The precarious environment is hardest hit by Corona. How did children experience this time at focus schools? A social worker tells.

How are young people at home when the schools are closed? Foto: Wolfgang Rattay/reuters

It’s vacation time and I’m free. But when a student asks for help, I can be reached on my cell phone. There are families I have to think about, for whom I hope that school will start again soon. I hope that the children are also taken care of during the holidays.

During the lockdown, we school social workers looked at: How do we reach all students? How do we make sure they’re okay? Many could not be reached at all, neither by cell phone nor by email. We are a hotspot school in Berlin and generally deal with young people who are out of school. If they see an opportunity, they dive down. For us that was about 60 students out of 600, 10 percent.

We went on a search like detectives and wrote to our best friends: did you hear anything from him? Do you have a current number? We were quite successful there. And in the case of hardship we drove by bike. These were mainly children from very large families, often from Eastern Europe. The parents were working and the big siblings had to take care of the little ones. In these families there were no digital devices, as the saying goes, there was simply nothing.

For some, even access to soap was difficult. We tried to give the children learning time at school – according to the hygiene concept – and to look after them individually. However, the demand was so great that the capacities were insufficient. We were very concerned about the lockdown. The students trust us a lot and we know that it is not always easy at home. Suddenly everyone was at home, in a confined space, with the parents’ many fears and frustrations.

A social worker from Berlin

“The students entrust us a lot, and at home it is not always easy for them in a confined space”

Three home visits a day

Most of the time we went to the youngsters in pairs, we talked to them or the parents outside. Sure, I was also afraid of catching myself. But once I had to hug a teen because she cried like that. It was not humanly possible for me to pay attention to the distance.

In weddings, we made three home visits a day over several weeks. It was rarely the case that contact was refused. In general, young people are very interested if you listen to them. They then say: Crass, I am so important to you that you come by! Many parents were in the tunnel with their own burden so that they no longer had on the screen that compulsory schooling continued. There is also a fear of asking for help. You have to remove this barrier from people.

There were young people who called because they ran away from home. We then talked to them and looked: can the conflict be clarified with a conversation, or does the child have to be accommodated elsewhere? If so, we have to cooperate with the youth welfare office for the youth emergency service, for the girls’ emergency service, to signal to the parents: Your child is safe. That worked well.

This text comes from the taz on the weekend. Always from Saturday at the kiosk, in the eKiosk or in the weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

Corona is in some cases a last drop in the overflowing barrel. For example, a youngster has parents who have been in a divorce process for months. With the lockdown, this has escalated completely. Then she asked herself: Is it my fault? Young people are lost in such situations. If the parents cannot, the children need a network to catch them.

We rediscovered Instagram in the Corona era, we set up a suggestion box there, saved emergency numbers and tried to show the students that we think of them. On Instagram we also saw what topics they deal with, for example Black Lives Matter. I am responsible for one year, that is 120 children. There are not quite as many with whom I communicate via mobile phone, but it is already 45. Sure, none of this works with regulated working hours. Emergencies are most likely to come on weekends.

My job is tough, but the lockdown phase was extra hard. My job depends on welcoming the youngsters at the school gate and seeing whether they have slept well and how they are doing. Having to guess this feedback, based on messages or feedback from teachers, is desperate. Everything may seem fine to teachers, but many young people do not open up to them.

It’s different for me because I don’t rate them. I take them the way they are: whether cool or uncool, sad or with criminal acts. And they notice that. I don’t think you can say: I want to know something about you, but I don’t reveal anything myself. It’s important for students to see, okay, it’s not just a job, it’s also a person, and it doesn’t leave me alone. It’s a fine line.

If you do a lot, you can do a lot wrong. It sometimes happens that I let a student get too close to me. Moments when I think: Okay, I’m just taking you with me now. This is nonsense, but you get caught doing it. When teenagers are taken out of their families by the police and the youth welfare office and I am there, when parents cry and scream and teenagers too – that takes me away, which is of course more than a file note that I file.

