/ Z / by Stefan Shaw & Anne Schulze

A new haven for clarat family

A few days ago, we decided to pass our online platform clarat family into new hands. What motivated us to do so?

First, let’s look back: when we built up our Foundation in its current structure over four years ago, we decided to concentrate our focus on helping children and young people in need and distress. For this purpose, we developed a credo that would apply to all of our activities from then on: “To connect the disconnected”. To find out which specific measures and projects in support of disadvantaged children, young people and their families we should fund, our first step was to get an overview of the range of efforts underway in Germany. This step, however, turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. We found no comprehensive overview of existing offers for our target group, neither at the national level, nor at the regional or local levels. Instead, there was a patchwork of charities, municipalities or federal states. There was nothing that would have given us a meaningful overall picture of the situation.

After several months of searching in vain, we came to an essential realization: if even we could not find out what kinds of support projects were available, how could the people who actually needed this support themselves possibly find out ? Thus the idea behind clarat family was born: an internet-based directory of aid listings, which would enable families in distress to find the exact support they needed in their immediate vicinity.

At the same time, we knew from that outset that we were actually dealing with two distinct target groups: the families themselves on one hand, and on the other the so-called “navigators”, or the employees of counseling centers, who already had access to families facing problems (often multiple issues). Our conviction was that these navigators in particular would benefit from a source of assistance for their work with “their” families. With this assistance, they could expand their individual networks to include additional resources that may be closer to the specific problems faced by these families than the resources they knew – not only in terms of content, but also geographically.

So at the end of 2014 we launched the project, starting out with a small team, and began our journey into the depths of child and youth welfare in Germany – with the ambitious goal of charting this area of the social sector comprehensively for the first time.

The first port of call on our journey was Berlin. Here we immediately struck upon a series of challenges. The first one: the information that we were able to find in directories or on websites was not a list of aid projects, but rather a list of organizations. Our first task was therefore to find out which aid projects the researched organizations were actually offering relevant to our target group. Our second task was then to describe the filtered projects in a way that would also be comprehensible to our target group. To do so, we had to undertake two types of translation. The first was from “public-authority-speak”, i.e. “we perform services according to § XY of the German Social Security Code” into everyday German. And then this had to be put into simple language that everyone could understand, including people with only a limited education and those who might be very recent arrivals to Germany. As a fortunate side effect of this translation work, for the first time we too were now able to understand the full range of aid projects out there for families in crisis situations; moreover, thanks to the automated translation of the simple language version, we were also able to offer others this information in a number of foreign languages such as Turkish, Russian and Arabic.

However, we soon made a rather sobering discovery: there were more projects than we had thought, many more, a great deal more. We realized that even with 10 to 15 people it would take us over two years to get a grasp of the range of aid projects in Berlin alone and to present them in a way that would live up to our aspiration of providing genuine orientation.

Fast forward until a good two years later: clarat family for Berlin was now – finally! – almost complete and had been through a few stages of revisions, so that we had enough confidence to actively announce our presence to the community. Although our user numbers rose significantly, the overall figures still remained very low. What had gone wrong? Before we launched clarat family, we had asked a number of experts and navigators in child and youth welfare their opinion, and all of them confirmed that while there was no such resource, there was a need for it. So we asked people again, this time on a broader scale with comprehensive surveys by telephone to question the navigators, and in more depth through detailed interviews with families in need. Why don’t you use clarat? What would you need in order to use it?

The responses were sobering: the target group of socially disadvantaged families rarely made active use of clarat family to seek out solutions to their problems. In general, they were overwhelmed by the overload of information and were unable to segregate it because they lacked fundamental knowledge about the social support system in Germany. Although our second main target group, the navigators, still found the clarat family idea attractive, they personally continued to rely exclusively on their own networks. In other words: with clarat family, we were missing the mark with both target groups. Discussions with representatives of the Ministry for Family Affairs and welfare organizations confirmed it: everyone who had tried to develop new projects on the internet in the past two or three years had obviously come across similar barriers. There was one exception: families with a higher educational status often used the internet to search for general advice and specific solutions to problems in the family.

We therefore had to come to an overall recognition: we could not reach out to socially disadvantaged parents just by listing offers of support. Instead, we had to integrate these into additional editorial content. Content that could help families identify their problems and show them what they could expect from the social support system in Germany in the first place. After all, only those who know that there is support available to them are even going to start looking for it.

For the clarat family team, this realization – although disheartening at first – was not such bad news. Now at least everyone was clear on what needed to be done to make the platform a success. For Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft as the initiator and operator of clarat family, however, it was not such good news. According to the Foundation’s mission statement, “To connect the disconnected”, the original objective had been to chart the entire sector (also for the purpose of drawing wider-ranging conclusions) and not – to put it bluntly – to develop an editorial parental advice website for Berlin. As valuable and necessary as such a resource may be, and however straightforward the means of creating it, this does not reflect the strategy of our Foundation. At the end of the day, our aim is to develop far-reaching solutions for those who have truly been left behind by society.

To our great advantage, the founder of the Hamburg-based internet portal ElternLeben.de, Rose Volz-Schmidt, contacted us at precisely this time. ElternLeben.de had exactly what clarat needed. It provided a means of navigation through the social support system with editorial content and reached parents from both wealthy and disadvantaged social groups. ElternLeben.de on the other hand wanted to significantly expand one of its central features: a database of “offline” support services in the geographical proximity of its users. After an open dialogue, the idea of combining both resources under the management of ElternLeben.de was born. This was a combination that endowed both of the previous products with an additional, essential component, resulting in a resource that was more effective for helping families.

Precisely this measure – the combination of both products – was approved last week by our Foundation Board and we communicated the decision to our clarat employees yesterday. This is painful news, as it means that we will have to part with them. With clarat family, we are passing on a great idea and what we created from it, but not the employees who helped build up clarat family. Why not? Over the last couple of years, we brought clarat family into being with a tremendous conceptual and technical effort. After the completion of this achievement, the next stage calls for employees with different profiles to maintain and expand the website’s offers; in other words we need student trainees rather than university graduates.

What though is the long-term outlook for what we have created? We will support Rose Volz-Schmidt in her attempt to anchor ElternLeben.de in public funding programs to enable the support services on clarat family to be expanded to all regions of Germany, with the addition of online counseling and editorial content to provide users with orientation.
We are therefore still, in a certain sense, on board with clarat family, although now we are only the accompanying navigators who hope to help steer this ship, which we have all built together with pioneering spirit and passion, into a safe haven where it can be equipped with whatever it needs to ultimately sail around the world.

Finally, all that remains to be said is thanks. Thanks to a team that had faith in our bold plan, continued developing it with us, kept on challenging us and never stopped seeking the best possible solution. Thanks to a team that never forgot what it is that we are really working for. Not for ourselves, not for clarat, not for the Foundation, but for a world in which people in distress get the help that they need.