Altogether 18 experts from six different organizations based in six EU countries attended the first meeting of the strategic European partnership "Inclusive family education and support in the light of EU2020". Unfortunately the North Rhine-Westphalian ministry for labor and social issues was unable to delegate a representative to attend the first meeting, which was held in the city of Linz/Austria from December 18 to 20, 2017 and hosted by Caritas Oberösterreich. Attendees had traveled to the venue already on December 17, which gave us an opportunity to get to know each other at the dinner table. We had previously agreed on English as conference and working language.
The workshop started on Monday with a welcome address by the director of Caritas für Menschen mit Behinderung (Caritas for handicapped persons) Dr. Gertraud Assmann and Herbert Schustereder, who is responsible for our project on behalf of Caritas Oberösterreich. Both speakers informed the attendees about the city of Linz, the Upper Austrian region as well as the work provided by the local Caritas organization. Thereafter, Andreas Sellner, coordinator of the Erasmus+ project at the diocesan Caritas association for the Bishopric of Cologne, explained the development and status of the project, the subject-specific contents and the objectives. He particularly pointed out that several attendees in the group have known each other for many years of joint European activities and that networking between these had remained in effect also over and beyond the conclusion of individual projects. This is in effect a statement of sustainability and the additional European benefit of individual sponsoring.
In the scope of participant introduction, all project members had the opportunity to briefly familiarize us with their particular professional tasks before Ulrich Förster gave a more extensive overview of Erasmus+ in order to explain the overall program and the European context.
Next, all attending organizations under due consideration of the theme of our strategic partnership had the opportunity to describe the social situation of families in their countries as well as educational work with disadvantaged families. The purpose of these presentations was to communicate to all attendees an overview of the differing conditions per country in context with family education.
In the afternoon, the focus was primarily on the objectives of the strategic partnership, the general administrative settings and concurrent understanding of the respective assignments and tasks. One of the agreements reached was that the partner organizations within their organization and their environment will develop and test family forums as new form of family education to learn if this new approach is robust for future application and which on-site conditions must have been fulfilled. The planned project website will be designed by the partners of Caritas Oberösterreich in cooperation with Caritas Alba Iulia and Caritas Trieste. The expectations of the individuals on cooperation in the European partnerships were determined with the help of a standardized questionnaire.
On Tuesday, the workshop started with a review of the past day and a look ahead at the coming day. The first lecturer Dr. Caroline Berghammer of the Universität Wien presented the situation of families in Europe from a scientific perspective. In her interesting lecture, she had a detailed look at demographic developments, the changes in family structures and the social and economic situation of families in the diverse countries of the EU. In that context, she illustrated the development also with a view on the EU's Europe2020 Strategy. She went into great detail about the situation of socially disadvantaged families, the effects of unemployment on family situations and on educational opportunities of children.
Following the lecture by Caroline Berghammer, five case officers of Caritas Oberösterreich presented their work in context with family counseling and education. In terms of content, their focus was on actually available programs and aid for families with small children and youths, for families with disabled children or with infants and small children ("Frühe Hilfen/help at an early stage") as well as family-support services in case parents fall ill. In addition, meeting attendees learned about which financial aids and support programs are available from public agencies and which legal entitlements are in effect in Austria.
In the afternoon, the group visited two institutions run by Caritas Oberösterreich to learn more from the qualified staff there about Good Practice in actual application. The group first had lunch in an occupational and training project with chronic adolescent truants and disadvantaged youths without any vocational training options. In the St. Isidor project, young persons are qualified for jobs in restaurants and the catering industry.
This was followed by a visit to the "Kinder- und Jugendkompetenzzentrums KIJUK", where we interviewed the counselors and therapists. The KIJUK is a counseling center for parents with children suffering from psychosocial problems and/or displaying behavioral disorders. It focuses at one site a variety of medical, therapeutical, and pedagogical services as well as further counseling and support programs for the entire family. In particular the work with parents and families attracted wide interest, as it might serve as a model for family support and aid programs in other EU countries.
The subsequent visit to the HAMUK project, an institution for mothers and children, impressively demonstrated the counseling and educational work with single mothers in very precarious situations. The Haus für Mutter und Kind in Linz helps pregnant women and women with their children to restructure their life after divorce or in a loss and/or crisis situation. The women are given comfort and shelter, receive support to clarify legal issues, have access to debt advice services and are advised in dealing with public authorities. Social workers support them with finding employment and an apartment and if so required will be on hand also after they leave the institution. In cooperation with the counselors. the women develop new perspectives and plan their steps to an independent and self-determined life. The counselors help them grow a positive mother-child relationship and aid them with parenting and baby care. This project, too, was an excellent best-practice example for low-threshold family education and counseling.
