‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is an African proverb often used to explain that children require not only their families but also a supportive community to provide a safe and positive environment in which to develop. When raising a child with special needs, this ‘village’ is even more important but, when raising a child with special needs in a foreign country, away from family, then that village is not only needed, it is vital.
Building a village in Frankfurt is a daunting task. Aside from the obvious language barrier for non-German speakers, there is also the paper bureaucracy, of which the German government offices are well known for. But it is not impossible and there is, thankfully, help available.
One of the key first steps in building this new village is to schedule an assessment with a German paediatrician. Even if there exists folders full of reports and assessments from doctors in the UK, an appointment must be set up so that a German doctor can evaluate the condition of the child.
The assessment itself is not important, rather the report generated by the doctor is key to receiving future services and assistance. Translating the last report from the child’s doctor in the UK is not sufficient. The report must be written by a German doctor in German. It is important, as the parent, to highlight to the doctor all the issues that the child faces. The more detailed the report, the easier to receive assistance. Only once the report is written can families start contacting specialists and service organisations.
A natural next step for families is to contact the Socialpädiatrisches Zentrum (SPZ) which is a one-stop shop of doctors, therapists, psychologists, and service providers to support the development of children with special needs, whether they have a physical, neurological or behavioural disability.
In Frankfurt, there are two SPZ locations, though they operate independently. SPZ Frankfurt Mitte is located within the Clementine Children’s Hospital located in the central-east side of Frankfurt, while the SPZ-Höchst in the Höchst Hospital is located in the west side of Frankfurt. In addition to the health specialists, they also have social workers who are on hand to help families manoeuvre through the labyrinth of German bureaucracy. For many, the staff at the SPZ are the first and sometimes most important members of a child’s village.
Through the SPZ, or the child’s paediatrician, parents will receive information about early intervention programs (Frühförderung ) for their children based on the degree of disability. In Frankfurt, these programs are aimed at children up to seven years of age, or before they enter grade school, while in the outlining towns, assistance ends when the child enters Kindergarten (aged three). Through these programs, a child can receive one hour per week of assistance and information in various areas such as psychological evaluation, ergotherapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy and more. There are several service providers in Frankfurt and surrounding towns.
The next step would be to apply for a Disability Card (Schwerbehindertenausweis or SBA). In addition to the SPZ, many paediatrician offices help initiate this process as they need to help fill out the form and submit their assessment report. Information found on the SBA include the name and birthdate of the child, the degree of disability (Grad der Behindering or GdB) and letters or Merkzeichen that further identify the severity of the disability. The GdB percentage and the marks assigned are all based on the doctor’s assessment report. Benefits of the SBA depend on these numbers and letters but in general, it includes free travel on public transit, tax benefits, free or reduced admission to museums, venues, and attractions, as well as benefits to the person accompanying the disabled child. Depending on the severity of the disability, the card and its benefits can be for an unlimited period.
Depending on the SBA assessment, the child may also be entitled to attendance allowance (or Pflegegeld) which requires an assessment to be conducted by the health insurance provider. After the assessment, the child will be assigned a Grade from 1 to 5 which corresponds to a monthly amount. A Grade of 1 receives no financial assistance while a Grade of 5, the highest, receives €901 per month. It is important to note that one can lodge a protest against the Pflegegeld grade as well as the SBA, if you disagree with the assessment.
In addition to the SBA and Pflegegeld, many families apply for the Euro-Key which allows the child access to all disabled washrooms throughout Europe whether at the train station, in the museum or any public venue. They can be ordered from CBF Darmstadt. You will need to submit a copy of the SBA as proof of disability.
These are the basic first steps that families of children with a disability will need to do once they arrive in Germany.
Other useful websites (mostly in German)
www.intakt.info – A general information source for families with children with disabilities.
www.vdk.de – A membership organisation that assists families with legal information regarding the rights of their children with disabilities.
Written by Jema Gruber who is a freelance consultant based in Frankfurt
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