Modern family policy means respecting the diverse family constellations people choose. This includes married and cohabiting couples with children as well as single-parent families, step families, blended families, rainbow families and families who provide care for dependent family members. It also means providing families with support adjusted to their needs. Family policy is based on three pillars: money, infrastructure and time for each other. It aims at supporting a good work-life balance, maintaining the economic stability of families, promoting the wellbeing of children as well as helping people to fulfil the desire to have children.
Creating family-friendly conditions
Families in Germany can rely on a wide range of state benefits. These include child benefit and other family-related benefits - such as Elterngeld (Parental Allowance), child supplement and the tax-free allowance for single parents - which are linked to specific circumstances or needs. There are also labour law provisions in place which, for example, allow parents to take parental leave and which protect expectant mothers during a statutory maternity protection period. In addition to the Landesregierungen (state governments) and municipal administrations, the German Federal Government offers families a wide range of state benefits. Marriage-related benefits (for instance for surviving dependents) and family-related benefits amount to around 200 billion euros per year.
Families need the right kind of support at the right time. Therefore, between 2009 and 2014 the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Finance conducted an overall evaluation and survey of marriage-related and family-related benefits and provisions in Germany - the first of its kind worldwide in terms of size and scope. The results feed into considerations as to how family-related benefits can be further enhanced in order to serve the needs and the personal circumstances of families today.
Online services of the welfare state to benefit families
In spite of the wide range of state benefits for families, recent studies have shown a disproportionately low uptake amongst socio-economically disadvantaged families who might need them the most. These families might find it difficult to access these benefits for a variety of reasons, including being unaware of certain benefits as well as lack of knowledge, skills and other resources required for completing the application forms.
Thus, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth is committed to providing facilitated access to the welfare state by making its services for families available online. This includes interactive information websites using simple language aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the family welfare system. The content offered covers different stages of life ranging from information about pregnancy to issues relevant for elderly people, for instance on the Familienportal. Additionally, families can access the Infotool für Familien, which, in just a few clicks, helps to determine which kind of financial support might be available to them.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth has made their application forms for family benefits available online. Instead of copying the long-winded and complicated paper forms, the online versions are interactive, easy to use and shorten the time needed to fill in the forms. In addition, they detect errors that might occur when applicants fill in their data. Consequently, the digital application assistants reduce the time needed for government agencies to process the applications. The overall aim is to offer a completely paper-free version of the process to families, with digital signatures, digital data transfer to the responsible government agencies and the option to upload necessary documents.
ElterngeldDigital (Parental Allowance Digital) is an already existing example for an online version of the application for Parental Allowance. The Kinderzuschlag (child supplement) will also be available online. Since 2020 the Kinderzuschlag Digital (Child Supplement Digital) is also available online.
Family time for mothers and fathers
Most parents of young children would like to be able to share the responsibilities of work and family life equally. However, the traditional division of work and family responsibilities does not meet the ideas and wishes of young parents. Furthermore, it leads to significant financial disadvantages for mothers in the long run. For this reason, family policies aim at supporting a more equal sharing of work and family life responsibilities and future family benefits are designed accordingly. The introduction of ElterngeldPlus (Parental Allowance Plus) was an important step in pursuing this new policy approach. Its introduction has made it possible to share parental leave more equally and to combine it more easily with part-time work. It encourages and supports mothers and fathers, to spend time with their children when they are still little and at the same time to allow each other to pursue his or her career.
Parents, children and society as a whole can benefit from a more balanced division of responsibilities for work and family life. Parents can focus on their children as well as on their career and children can spend more time with their parents. This way, society as a whole can benefit. The availability of a reliable infrastructure and financial security are key prerequisites in all of this.
Facilitating a family-friendly working world
To better meet the needs of families, the Ministry cooperates closely with strong, reliable partners from industry and business, the unions, municipal stakeholders and associations. Family-friendly working conditions are a fundamental prerequisite for a good work-life balance. Employers have recognised and acknowledged that fathers would also like opportunities to balance their work and family commitments.
The programme "Erfolgsfaktor Familie" (Success Factor Family) is a centralized information platform which focuses on the subject of a family-friendly working world. As a programme for businesses and industry, it consolidates information on family-friendly human resources policies. The programme's network comprises over 7,500 businesses and institutions.
