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Author: Delphi Jarrett
Published Date: 15 October 2010

Eltern-AG is committed to equal opportunities for all children; it aims to help those children with less favourable conditions in early life, by first supporting their parents.

In 2001, a group of young students and their lecturer from the University of Magdeburg were inspired to do something about the educational inequalities suffered by children from lower income families in Germany. After investigation the existing projects offered by the state and welfare organisations, the group discovered the majority of programmes were aiding the middle classes and thus failing to engage successfully with the parents and chilren who really needed them. By talking directly to parents, the group which named itself Eltern-AG learned that poorer parents often felt intimated by the unfamiliarity of some of the very state institutions which were there to assist them. The ELTERN-AG-group decided to tackle the problem through empowerment; they did not believe in lecturing grownups, but they wanted to galvanize them to help themselves. The group went to the poorer quarters of the city, and looked for struggling families, for immigrants who couldn’t speak German, for young single mothers, for fathers who had never learned how to cope with a nagging child. From these people, they build the basis of the network of Eltern-AG groups.

In 2004 Eltern-AG formed its first group. 10 parents came together in the ‘Daisy Kindergarten’ in Magdeburg. Their children played in the next room, while the parents had time to talk. They discussed their everyday lives, sharing their amusing stories, along with their problems, which became easier once shared with 9 other understanding parents. They discussed the things that mattered to them, such as best practice examples of how to celebrate a child’s birthday party on a budget. The group met 20 times and results began to show. All the parents stayed with the group; they had now friends and acquaintances, a social network, and the group decided to continue the meetings for several years.

To date, around 800 parents have participated in Eltern-AG, which means around 2000 children have been reached. 100 Eltern-AG mentors have been trained by the original group, which has itself developed into a professional team. Eltern-AG groups have been held in five German states, and the program will soon expand to Austria and Switzerland. The empowerment concept is so successful, that Eltern-AG has been asked to turn their focus to new target groups, such as long term unemployed people, and elderly people looking for a new perspective in their career.