Das Jugendamt… A monster stalking immigrants

It’s not just a fleeting distress or pain among others shouldered by Arab immigrants who are in voluntary or compulsory exile, but it’s rather an eerie obsession that keeps them up at night and haunts their thoughts during the day.

Not a single day, not even a moment, goes by, on the numerous and varied groups of Arab immigrants on social networks, without posts shared by a father or a mother lashing out at the German Youth Office (Jugendamt) as if it were a brutal enemy whose main and sole concern is to take their children away from them. Most of them believe that there is a conspiracy from Germany to kidnap their children and raise them on religious and moral values that are totally different from their own.

Many of them opted to return to the countries they had fled, and endure the harsh economic, political, and social conditions therein, rather than living under the menace of the «Jugendamt»

People get scared and scare each other of a monster which they fear might attack them at every instant, but the reality on the ground is so much simpler than this horror.

Based on data from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (Destatis), the number of children who were placed in a childcare protection program in Germany in 2020 amounted to about 84,700, the largest group of which are minor refugees. According to government data and statistics up until 2019, the number of children, adolescents and youth placed in foster families in Germany is nearly 85,000. Statistics also show that the total number of children accommodated in foster families has slightly increased over the past 10 years, since the estimated number was about 70,000 in 2010.

These numbers are not that substantial when compared with the total number of immigrants in Germany. This is in addition to the fact that there is a considerable proportion of children who are born to German parents, out of those who are placed in foster care (out-of-home care).

Immigrants need first to know that the German Youth Office is not at war with them, and that it there to protect every child living on German soil, whether they are born to German parents or non-German parents alike. Several children of German parents have been taken away and removed from their families, mostly on the grounds that one of their parents is an addict, or because of negligence.

According to Article 1631 of the German Civil Code, « (1) The care for the person of the child includes without limitation the duty and the right to care for, bring up and supervise the child and to specify its abode.

(2) Children have a right to non-violent upbringing. Physical punishments, psychological injuries and other degrading measures are inadmissible.

(3) The family court is to support the parents, on application, in exercising care for the person of the child in suitable cases».

The Office of Social Welfare for Youth and Children is therefore entitled to intervene if the child is subjected to any severe or harmful punishment, threat, or violence. First by investigating the matter, then proposing solutions and providing psychological and parental/educational assistance and consultation to the parents, in order to contribute to the resolution of the issues experienced by the child. The Office shall also work on the rehabilitation of parents through multilingual counselors at rehabilitation centers. And if these efforts are exhausted to no avail, at the end, the child will be removed from the parents and subsequently placed temporarily in foster centers, or sent to a foster family (Pflegefamilie), either temporarily or permanently, and based on judicial rulings.

Hence, the primary goal of the German Youth Office is to preserve a child’s well-being, psychological and physical health. The Jugendamt’s removal of children doesn’t occur unless at a very advanced stage after exhausting all available and possible means and after several faltering attempts, and for eminently compelling reasons that have reasonable grounds.

So, it would be better for immigrants to get to know the reasons for which the Jugendamt decides to remove children to put an end to the fear that haunts them day and night.

Physical and psychological violence is the main and most important reason that could prompt the German Youth Office to take a child away from a family. Your children won’t be removed because you urge them to pray, but they will be if you used corporal punishment to make them pray, or if you humiliated them for not praying, or if you forced them to fast when they are not old enough and cannot bear it. And likewise, the Jugendamt won’t forbid you advising your daughter to wear the hijab (a headscarf), but it will certainly intervene if you rebuked her to make her wear it.

Most importantly, the Youth Office always intervenes in cases when the child is subjected to sexual harassment or exploitation by any of the family members.

The Jugendamt believes that a house in which a husband insults or offends his wife is unfit for children to live or be raised in, and conversely, a house in which a wife rebukes her husband is considered an unsafe environment for a child to be raised. And who would argue otherwise?!

Moreover, neglecting the child’s personal hygiene and the house’s cleanliness and sanitation conditions, and hence the child’s health, is a key reason why the Youth Office removes children and takes them away from their families for a temporary period until their parents are rehabilitated.

What, then, might instill anxiety and fear among immigrants towards such an institution whose aim is to protect children and preserve their dignity, well-being and childhood in case they are subjected to any form of abuse?

But on the other hand, there are valid reasons for the concerns of immigrants. In many cases, The Office of Social Welfare for Youth and Children intervenes in response to a complaint filed by some party, such as schools, neighbors, or the children themselves. The school may report to the Youth Office if it notices that the child is demonstrating aggressive behavior towards other classmates, or if there are signs of negligence in personal hygiene and physical appearance. Neighbors may also report to the office if they notice or suspect physical abuse practiced against the child, or constant quarrels taking place in the house where the child is. The child can also contact or report to the Jugendamt calling for help. All these possible situations put strain on many families in the immigrants’ community in Germany, especially since many malicious reports have already been filed.

Nevertheless, officials at the German Youth Office take such complaints and reports seriously. They scrutinize every case, investigate it carefully, and conduct home visits before taking any decision. They won’t order the removal of a child until they take lengthy and overly complicated procedures, which start with resolving the child’s issue and end with guaranteeing the child’s satisfaction and the family’s reassurance. They will make sure that all options and possible means are exhausted before resorting to removing a child.

Parents are no gods or divine beings who are above supervision and cannot be held accountable for their deeds, and children are not the personal property of their parents.

Immigrants in Germany have the right to fear for their children, and to bring them up according to their cultural, religious, and moral values. However, they are not allowed to punish them under the pretext of child-rearing, nor are they allowed to force them to do what they cannot stand or bear under the pretext of religiosity. Beating children or punishing or insulting them is something that is not dictated by any religion, or is not indeed compatible with any morals or culture.

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