Parental Allowance, Parental Allowance Plus and more flexible provisions for parental leave
Elterngeld (Parental Allowance) is designed to give parents the opportunity to spend time with their child, especially during the child's first year, without suffering financial loss. Parental Allowance thus compensates for the loss of income when a parent stops working or reduces working hours to look after a new-born child. The allowance ranges from a minimum of 300 euros to a maximum of 1,800 euros per month and is paid for a maximum period of 14 months if the other parent also claims Parental Allowance for at least two months.
ElterngeldPlus (Parental Allowance Plus) helps parents who want to work part-time soon after the birth of a child. It provides financial support for a longer period of time - including beyond the child's 14th month, as one month of Parental Allowance is counted as two months of Parental Allowance Plus.
Parental Allowance Plus is supplemented by the Partnerschaftsbonus (Partnership Bonus): if both parents work between 25 and 30 hours a week for a period of four months, they each receive four additional months of Parental Allowance Plus payments.
In addition to Parental Allowance Plus and the Partnership Bonus, the new rules on parental leave give parents more flexibility in returning to work and in reconciling work and family life. Mothers and fathers are now able to take up to 24 months of unclaimed parental leave between their child's third and eighth birthday.
The "Bericht der Bundesregierung über die Auswirkungen der Regelungen zum ElterngeldPlus und zum Partnerschaftsbonus sowie zur Elternzeit" (Report of the Federal Government on the impact of Parental Allowance Plus and Partnership Bonus and the provisions relating to parental leave) published in January 2018 shows that Parental Allowance Plus and Partnership Bonus are well received by parents. Parental Allowance Plus, which is especially suitable for parents who want to work part-time soon after the birth of their child, resulted in women being able to re-enter the labour market more strongly and in fathers spending more time with their children. Of those fathers receiving Parental Allowance Plus, 41 per cent would have taken less time for the care of their children without Parental Allowance Plus. 24 per cent of the mothers state that they are better able to pursue their career objectives thanks to Parental Allowance Plus; 23 per cent chose Parental Allowance Plus because they also wanted to stay in paid employment during parental leave. The Partnership Bonus encourages parents who want to share their time for family and work evenly to do so. 82 per cent of the people interviewed who used Partnership Bonus stated that, while receiving Partnership Bonus, they had shared childcare nearly equally. More than three quarters (77 per cent) of the interviewed beneficiaries rated Parental Allowance Plus as "good".
Protection of working mothers
The German Mutterschutz (Maternity Protection Period) serves to protect the health of pregnant or breastfeeding women and their (unborn) children, to protect them against discrimination and also to empower women to decide at their own discretion whether they work or not. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are to be legally protected against dangers, overexertion and health hazards at the workplace.
Statutory paid maternity leave during the "protected period before and after birth" is provided to ensure safety and health at work for pregnant employees and their unborn children, for employees who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. The maternity protection period lasts for at least 14 weeks, six weeks of which are before and eight weeks after confinement. During this time, women are secured against financial loss. From the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of maternity leave, but for at least four months after giving birth, women are also protected against dismissal.
Employer-provided child daycare
The national funding programme "Betriebliche Kinderbetreuung" (employer-provided child daycare) is designed to promote the establishment of new employer-supported child daycare places.
Local Alliances for Families
Across the country, more than 650 Lokale Bündnisse für Familie (Local Alliances for Families) provide strong, partnership-based networks of stakeholders from industry and business, government and civil society. The aim is to provide needs-based services to help local families to better reconcile family and working life.
Employment for migrant mothers
"Stark im Beruf" (Strong in the workplace), a programme funded by the European Social Fund, is targeted at migrant mothers in Germany who want to take up gainful employment or get back to work. At over 80 locations nationwide, the programme gives them greater access to the working world.
New opportunities for families
Families require both financial security and support services that are adapted to their needs. The Ministry aims to ensure that children and teenagers in Germany receive the support that they and their families need to enjoy better opportunities in life. This means providing an effective, needs-based child and youth welfare service.
Kindergeld (child benefit) is paid as a non-income-related benefit: for all children up to the age of 18, for children up to the age of 25 in education and training and for unemployed children up to the age of 21. Child benefit amounts to 204 euros per month for the first and second child, 210 euros per month for the third child and 235 euros per month for the fourth and each subsequent child.
Since January 2011, parents have also benefited from additional provisions to promote their children's education and social participation. Moreover, a range of special financial provisions are available for single parents. The particular financial burden of being solely responsible for the family and home is recognised by the provision of a tax-free allowance, which effectively reduces a single parent's taxable income.