The program for the third day started with a review of the lectures and project visits before the group went into detailed planning of the transnational workshop. The schedule for the workshops was fixed up to the end of the project term; agreement on the workshop's content focus was reached. The contents of the workshops were confirmed as outlined in the project application. The dates for the workshops in 2018 in Romania and the UK were switched against each other.
In closing, the small national groups, with support by the coordinators, determined how the planned family forums can be established and developed in the partner countries, which conditions need to be fulfilled and which partners are required on-site for collaboration and support.
All lectures and group-work findings and results were put down in writing and will be sent to all workshop attendees by Coordination. Moreover, the materials and images/pictures of the meeting will be posted to the project website.
All partner organizations were urged to communicate the meeting and its contents as appropriate within the association environment and to utilize all options for public-relations activities and dissemination as relates to project progression and results.
The meeting ended with communal lunch.
Diocesan Caritas association for the Bishopric of Cologne / January 2018
Twenty-two skilled workers from all seven partner organisations of six EU member states took part in our second conference for European, strategic partnership "Inclusive family education and support in the light of EU2020". Furthermore, a number of British consultants were there at our disposal for specialist input.
The conference took place from 11th to 12th April 2018 in the metropolitan borough Sandwell (near Birmingham) in the UK, which is made up of six larger towns, and was hosted by our partner PISCES in cooperation with the West Smethwick Children and Family Centre (WSE). Participants arrived on 10th April 2018.
The workshop began on Wednesday with a welcome speech by the director of PISCES, John White, and our project coordinator, Andreas Sellner, from Diözesan-Caritasverband Köln. Andy Jones spoke on behalf of Sandwell Metropolitan Council reacting to the situation for families in a region characterised by poverty, unemployment and multiculturalism. About one third of families in Sandwell lives in poverty and is in need of social help or support in raising children.
Work with disadvantaged families and children was presented to us by and discussed with IM WSE. The nationwide programme "Action for Children" will be implemented in Sandwell with diverse focus areas. These are, for example, proposals for early childhood education and health promotion, help preparing for school attendance, information on the public health system, proposals for parents concerning the compatibility of family and career or the promotion of empowerment and the participation of parents in the borough. Over 12,000 children have received aid as part of the programme in the last 5 years.
In the afternoon, two representatives of West Midlands Police outlined the work carried out by police authorities to prevent and fight crime. Positive relationships to parents and children have already been forged in family centres. Moreover, the police are involved in outreach work addressing juveniles and young adults, and offer them regular sports activities.
The council is also active in the area of prevention, particularly in regard to the risk of religious or political extremism. Children as young as 10 years old run the risk of being radicalised on the internet, in the family or by peer groups. They are taken on the programme and pedagogically closely accompanied with their families.
As part of an excursus on European cooperation and international network, Lothar Götz from the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs describes the activities and offers in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Furthermore, John White outlined the political situation in the UK with regards to forthcoming Brexit and the divided stand on this across societies and families. In addition to that, Steffen Menzel described his impressions as a German Erasmus student in the UK, particularly from a young person's perspective.
Tuesday was marked by various religious communities in Sandwell and their educational and counselling work with families, children and the youth. We started with a visit to the Hindu temple and community in Smethwick, followed by a communal lunch. After that, we gained an insight into the work of the Sikh community for families and visited the Gurdwara temple. In the afternoon we were guests of the Yemeni community, visited the mosque there and held discussions with experts of the Muslim community and representatives of the city council. Visitors were impressed by the great cultural and religious diversity in the small area, the parishioners' involvement with families and children as well as their efforts to foster a peaceful coexistence of very different people with very different interests.
The end of the day provided an in-depth exchange between project partners about the current status of family forums. The forums are a new kind of counselling and educational activity with families and have already given rise to very interesting experiences and developments at partners locally.
The third day focussed on further work in the project, particularly on the topics of public relations work/website and on the value of transnational collaboration for personal and professional development.
The next European workshop will take place at Caritas Alba Iulia in Romania from 15th to 17th October 2018.
The conference will end with a communal lunch.
All group work lectures and findings were set out again in writing for quality assurance and all participants of the workshop were consigned by the coordination as a follow-up. Furthermore, the materials and individual pictures from the conference will be published on the project website.
Diözesan-Caritasverband Köln/ April 2018