Our child welfare officers provide direct assistance at psychiatric hospital wards. The Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, the General Psychiatry Clinic at Heidelberg University Hospital and the Addiction Therapy and Withdrawal Clinic at the North Baden Psychiatric Centre in Wiesloch are all involved in the cooperation. The task of the child welfare officers is to connect mentally ill and addicted parents with the right counselling centres and support facilities during their hospital stay.
From the first conversation with the parents concerned, they keep an eye on the children. They advocate for the children's well-being and promote their psychological resilience. Together with the parents, the child welfare officers keep a lookout for overwhelming situations and encourage them to accept offers of assistance. They help the children understand their parents' situation and deal with it. In this way, they lay the foundation for a better family life.
In Germany, around 5 million children live with mentally ill and addicted parents. If at least one parent is temporarily or entirely unavailable as a caregiver, it entails significant burdens for the children, which can severely affect their further life.
Younger children sometimes receive less emotional warmth and affection. Older children often feel guilty and responsible for their parents' problems. They frequently take on excessive responsibility, maintaining the household and taking care of younger siblings. These children's needs take a back seat, their academic success may suffer, and interaction with peers, which is important for their own development, can fall by the wayside. Children of mentally ill parents therefore have a high risk of developing a mental illness or addiction themselves.
There is a significant need for improved care structures and networks for affected children. While there are support services by now such as individual or family counselling, children's groups or mentorship programmes specifically targeting children of mentally ill or addicted parents and their families, the help often doesn't reach them. On the one hand, parents' feelings of guilt and shame about their own incapacity block the necessary support; on the other hand, the assistance fails because the various support systems are not sufficiently interconnected or are unknown to those affected. This is precisely where the Strong in the Storm project comes in.
The Dietmar Hopp Foundation financially supports Strong in the Storm in connecting support services in the Rhine-Neckar region and establishing child welfare officers in psychiatric clinics.
"Children are particularly close to our founder's heart. The concept of the child welfare officers convinced us. We hope that this will enable the children to receive urgently needed attention right from the start of the parents' treatment and thus receive suitable support more often and more quickly."
Dr Jennifer Fischer, Consultant for the Medical Sector of the Dietmar Hopp Foundation