More than every fifth child in Germany, according to a calculation by the Bertelsmann Foundation, lives in poverty. That was 2.8 million children and adolescents under the age of 18, the foundation said on Wednesday. According to the study, almost every seventh child receives basic security, and the corona crisis further exacerbates child poverty.

Parents of disadvantaged children often work part-time or as mini-jobbers. They belong to the group that was the first to lose their jobs or receive little short-time allowance. The children’s aid organization calls for the introduction of a special fund from which educational programs for disadvantaged children are financed.

The milieu from which my students come was certainly the hardest hit by the corona measures. There are hardly any learning materials, often no way to retreat – like also when you live in seven on 65 square meters? There are families who do not have Internet, who have a cell phone that they share with a prepaid credit of 15 euros per month.

The Senate administration reacted to this and provided iPads that should be lent to these families, but some parents then say: I have six children jumping around, I definitely do not sign a disclaimer for a device that costs 600 euros. And: giving people the product in hand does not mean that they can handle it.

What was particularly striking during the lockdown: the different living environments. We, the educational staff, live relatively privileged. Teachers can afford their family homes in Kleinmachnow. They look at the children from their perspective and expect certain achievements. When I come to a family where I see there is no structure, no hygiene, and then I hear from a teacher: The student doesn’t smell good, can you tell him to wash? I think to myself: How should he do that? We have some students who live in homeless shelters. That means that my job is also to sensitize teachers.

Mothers in the rehab clinic

It can happen, for example, that a pupil brings a blame home because he has forgotten his sporting gear again – he simply has none and is ashamed of it. I saw young people howling in front of me and saying: I had to take my mother to the rehab clinic yesterday and I am now home alone. Of course, I see their performance in a completely different context.

The fascinating thing about young people is their resilience. Some manage to say: I know things are not going well here, but I love my parents and they love me in their own way. These young people develop strength from it and later want to do it differently for themselves.

A student, for example, has a mentally ill mother who has been hospitalized several times. The father was alone with the children and pets, a sister was already housed outside. The boy has managed to use the school as a place where he can live out. He has participated in more working groups than he should, including those that didn’t interest him.

Of course, one is not denied the way – but not everyone creates the awareness for it. This boy has one of the best degrees, and I would have liked him to go to high school, but he is doing an apprenticeship so that he has something in hand. There is also a huge sense of responsibility. The boy could go to the youth welfare office and say: I can’t take it any longer at home, I want to live somewhere else – but then maybe everything would collapse there. We underestimate that. At school there is always an appeal, get involved, but some are so committed at home that they have no strength at all. Of course, this does not appear in your CV.

I love my job

I am very curious to see how it will go when the school starts again, when the holidaymakers who have visited their family in Turkey, for example, come back. According to the Senate administration, you should quarantine two weeks before the start of school, but will everyone stick to it?

The road to normalcy will be rocky, the long-term consequences of Corona will occupy us very much. Some families are broken up, and there is also the economic situation of some parents. And where there are fears among the parents, they shift to the children. Then violence is very quickly involved. In any case, it has increased.

We have had no feedback about sexual violence that occurs most often within families. It takes time before young people talk about it, they usually only open when they are no longer dependent on their parents’ house. Knowing that some boys and girls were exposed to their tormentors is extremely stressful. And then there are passive forms of violence when children have to witness how a parent, usually the mother, is beaten or abused. This will certainly concern us in many discussions after the school opens.

I love my job, did I say that? I don’t know if I want to do that in 20 years, but as long as I have the mental strength and idealism, I stick with it and am willing to not always completely differentiate myself. And teenagers are as great as the personalities develop, that’s great every time! My year, which I accompanied from the seventh grade, graduated this year, Corona. I couldn’t hug the students when they said goodbye, that’s tragic, very terrible.