Eckhard Thiel

Teamleader Residential Youth Care Programmes Worpswede SOS Children's Villages in Germany

When an SOS mother is leaving

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In our SOS Children’s Village we had ten SOS families and two residential groups with teams of five educators shifting day and night in 2004.

In the first half of 2004 we had built up a new SOS family. It started with three siblings and in autumn we took four other siblings into this SOS family to complete it. In January 2005 the SOS mother of this SOS family left the organisation. We assigned a young co-worker to stay with the 7 children. We could not place them in our other groups or SOS families and we were under pressure to find a solution.

In spite of the increasing shortage of suitable applicants for SOS mothers, there was no question we would have to find someone to replace her. We found a qualified social worker whom we thought to be able to do this and who seemed to be very engaged. He started with a lot of enthusiasm but after one year he also left SOS quite suddenly.

We decided not to dare a second attempt because it was still difficult to find suitable, qualified persons and we feared to fail again. With the two educators left – one of them the young one who knew the SOS family from the start – we started to build up a team. We had a third experienced educator in our SOS Children’s Village who looked forward to joining this team. To get a stable team with four educators it took us about one year. The work was not supposed to be organised as it was in our residential groups with the shifting day and night, due to the fact that we needed more continuity for those young children who endured already two changes within our SOS Children’s Village.

So we decided for the four to work in blocks. The basic model we developed step by step, was one with three blocks: Monday to Wednesday, Wednesday to Friday, Saturday to Monday. In practice it was used flexibly with regard to the actual situation. This way, the educators were shifting, one staying with the children for a block of days and the others supporting him during the day or having free time.

It worked well, but it was supposed to be a temporary solution for this case until we had an SOS mother to take over. Beyond that, there was a legal problem: We needed an exceptional approval from the governmental office to be acknowledged as “house community” to be able to work in this way.

For the team, working hard and also being successfully involved, this situation was neither comfortable nor appreciative.

In our contacts to the responsible co-worker of the governmental office, we discussed this issue again and again; until in 2012 we were successful in applying for the exceptional approval.The group remained until this date, because the time to be taken over by an SOS mother had passed and the children had developed strong connections to their educators.

With the exceptional approval in the background we could write a concept and finally achieved an official status for our group. Now in 2015 we have five groups working like this, two of them specialized in:
  • the care of young children (up to six years) with special needs (especially multiple developmental delays) with the capacity for five children;
  • the care of young people, who still need continuity similar to families, with the capacity for seven young people; this group is suitable for young people even from the age of thirteen.
We still have our two residential groups with the shifting system and we have five SOS families. Thus our range of services for residential care is more differentiated now.

Anyhow, we can be sure that some of the basic conditions will be changing – e.g. the legal ones – and we have to be aware that managing our children’s village to correspond to the changing environment is an essential skill to be developed.


Eckhard Thiel

is Teamleader at the Residential Youth Care Programmes Worpswede at SOS Children's Villages in Germany.

My professional life has its base in educational sciences and philosophy. In 1986, I joined SOS Children’s Villages as an educational co-worker supporting SOS families, giving advice to SOS mothers and their helpers, offering the children leisure education with a focus on sports and music. It thrills me even today remembering the holiday trips, mostly bicycle tours I undertook with groups of children.  In 1993 I started occupational studies of music therapy at the completion of which, my work focus changed towards music therapy and music making with children - a very satisfactory and inspiring engagement indeed. In 2001 I took on the task as a team leader for residential youth care programmes, developing and building up new forms of residential care.

I was born to a family of three in a little village in south western Germany near the border to France and Luxembourg and when I started working at SOS Children’s Villages, I moved close to 600 km to the north of Germany. I married and we have two sons, all independent, living and working in Hamburg. Fortunately it takes only 90 minutes to get to Hamburg, so we can meet often.

My strength in society is my zeal to live according to my convictions. With a critical view on facts in society, I display the readiness to take responsibilities for my opinions and views. Bringing my life ideals into practice, I try to contribute to building up a multicultural and tolerant society, to a fair distribution of funds and to saving nature for the next generations by being conscious about the things I buy, share things with friends and neighbours when possible and support organisations, which contribute to creating a better world, e. g. Médecins sans frontières.

In my leisure time, I enjoy being in motion: mostly running, biking and swimming, and walking with my wife. I love to hear music – especially Jazz – and to be creative myself playing piano, improvising, writing music and (mostly funny) poems.