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Renate Breithecker

Read our latest interview with Renate Breithecker of Family for Every Child Member Organization Zefie (Germany)

Zefie joined Family in December last year. How are you finding being a member of the alliance so far?

For us, it is an exciting new experience to work on an international level. Zoom- meetings, the variety of new contacts, lots of information – we still have to get used to it. But it is very impressive and enriching to be part of the Family network! We are looking forward to our first face-to-face-Meeting and do hope that we can contribute to the issues Family is addressing – especially in the Children on the Move and Reintegration Working Groups.

Tell us about your role at Zefie

I have been working for Zefie since 2015. Zefie’s CEO, Oliver Freesemann, and I are long-term collaborators. For more than 20 years we have developed new concepts, evaluated projects and done practice-oriented research; we have published in specialised journals and given presentations on our findings and ideas. With Zefie I have done some small empirical studies about unaccompanied minors and their new life in Germany, and I do the annual statistical analyses and write reports. I was lucky to be in contact with Family from the first meeting and participate in the working groups, being the contact person between Family and Zefie.

What are the main challenges facing the children and young people you work with?

The main challenges are different for the various target groups we work with. Young refugees are facing many problems; the main challenge is to integrate into the new, and for some, very strange society. They need to learn German quickly and finish school with a certificate to enable them to study or find a scholarship. They have to do this without the support of their families – and sometimes against the will of their families, who expect the young people to send money back home. The challenges they are facing in Germany combined with what they experienced on their way here are often hard to cope with and lead to drug abuse etc.

Children growing up in Germany, who stay with Zefie for a while, are burdened with a variety of different problems e.g. violence, abuse and neglect within their family, some have lost a parent, some parents are on drugs or have psychiatric health problems. About half of the children are reintegrated into their families, the others are supported in developing a new perspective and a social network for a life after youth care.

What is coming up for Zefie over the next year?

We notice that conflicts and excessive demands are growing within refugee families, so more and more children from these families are going into care. To offer good care for these kids and their parents, a special approach is necessary to address cultural differences. That is something we have to develop and strengthen. We experience an increase in aggressiveness and a high level of actual violence among the young people who are in our care settings, which is often directed at our staff. It is violence against the person or their belonging (car, mobile etc.). As a consequence there is growing “angst” among our team and a refusal to work night shifts.

We developed two new projects, which will start this year: one is for young people with eating disorders – we are testing a new form of cooperation with a psychiatric clinic that aims at avoiding a transfer from care setting into the clinic through offering therapy and support in the care setting. The other project is for young families who are in need of constant support. Here, mother and child live in a care setting and fathers are allowed to stay with them for a while. This way it is possible to work pedagogically and therapeutically with both parents.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

That’s a difficult question! I do admire people who work with and for refugees around the world. Some do this kind of work for many, many years without being noticed or honoured, but their work is highly important. In Germany an “elder statesman”, a former minister of social affairs, Norbert Blüm, has been very supportive. In 2016, aged over 80, he went to Indomeni in Greece and stayed in a tent to show solidarity with the refugees there and to raise awareness of their awful situation. That made a big impression on me.

Tell us something interesting/funny about your family.

We are quite a big patchwork family, there is something going on all the time, never boring. A few weeks ago our third grandchild was born. The baby girl was given an unusual name, Tomma. When we told her 4 year old sister, who we took care of while the parents were in hospital, that the baby was called Tomma she replied: “That’s not a name at all!” Meanwhile we have all got used to the name, little Tomma has grown into our hearts and over Easter we had the whole family around to celebrate her birth and three other birthdays!

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