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Studying Social Policy and Social Work in Germany

Social Work is about helping people – in their everyday lives and when they are having problems.
An article by Kathrin Fromm in collaboration with Lisa Srikiow

Studying Social Policy and Social Work in Germany
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Social Policy and Social Work

That is what it’s about

They accompany refugees to appointments with government agencies, support disabled people in learning to live independently and help children and young people cope better with conflicts: social workers and social educators (both titles are common for graduates) help others cope with their everyday lives. "This is true for all sections of the population," says Peter Schäfer, professor at the Hochschule Niederrhein, Germany, and chair of the faculty conference for Social Work. "For example, more and more families are taking advantage of the services offered by parenting and guidance centres or youth offices." Social Work is mainly offered at state universities of applied sciences and at private institutions, particularly those funded by the church, but also at some universities. The degree course is interdisciplinary; it includes educational, sociological, psychological and legal aspects. There are also often management seminars and methods where students learn about how to collect and evaluate data, for instance. Seminars are the most common form of courses, but exercises are also included. In role plays, students then practise using structured questions to identify which situations are problematic for the client in everyday life or how to mediate family disputes. Work placements and practical projects are also part of the degree course. To obtain state accreditation as social workers, students in Germany must have at least one hundred days of practical experience in social institutions, associations or government authorities. The prerequisites for accreditation vary from state to state and sometimes even within states. The practical phase is integrated into the Bachelor's degree course at most universities; the projects are then supported by the higher education institution. In some cases, however, an accreditation year is also completed after completing the degree. This model exists, for example, in Siegen and Bielefeld. To read about the different regulations in the individual federal states, see bit.ly/zs16soza.

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suitability, obstacles, misconceptions

In everyday working life, students will often encounter people who see themselves as failures. They need to show them effective ways to help themselves. To be able to do this, social workers need a willingness to help and a capacity for empathy, they need to be good listeners and be able to approach other people without devaluing their lives. They should always be able to view themselves and their attitudes critically. "Important are also a certain perseverance and the ability to understand complex situations," says Peter Schäfer. Social workers also need to learn not to feel overwhelmed by the problems of others, "to develop a good balance between human contact and professional distance," says Schäfer. "This is the only way for them to reflect on their own activities and practise their profession skilfully and as effectively as possible." Anyone who is planning to study Social Work should seek contact to the practical side early on. Some students have completed training as educators or remedial therapists beforehand. Peter Schäfer recommends to all others volunteering or a longer work placement before starting their studies. The higher education institutions in Germany often even require this. The degree course in Social Work is considered practically oriented – and it is. But this isn't possible without theoretical and methodological principles. This is often underestimated. Apart from this, social workers also need to be willing to deal with laws and regulations, for example on the residence requirement for asylum seekers. In some cases, even mathematics plays a role, for example when calculating benefits. At most universities in Germany, the degree course has restricted admission. Course entrance restrictions are often in the two grade range.

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