refuge for children in need

Anyone who would like to talk to Vroni and Gerhard W. in peace can do so at 2 p.m. “Then the little one sleeps,” says Vroni W. The little one came to the foster parents in Sauerlach in the Munich district as a two-day-old baby, the birth mother had been deprived of custody due to her drug addiction. The little girl has just celebrated her third birthday in her foster family and if Vroni and Gerhard W. have learned something in their role as foster parents, then it is the importance of structures and rules, therefore: at 2 p.m. there is a nap, there is no Negotiate.

Four years ago, Vroni and Gerhard W., who do not wish to be given their full names to protect their foster children, registered with the district office as foster parents for on-call care. Readiness means being there “like the fire brigade” when there is a fire, says Gerhard W. And in foster care that means that a child needs help immediately, protection, security and peace. In the case of their little foster daughter, they were informed just before her arrival in Sauerlach . The little girl first had to go through withdrawal from her foster parents. In the meantime she is “super fit”, according to the foster father, and she remains in full-time care with the W family. They remain registered as standby foster parents for other children in need.

Looking ahead: Mental illnesses, drug addiction, neglect or even abuse: There are many reasons why children are placed in foster families.

Mental illnesses, drug addiction, neglect or abuse: there are many reasons why children are placed in foster families.

(Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa)

There are currently 75 foster families in the district of Munich – far too few. Again and again, children have to be placed in other federal states or they have to be accommodated in institutions. In this way, they miss out on a secure family life. A traveling exhibition, which will open on Monday, September 19 at 2 p.m. in the district office (Mariahilfplatz), is intended to draw attention to the importance of foster families and provide educational work. The exhibition can be seen until October 4th (weekdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursdays also from 2 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.) and was conceived by the association “Freunde der Kinder” in Hamburg and in cooperation with the department for children, youth and family in the district office brought to Munich. With photos and texts, the exhibition gives an insight into the everyday life of foster families in the district.

Pandemic and war made everything difficult

The pandemic and the Ukraine war, which is causing many fears about the future and their existence, are hitting foster children with full force. Against this background, potential foster parents shy away from the additional burden that a foster child entails, as the employees in the district office have found out. The pandemic made life difficult for foster parents: supervision and support from the district office only took place digitally, which was no substitute for face-to-face meetings; Homeschooling put a strain on the foster families, contact with the birth family – an essential part of being a foster child – was often difficult, the parents either had no access to digital media, felt excluded or overwhelmed. According to the district office, the situation has still not really relaxed.

Children who are placed in a foster family require particularly intensive attention and care. Because everyone comes with a heavy backpack: in their families there are mental illnesses, drug addiction, homelessness, violence, neglect or even abuse. “With us, they have a place of refuge and a haven of peace,” says Gerhard W. Gerhard W. considers “peace in oneself” to be an important characteristic of foster parents. And you need a lot of time. The lack of it is another reason why there are too few foster parents in the district of Munich: Due to the expensive living space, both partners usually have to work – there is no time for the intensive care of a child, “that was different 20 years ago”, the employees in the district office found out.

Looking ahead: neglected children should experience security and support.

Neglected children should experience security and support.

(Photo: Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa)

Because “on the side” you can’t integrate a foster child into a family, “that would sink you head over heels,” says Vroni W. As a foster mother, she can stay at home and be there for the three-year-old, her husband is self-employed and can take time off , when a new addition comes into the family via on-call care. Most recently, an eleven-year-old girl who experienced violence in her family. She stayed for three weeks.

Being a foster family is challenging in many ways. You have to be willing to maintain contact with your family of origin, which is not always easy. “That requires respect and empathy,” says Gerhard W. “Our task is the children, behind them are parents with destinies.” Everyone gets a chance, “we don’t judge”. The task is to build a bridge. Foster parents receive support from the foster children service in the district office, among other things with discussions, supervision or further training.

Another challenge are the children themselves. Many have special needs and of course, like all children, test their limits, says the foster father. Many don’t know any rules – they first have to learn personal hygiene like brushing their teeth every day, and that you go to school every day. Eating breakfast and dinner together is alien to them, but they quickly learn to appreciate being together at the table, as Gerhard and Vroni W. found out. A foster family is a gain for both sides: the children receive valuable help and the foster parents draw strength from what they have experienced. “It’s satisfying when a child can go back to its family, where it belongs,” says Gerhard W., “you get a lot for free,” says his wife. Children would always be said goodbye with a laughing and a teary eye, “but our feelings are in the background, we are not the most important ones,” says Vroni W. The three-year-old foster daughter will, it seems, stay with them forever . The foster child system is therefore also a chance for potential adoptive parents to live with children.

Looking ahead: The exhibition can be seen in the district office on Munich's Mariahilfplatz.

The exhibition can be seen in the district office on Munich’s Mariahilfplatz.

(Photo: Claus Schunk)

The W. family decided to be a “supplementary family”. “It’s our way,” says Gerhard W. In his first marriage, he already adopted two children who are now grown. With his second wife Vroni he was looking for a new purpose in life. It quickly became clear to both of them that they dared to become foster parents. “It enriches our family,” both say.

In the district office, the foster children service hopes for more families who think like this. There are always positive developments, they say. The Ukraine war, for example, persuaded families to take in an unaccompanied Ukrainian child. Some have now dealt with the topic of foster children for the first time and want to be checked as foster parents.

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