At an international online conference on 24 November entitled “Overcoming COVID-19 – jointly developing prospects for strong families”, Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Franziska Giffey, discussed the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and policy responses to it together with, among others, European Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, the EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, the Finnish State Secretary for Family Affairs and Social Services, Eila Mäkipää, and the French State Secretary for Children and Families, Adrien Taquet.
The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for families everywhere in Europe. People fear for their livelihoods. They need to find entirely new ways of organising their everyday lives and meeting work and family obligations under difficult circumstances and the known restrictions in place. It is not uncommon for parents to be pushed to or beyond their limits. Especially now, it is important that we maintain reliable structures and ensure economic stability for families. In Germany we have done so through various measures: We raised short-time work allowance (Kurzarbeitergeld) and introduced child bonus (Kinderbonus) programmes, made access to child supplement (Kinderzuschlag) payments easier and made sure that parents are not disadvantaged when receiving parental allowance (Elterngeld). This provides specific support to families.
COVID-19 assistance programmes in Germany
The Federal Minister for Family Affairs exchanged information with her European colleagues on measures that help families in these difficult times and reported, among others, on COVID-19 emergency assistance programmes for families that were initiated and implemented by Germany.
Support for children and families:
- Parents in gainful employment who need to care for their children at home due to quarantine or sickness and therefore cannot work receive compensation for loss of earnings for up to 20 weeks under the Protection Against Infection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz).
- Families have received a one-off child bonus payment of 300 euros per child – in addition to child benefit (Kindergeld).
- Families with a lower income due to COVID-19 have easier access to child supplement of up to 185 euros per month and child (up to 205 euros from January 2021 onwards).
- Parents receiving parental allowance are not put at a disadvantage in receiving the allowance due to the impact of the pandemic if they are on short-time work.
- Families are supported through the extension of the eligibility period for child sickness benefit.
- People caring for relatives due to the COVID-19 pandemic may take 20 days of leave and claim care support allowance for that period. Those caring for relatives for a longer period of time may take caregiver leave (Pflegezeit) and family caregiver leave (Familienpflegezeit).
Supporting education and care infrastructure:
- On the initiative of the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, a COVID-19-related child day care council composed of representatives from federal and state governments, associations, academia and practitioners has convened regularly since August 2020. It monitors the continuity of operations of child day care centres, assesses national developments and serves to share best practice examples.
- The Federal Government’s stimulus package “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19, securing prosperity, strengthening long-term sustainability” makes available an additional one billion euros for the years 2020 and 2021 for the development of child day care. This allows for the creation of 90,000 additional childcare places in day care centres and other child day care settings. The funds may also be spent on hygiene measures such as air filters.
- 100 million euros were made available at short notice this year to support non-profit providers of child and youth services, 75 million thereof as grants for non-for-profit facilities providing accommodation such as youth hostels. 25 million euros are intended to be paid as grants for long-term international youth exchange programmes until 31 August 2021.
Support in cases of domestic violence:
- Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Franziska Giffey, strengthened the protection and the support services for women affected by violence and vulnerable children. Among others, funding was increased for the helpline “Nummer gegen Kummer” for children and parents as well as for new projects such as the online support service “JugendNotmail” and the web page elternsein.info of the National Centre on Early Prevention (Nationales Zentrum Frühe Hilfen). It was ensured that the Violence against Women support hotline remains available around the clock.
- In the context of the initiative “Stronger than violence” (Stärker als Gewalt), Franziska Giffey declared the month of November the month of action against domestic violence. The initiative informs about support services through a new poster campaign. In addition, an information campaign was launched in April involving large supermarket chains and more than 20,000 supermarkets.
- Moreover, the Federal Government supports the expansion of women’s shelters and other support facilities with 120 million euros. With its project “Sustainable technical empowerment of counselling centres and women’s shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic – support system 2.0” (Nachhaltiges technisches Empowerment von Fachberatungsstellen und Frauenhäusern in der Corona-Pandemie – Hilfesystem 2.0), the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs has supported the improvement of technical equipment and qualification at women’s shelters and counselling centres with more than 3 million euros since October 2020.
Support for older people:
- The Federal Programme “Local Alliances for People with Dementia” (Lokale Allianzen für Menschen mit Demenz) supports more than 50 projects with a COVID-19 focus.
- Since October 2020, as part of its model programme “Strengthening the Participation of Older People”, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs has funded 29 projects for the first time using 5 million euros from the European Social Fund over the course of two years. The projects involved are aimed at reducing involuntary loneliness and helping to set the course for active and self-determined living in old age.
- The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs supports the model project “Coming together to be there for one another: helping older people connect and and experience community” (Miteinander-Füreinander: Kontakt und Gemeinschaft im Alter) of the humanitarian charity Malteser Hilfsdienst with seven million euros. In addition, it promotes the active participation of older persons in society through the project “Digital Angel” (Digitaler Engel).
- To make sure that established welfare structures are maintained, the Federal Government extended the Act on the Deployment of Social Service Providers (SodEG) initially until 31 March 2021 with the option of further extension until the end of the year.
- The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs supports the multi-generational centres established in Germany in adjusting their services and in expanding and setting up neighbourhood assistance programmes in a cooperation project by offering various online seminars on digital learning and phone consultations. Moreover, the multi-generational centres were provided with additional funding in 2020 to invest in digital equipment.
Best practice examples
Around 150 experts from all 27 EU member states, representatives from politics, academia and civil society took part in different panels at the conference to discuss the impact of the pandemic on families in Europe and good practices and approaches to promoting families during and after the pandemic.
Conclusion of the conference
At the end of the conference, the programme objectives of the Council presidency trio of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia were outlined. Among the priorities mentioned are the proposal for a European Child Guarantee and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which are both to be adopted in early 2021.
The event took place as part of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU 2020. It was co-organised by the Observatory for Sociopolitical Developments in Europe.