Navigating Local Educational and Psychological Support Services for Children in Berlin: Your Guide through the Jungle
Germany, and specifically Berlin offers a wide range of public support services for children and their families. These are often free of charge or covered by insurance, which is wonderful! But, even for the most experienced, knowledgeable Berliner it can be incredibly confusing to figure out who does what and how to reach them. We have spent years trying to work it all out, and would like to share what we’ve learned over the past decade with you here. We may not have all the answers, but this overview should give you a good start as you navigate your way through the lush and often confusing jungle of support services in Berlin. Overall, you will likely need some deep breaths, your google translate, and what we like to call patient persistence.
Let’s jump in…
For every public support service agency, there is at least one office located in every district of Berlin. Depending on the support service, there can be slight differences in what the specific district location specializes in. As different support services focus on different aspects, it may be the case that families will need to visit different support services for different areas of support. The official spoken language is German, but one can always at least ask for communication in another language. It is important to be aware of the fact that there often is not optimal communication between the different support agencies, meaning that families will often need to contact different services on their own, and cannot rely on the services to establish contact.
There are five main public support services in Berlin. To help you start the process of navigating these agencies, we have tried to simplify and explain what they do and how to contact them.
THE BERLIN PUBLIC CHILDREN’S EDUCATIONAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT AGENCIES
Sozialpädiatrische Zentren (SPZ) - Social Pediatric Center
The SPZ offers an extensive professional support system that includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, psychologists, psychotherapists, special needs educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, medical staff, and social workers. The SPZ is able to provide both assessments of all developmental disorders (i.e. speech delays, hearing impairments, motor skills, neurological or attention difficulties), as well as different types of therapies and treatments. One major benefit of the SPZ are their extensive and thorough interdisciplinary assessments that encompass both physical and cognitive areas. These thorough assessments can be an important starting point to collaborate with schools and teachers in order to arrange more effective support in schools - especially for more complex cases.
SPZ clients are children between the ages of 3 to 12 years old and their parents/guardians. To work with the SPZ, parents must get a referral by the child's pediatrician. Once you have a referral, you can choose any SPZ location. Each location has a slightly different area of expertise. Usually, the SPZ is part of an outpatient department of local clinics. The waiting times can be quite long and it may take 4-6 months for the first appointment and several months may pass until the assessment is completed.
Erziehungs- und Familienberatungsstellen (EFB) - Parenting & Family Counseling Centers
The EFB offers support for families with counselors, social workers, and psychologists. The support from the EFB focuses specifically on child rearing in the home, rather than an institutional educational focus, meaning that the EFB does not work closely with schools. The support offered is for families, or any other person close to the family. Counseling in all aspects of parenting are offered, as well as short term intervention and psychotherapy. The EFB also offers groups, for example: ‘Starke Eltern, starke Kinder’ (Strong Parents, Strong Children). Child protection and safeguarding is their main area of expertise. They also provide recommendations for other services and therapies. A relatively short waiting time allows parents to get support quickly. There are multiple locations in each neighborhood, and one can choose freely between them. Everyone has free access to the EFB, which means that you do not need any referral or prior contact.
Schulpsychologisches Inklusionspädagogisches Beratungs- und Unterstützungszentrum (SIBUZ) - School Psychology, Inclusion, Counseling & Support Center
Psychologists, teachers, and social workers offer support to
parents/guardians, students and educators on questions and issues impacting school life and performance. The SIBUZ offers counseling for students, learning disability diagnostics, basic psychological assessment, special needs status, and special education resources, recommendations for different services and therapies, integrative learning therapy, crisis intervention, coaching for parents/guardians & educators, and they support schools in process development. There is one SIBUZ in every Berlin district, and everyone who attends a school in the district has free access to the SIBUZ within their district. To access the inclusion team, it is necessary to have both a recommendation from the school and may be required to have a pre-assessment from school, as support may depend on the students' special needs status. The SIBUZ focuses primarily on the support of the students in the school and does not work extensively with families. The SIBUZ has moderate waiting times.
Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrischer Dienst (KJPD) - Child & Youth Psychiatric Services
The KJPD helps young people and their parents/guardians dealing with mental health difficulties through specialist psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. The KJPD offers counseling, psychiatric assessment, crisis interventions, short term intervention, recommendations for different services and therapies, and is also specialized in child abuse. There is one location per district in Berlin, and the only requirement is residency within the same district. They do not offer assessments of developmental or specific learning disabilities. The KJPD is well connected to therapists and clinics in Berlin.
Jugendamt (JUG) / Regionaler Sozialer Dienst (RSD) - Youth Services / Regional Social Services
The JUG/RSD offers support through social workers for young people under the age of 21 and their families. There are multiple locations within each Berlin district, and the only requirement for free access is that one lives in the same district. The Jugendamt is a good first point of contact for inquiries about support and possible next steps to take. The Jugendamt has a vast variety and quantity of resources available within the organization, and are also able to connect families with other support services in Berlin. They also finance therapies, and the only requirement for this is a recommendation from a specialist (through the organizations SIBUTZ, EFB, KJPD). The JUG/RSD also offers family assistance through out-patient groups. They are also able to offer direct hands-on support by visiting the families in their homes. The Jugendamt is also responsible for child protection and safeguarding. If there is a suspicion that child protection and safeguarding is not ensured, the Jugendamt will visit the family and assess the situation to see if and where a child's needs are not being met. In extreme cases, if child protection and safeguarding is in question, and the child is in danger, they can also ensure the child's safety in another environment by removing the child from the situation.
We know that when your child is struggling this can all feel quite overwhelming. But these public agencies can be very helpful in finding ways to support children and families in Berlin.If you need support in the meantime, Linden is here to help with a wide range of services as well. We hope that this overview provides a starting point for you to navigate through the Berlin support service jungle.
DOWNLOAD THE OVERVIEW OF SUPPORT SERVICES IN BERLIN