Unterhaltsvorschuss (maintenance advance) is provided as a special form of financial assistance to help single parents with children under eighteen who receive no maintenance or no regular maintenance payments from the other parent. Currently maintenance advance amounts to 165 euros for children under six, 220 euros for children aged six to eleven and 293 euros for children aged twelve to seventeen. The income of the single parent is irrelevant for the entitlement.
Improved family-related benefits
With legislation to increase the basic tax-free allowance, the tax-free allowance for children, child benefit and child supplement, the Federal Government has introduced a package to improve family-related benefits. The Starke-Familien-Gesetz (Strong Families Act) redesigned and improved the child supplement and Leistungen für Bildung und Teilhabe (education and participation benefits).
This was implemented in two steps. In a first step in 2019, child supplement was increased and measures to reach out to single parents in particular were introduced. The second step in 2020 has widened the group of those entitled to benefits. Child supplement is paid to parents who earn just enough to provide for themselves but whose income is not or only just enough to meet the needs of the whole family. It amounts to a maximum of 185 euros per child and month.
Support for parents and children
Education and parenting are key issues for families. They influence both wellbeing and quality of life, especially for children. Around 12,000 parental advisers are available to families to advise them on matters of parenting and education. They serve as persons of trust in child daycare centres, parent-child centres and other locations where family-related education takes place. The addresses of local advisory offices that parents can contact are listed on the website of the Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Jugend- und Eheberatung e.V. (Federal Conference for Child Guidance Counselling and the German Working Group for Youth and Marriage Counselling).
In approximately 90 Familienferienstätten (non-profit family holiday resorts) throughout Germany, families can enjoy holidays at affordable prices. The offer is primarily aimed at families in certain life situations, for instance low-income families, single parents, family members with special needs or care-dependent relatives. During the school holidays, the family holiday resorts offer recreational activities, childcare and educational services.
The Federal Government is committed to ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, receive the same development opportunities and the same access to education. High-quality, needs-based childcare also promotes better reconciliation of family and working life, which in turn benefits German industry and businesses.
All women and all men in Germany are entitled to seek advice on any and all matters concerning pregnancy, and they can attend any pregnancy counselling centre regardless of who operates them. In addition to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women und Youth both the Federal Centre for Health Education and local pregnancy counselling centres provide information and services concerning pregnancy, pregnancy-related problems, childbirth and family planning.
The Federal Foundation Mother and Child - Protection of Unborn Life supports expecting mothers in financial emergency situations by providing grants to cover the cost of the childs immediate needs and other expenses related to pregnancy and birth.
Secret births without medical supervision must be prevented, as should be abandoning or killing of a newborn child. To avoid such situations, pregnant women in need or in distress can call 0800 40 40 020 - a free hotline which provides assistance in enabling a safe and anonymous birth. Alternatively, information and assistance can be obtained online at "Schwanger und viele Fragen" (Pregnant and many questions) and "Beratung & Geburt vertraulich" (Counselling and confidential birth).
Involuntary childlessness and adoption
Almost one in ten couples aged between 25 and 59 would like to have children, but are reliant on medical help to fulfil their wish. For many, the costs involved in this process can be both a financial and a psychological burden. Many people in Germany would like to adopt a child. Since 1990, more than 150,000 children have found a new home by means of adoption in Germany. Although adoptions in Germany seem to be gradually declining in general, about 4,000 adoptions take place every year, including approximately 250 intercountry adoptions. About two thirds of adoptions in Germany were made by a step parent.
In 2019, the German Federal Government introduced a new Adoptionshilfe-Gesetz (Adoption Aid Act) to the legislature for approval. The Adoption Aid Act aims to address, inter alia, the following issues:
- Providing adoptive children, birth parents and adoptive parents/prospective adoptive parents with better advice and support.
- Encouraging adoptive parents to inform their child about the adoption (enhancing transparency and exchange of information or contact between the family of origin and the adoptive family where it is in the best interests of the child).
- Prohibiting unsupervised/private adoptions. A German adoption agency must be involved in any intercountry adoption. For more legal certainty, a mandatory recognition procedure is introduced for every foreign adoption decision.
- Introducing a list of tasks catalogue for adoption agencies, including a cooperation requirement between adoption agencies and other specialised services and institutions.