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Re-inventing Community Life

More creative freedom and more case-specific support for people requiring assistance, yet more bureaucracy, with quite a few unresolved questions pending: Benjamin Andrae, a Board Member of the Anthropoi Federation, explains, in an interview, the state of affairs in matters relating to the Federal Participation Act. He comments that, for institutions of the anthroposophical social care system, the present reforms opened up development prospects, which may lead to a new quality in community education or formation.

About a year ago, the third out of a total of four stages of reform of the Act for Strengthening the Participation and Self-Determination of Persons requiring Assistance (Federal Participation Act; in German: BTHG) took effect. In brief: what key changes does it entail?
Benjamin Andrae: With the third stage of reform of the Federal Participation Act, the integration assistance as at 1 January 2020 was unhinged from the Social Security Code XII, which governs the provision of welfare, and transferred, as well as reorganized, as an independent section in the Social Security Code IX (Rehabilitation and Participation on the part of People with Disabilities). In connection with that, the specialist services of integration assistance were split off from the services aimed at helping the person to secure a livelihood, in particular in order to design the former in a more differentiated way in future, and organize it separately from considering the idea of community welfare.

Another major change is the redesign of the regulations for the use of income and assets when granting benefits, which will in future enable the welfare recipients to save up for holidays, hobbies or larger purchases.

The field of participation in working life has also seen significant changes: through the budget for work and the budget for education, the range of benefits for people who are entitled to access workshops for disabled people (in German: WfbMs) and wish to be employed on the general labor market has been supplemented. Through the concept of the so-called “Other service providers”, the option of new educational and job opportunities outside the workshops for disabled people has, moreover, been created.

One of the main novelties concerns the separation of the specialist service within the context of integration assistance from the services helping people to secure a livelihood. In brief: what does that mean for those affected?
Benjamin Andrae: This change pursues the approach of in future no longer primarily regulating the participation of people requiring assistance taking the welfare and provision concepts under welfare law as a starting point, but enabling those affected to be more actively involved in designing their own path through life.

The existential benefits are now, for people who receive income support and care around the clock in special forms of living, no longer transferred to the service providers, as a partial contributions towards the daily rates, but to those affected, who then personally cover the costs of accommodation, provision and meals from it by way of payments to the institution providing the care. The latter is meant to enable them to determine, in a more transparent and unrestrained manner, on what supportive items they spend the existential benefits. The specialist services continue to be settled directly with the service provider. In this respect, however, much greater leeway emerges for the those affected and their right to express their wishes and make choices in the planning and provision of services by the benefactors, due to the new individual-centered ascertainment of needs and participation planning.

What do they mean by a “focus on the individual”?
Benjamin Andrae: The focus on the individual is meant to enable people requiring assistance to plan their lives in a more self-determining way. This relates not only to the specific involvement in planning the necessary support in everyday life, but also to fundamental questions such as the choice of place of residence, or also the form of living - meaning that the original link for the benefits under integration assistance law is no longer the place of residence of the individual, but, rather, his or her individual requirement.

The “special worlds”, previously designated “in-patient” forms of living, are, as a result, meant to be dispensed with in the medium term, and become superfluous to requirements. Community forms of living will, in line with this approach, only really emerge if those affected so wish, and no longer “due to the absence of alternatives”, i.e. because any case-specific, tailor-made solutions are lacking.

What opportunities and risks do you see for those affected and their relatives or legal representatives?
Benjamin Andrae: The strengthening of the legal claim to self-determination in designing essential aspects of conducting one’s life marks an opportunity for people requiring assistance to in future obtain benefits that are more precisely tailored towards their personal requirements. In conjunction with the general consumer protection conditions that have been improved over the past few years, those affected and their legal guardians have also been placed at eyesight level with the institutions or services providing the services, and, as contractual partners in the process of designing the integration assistance, can no longer be passed over or left out of the picture.

Risks can currently be identified in the markedly increased bureaucratic effort, which places a burden on the legal guardians and could simultaneously lead to an increase in the number of legal guardians. Another risk is that in many federal states, the implementation of the individual-centered ascertainment of requirements and participation planning has virtually ground to a halt, i.e., whereas the legal basis has changed, owing to the structural impediments in place the benefactors are not yet able, at an organizational level, to implement the innovative provisions of the Act for Strengthening the Participation and Self-Determination of Persons requiring Assistance. Parts of the reform plan therefore currently only exist on paper in large parts of the country.

What ramifications does the new law have, in particular for people requiring a great deal of assistance?
Benjamin Andrae: Ideally, the Federal Participation Act entails the opportunity for said circle of persons to, besides the previous “in-patient provision in the care home”, develop new individual forms of living that are aligned with the personal requirement and, in addition, also be able to make the best use of the care services which are presently only provided to a limited extent in communal forms of living.

A further effect is that, due to the mandatory involvement in the process of ascertaining requirements, all parties involved need to come up with concepts about new forms of communication, so that precisely those people who have communicative and cognitive limitations can articulate their right to self-determined participation and also be understood. Here, legal guardians and service providers in future need to take care that services are not simply approved or declined from the office space, but that the necessary and intended dialog with the benefactor is, as the case may be, actually requested.

The Federal Participation Act provides for enabling people with disabilities to increasingly participate in societal life in an increasingly self-determining way. How is this supposed to be achieved?
Benjamin Andrae: Self-determining participation is in particular supposed to be achieved by consistently including those affected in ascertaining their requirements and planning the benefits. Consequently, the instruments for ascertaining requirements recently developed in the federal states (e.g. ITP in Brandenburg and TiB in Berlin) place a considerable focus upon taking into account the person’s right to have his or her wishes and choices taken into consideration. Furthermore, firmly anchored in the participation planning procedure is the direct personal conversation between the participation planner of the benefactors and those affected. The legal guardian and trusted individuals are likewise to be intensively involved in this dialog. If those affected so wish, the expertise of the service providers’ employees may also contribute to the joint work.

What challenges does the Federal Participation Act pose for the service providers under integration assistance law, in particular the institutions providing anthroposophic welfare services?
Benjamin Andrae: The most important effect, besides the complex conversion of administrative procedures, is the change in perspective that is necessary, which is required of all those involved in the institutions. Service providers from the anthroposophic social therapy sector, too, need to overcome the old welfare-oriented view of people requiring assistance. In future, the motto for social assistance and care professionals is not, “I know what is good for you”, but, “Let us find out together what you would like and what you need.”

The adage about the healing power of community life upon the individual that has applied for centuries is, at least initially, challenged by the individual-centered approach and a departure from institutionalized thinking. That simultaneously gives rise to a major opportunity to arrive at a new quality in community education or formation, through strengthening the self-determined development of the individual. Precisely for the anthroposophic assistance and support networks, an essential social mandate can clearly be identified due to this tremendous innovation.