Two systems, one goal: to protect children from harm

German social workers Martha Achatz and Anja Hess, now based in Norfolk, explain what the UK and Germany might learn from each other

About two and a half years ago we accepted the challenge of working as social workers in a front-line child protection team at Norfolk Council. We are both German and graduated from universities in Germany with a diploma in social work.

Although the German “Kinder- und Jugendhilfe Gesetz 1990” (Children and Young People Support Act) follows the model of the Children Act 1989 we found that the structures of the two systems are quite different from each other.

Initially, it was difficult for us to adapt to the English system but with time we could see advantages as well as disadvantages in both systems.

In Germany children’s services departments are decentralised and cover small areas. It is a legal requirement that if services can be provided by welfare organisations or registered charities the local authority needs to entrust these organisation or charities with providing the required service while keeping responsibility for child protection. There is a high emphasis on preventative work.


This is also evident in the flexibility of services – if a child or family requires a service that is not addressed by existing services, the local authority is required to create an appropriate, case specific service. This results in the local provision of low key and low threshold services as well as highly intensive and long-term support, where a child’s welfare may be at risk. Any service to children and families is provided by qualified workers.

However, there is no legal framework that ensures and regulates the co-operation and information sharing between agencies which is a clear disadvantage of the German system.

Several deaths of children in Germany in the recent past have resulted in a debate about how to improve the protection of children and prevention of child deaths.

In England social workers are skilled to assess needs and risks and the Common Assessment Framework is an excellent tool to ensure needs and risks are analysed in a structured and detailed way and in co-operation with other agencies, such as health and education.

Multi-agency work

The strong emphasis on multi-agency work in England has impressed us. Children, parents, extended family and agencies involved have a greater chance to voice their views and can actively participate in the care planning.

It is impressive how many different services and charities have specialised in offering help and support to children and families with various social problems. Such specialisation comes to its limits where families are facing multiple problems or live in rural areas that are not covered by a large variety of services. A rural county the size of Norfolk can face difficulties in providing services evenly in each locality.

When it comes to providing low key and long-term services that reduce risks and promote parenting skills and the well-being of children within their birth families, the German system can offer more flexible services with regard to type and duration of the intervention.

There is a lot to learn from each other and it is good to see that Norfolk Council makes efforts to look across the channel to gather ideas that may help to increase the provision of preventative services in Norfolk.

Martha Achatz and Anja Hess are social workers at Norfolk Council working in child protection

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