On average, young people in Germany only start their job training at the age of 19.9 and leave their parents’ home at 23.7. 86% of students receive financial support from their parents. In order to make the transition into adult life, young people depend on considerable social, family and material support. For care leavers, this transition usually involves a very hard cut with the end of youth welfare. The end comes early – at the age of 18 – and has a different meaning for them than for their peers: while most people still receive some form of support from their parents after they have moved out – even if it is only through a sympathetic ear – care leavers have to manage everything on their own. In Germany, young people in foster families or youth welfare institutions have to hand over up to 75% of their income to the Youth Welfare Office as so-called cost-raising. This is unprecedented unequal treatment compared to their peers. Cost-raising has a demotivating and disparaging effect. It also means that care leavers are unable to build up reserves for once they leave care. 75% – This corresponds to 600 euros for a training salary of 800 euros or 300 euros for a 400-euro student job – money that care leavers could well use for a driving licence or the first apartment. Once a foster child has left the youth welfare system at the age of 18 – even if they would like to complete an educational qualification – it is almost impossible to return. Care leavers do not appear categorically in German education statistics. Experts assume similar figures to those in UK, where 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in school, training or employment (compared to 14% of their peers). Only 7% attend universities to study.

4) How can we keep in touch and support your organization?

In general, we’re very interested to shed some light on international projects and other countries’ work in the field of leaving care in order to strengthen the care leaver community and learn from each other. In this regard it would be great to stay in touch with you and introduce your work to our community, for example through an interview with your organisation that we can implement on our website in the „Stories“ section. Your offer to give »Brückensteine Careleaver« some space on your website is greatly appreciated. Please don’t hesitate to contact us any time if you’ve got any more questions for us or share an interest to work on further possibilities.