Residential care, Germany

The German economy is among the biggest in the world. The national unemployment rate stands at around five per cent, but there are significant variations between different areas, with jobless figures higher in eastern Germany.

Around 14 per cent of the population lives below the relative poverty line, set at 60 per cent of the median income. The poverty rate has increased in recent years, and although this is linked to the rise in unemployment, the number of working poor has also grown.

There are around 13.1 million children living in Germany. It is estimated that 16 per cent of children are living in homes that earn less than 50 per cent of the median income. Children who live in single-parent households are most affected.

About one quarter of young people between the ages of 19 and 25 live below the poverty line, a group that has experienced the biggest increase in poverty in the past decade.


Figures from Destatis, the German national statistics agency, show that 77,645 children and young people were in state care in 2015/16. Of those, 53,300 children were placed in residential care or in another form of supported housing by youth welfare offices, this is 20 per cent up on the previous year and double the level in 2014.

Youth welfare offices in Germany carried out approximately 136,900 procedures to assess child endangerment in 2016. This was an increase of 5.7 per cent on the previous year.

Preliminary preventive measures rose from 48,000 in 2014/15 to 77,600 in 2015/16.

In the last three years, Germany has seen a large rise in the number of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, many of these being children. Figures from Eurostat show that in 2015 there were 22,255 asylum applications in Germany by unaccompanied children. This was 23 per cent of the 96,465 applications made by unaccompanied children across the 28 European Union countries, and more than six times the number made in the UK.

According to Destatis, 89 per cent of asylum claims made in Germany by children and young people were successful in 2016.


Residential child care is almost entirely run by independent, not-for-profit social care organisations, with providers typically offering a wide range of services from social worker and family support, to foster care and children's homes.

Unlike in the UK where residential care is often said to be a last resort for looked-after children, in Germany it is seen as being a transformative opportunity for children and in some cases families. Nearly 70 per cent of looked-after children live in some form of residential care or supported housing.

It is rare for a children's home to have fewer than six children, and the numbers are usually much higher than that.

Germany uses a social pedagogy approach, with social pedagogy and social work treated as one discipline.

Many children's homes employ social pedagogues, who are independent of the state. Typically, a social pedagogue working in a children's home will earn between £30,000 and £45,000 depending on experience.

They cover much of the work that social workers, teachers, and residential care workers do in the UK.


Kompass is an independent, not-for profit, organisation active in many areas of social work ranging from children's homes to counselling and family support.

Kompass works in close co-operation with the governing authorities of Nordfriesland; while the authority maintains democratic accountability, most of the social services that support children and families are outsourced to Kompass.

Kompass runs HüTN, a home in the town of Brunsbüttel in northern Germany. It supports nine children in a standard setting and a family of four (two adults, two children) in its Family Support Unit on the same site. Six members of staff support residents.

HüTN's long-term aim is for children to return to the family home as soon as possible, so social pedagogues from Kompass also work with their families. Length of stay is usually six months to a year for children, and three to six months for families.

The children live in apartments and are split into two groups, one of younger children (aged under 14) and another of older children.

The younger children are looked after in much the same way as they would in typical children's homes and the older children live in apartments and are more self-sufficient, with light-touch support from social pedagogues. This fulfils one of the pedagogues' key roles to prepare young people for independence.

In the Family Support Unit, families in crisis move into HüTN temporarily. The children reside with the other children in the home while the adults live in a separate part of the same building.

Pedagogues support the family with childcare, while at the same time modelling good parental behaviours and practices and support the adults in developing these skills.


A key role for pedagogues is to provide learning support for the children; one pedagogue at HüTN starts work at 5.00am and drives for an hour to take a young person to school.

Most of the children at HüTN are from the local area, so the social pedagogues ensure that, wherever possible, the children attend the schools that they were attending prior to entering the home as they see consistency as being important.

All children at HüTN, Brunsbüttel are in some form of education. Some of the children in the home are unable to participate in mainstream academic education, however the German system allows children to participate in vocational education from the age of 14 so several attend a technical college.


About 86 per cent of looked-after children attend a mainstream school and 95 per cent go on to vocational education.

Crime committed by looked-after children in Germany runs at five per cent of the rate committed by those in care in the UK.

Success in Kompass's work is measured by how families become independent of their support.


  • More than two-thirds of looked-after children in Germany live in residential care homes
  • The number of children in residential care rose by around 20 per cent between 2014 and 2016, with the rise in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children a likely factor
  • Most homes are run by not-for-profit organisations and are staffed by independent social pedagogues, who have the same professional standing as social workers
  • A key role of pedagogues is to support younger children to return to families and prepare those who are not able to return for independence
  • Most children in residential care attend their local school, while many go on to vocational training
  • Employment rates of German care leavers are higher, and crime rates significantly lower, than in the UK


By Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, director, Lighthouse

The case for change in residential care in the UK is clear, and the German system sets out a road map for how we can significantly improve the outcomes for children in residential care.

Research by the Thomas Coram Institute for the study of Social Pedagogy - at University College London's Institute of Education - identifies a number of factors that are key to the positive outcomes in the German system; these can be summarised as people, place and pedagogy.

Staff training in Germany is of a much higher standard and most of those working in German children's homes are graduates. Staff turnover is low - eight per cent compared with 27 per cent in the UK. We would do well to investigate how we can encourage more graduates to work in the sector and what can be done to encourage them to stay once they are there.

Our children's home sector is largely privatised, with 70 per cent of them run for profit; placements are expensive, costing around £180,000 per child per year. German homes are largely run by charitable organisations without a profit motive. They also generally feel more like a home and less institutional.

On average, placements are much more stable than in the UK, where 83 per cent of placements last less than a year.

Like several countries in western European countries, social pedagogy provides a methodological framework for practice.

Pedagogy pilots in the UK have proved promising, however we are long way from implementing it as an overarching theory of practice across the residential care sector. Increased rigour in the work done in children's homes is what's needed to attract and retain great people.

Our organisation, Lighthouse, is building the first children's home in the UK based on the German model. By doing so, we hope to radically change the outcomes for children growing up in residential care.


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