Private Residents: Family Substitutes

The demand for guardians of refugee minors has risen drastically in Germany since the summer of 2015. According to estimates of the Federal Statistical Office, more than one million people fled to Germany in 2015 alone. Sevil Dietzel, a guardianship appointee who works with the German Child Protective Services Agency of Hamburg, is aware of the fact that among them are also unaccompanied, underage refugees (UUR). But guardianship caseworkers are currently inundated.

Guardianship – Appointed by the State

Every unaccompanied, underage refugee is given a guardian who is made available to them by child protective services. Guardians are considered legal substitutes and are responsible for maintaining direct contact with their wards. “Guardianship can't be carried out from a desk”, says Dietzel.

But this has become increasingly difficult to do, because growing demands are faced with low capacity. The current legal ratio is set at 50 wards for every guardian – a high number, which is exceeded in some cases in many parts of Germany. In Hamburg, according to Dietzel’s estimates, an average of 70 wards are accompanied by one guardian. For most matters, young refugees are largely able to depend on the social workers in their shelters and homes. Like Majd, for example, who relies on “Baba Willi” – a social worker in his residential group in Bielefeld.

The Alternative: Voluntary Guardianship

Another option is private guardianship. Across Germany there are associations and organisations that train volunteers to be guardians. They serve as role models and persons of contact in all areas of life. While guardian officials are associated with government officials, wards see private guardians as independent and partisan in a positive way, which allows for emotional bonds, says Dietzel. Particularly significant is that, between school and work life, inclusion into the private spheres of such guardians’ can contribute significantly to wards’ integration into German society.

Private guardians take on a huge responsibility that presents its own challenges. They function as legal substitutes and support their wards in the asylum and immigration processes, for which they are trained by qualified employees. This aside, they are also the point of contact for personal worries and problems. Careful treatment and a high sensibility toward stressed and at times traumatised refugees are very important. “It’s important to reiterate the existing offer of a relationship”, says Dietzel, pointing to the fact that the growth of the relationship between ward and guardian does not always run smoothly.

From a legal standpoint, private guardianships are preferred to official guardianships. There is definitely an interest and willingness among the people of Hamburg, says Dietzel. According to their estimates, roughly one fourth of all unaccompanied, underage refugees in Hamburg could be provided with private guardians. But to satisfy the citizens’ interested in becoming involved is difficult – there are too few positions for people who would be responsible for educating and advising private guardians.

You can read more about the issues behind the guardianship debate in the e-magazine.

Judith Köhler
25 years old, Wismar
. . . has mad respect for all people who serve as volunteers.