Violence in day-care centers: when small children are witnesses


Status: 03/22/2023 05:01 a.m

It is difficult to clarify psychological or physical violence in day-care centers: the providers and staff do not always report allegations. Supervision is sometimes overloaded and acts inconsistently. And investigators also have their limits, like BR research prove.

By Claudia Gürkov and Christiane Hawranek, BR

The Rassobande daycare center in Grafrath – half an hour’s drive from Munich – became a suspect for the investigating authorities in 2019. The director at the time, Martina S. (name changed by the editors), is said to have forced children to eat, insulted them, showered them with cold water and hit them, among other things.

After BRResearch reports that seven small children were hit at home, including Corinna Bürk’s son. He starts school this year. To this day, Corinna Bürk’s son doesn’t go to a children’s birthday party alone, she says she has problems building trust. “I definitely can’t end it. I wouldn’t care about an apology now. I’m not waiting for that anymore. But a bit of justice.”

Other children, so their parents tell us, have trouble showering for a long time, crouching when someone raises their voice and holding their hands protectively over their heads. To this day, a boy has refused any contact with women who resemble Martina S.

Proceedings dropped due to lack of evidence

In June 2021, the Munich II public prosecutor’s office will stop the investigation. The presumption of innocence continues to apply to Martina S. The following reasons are given in the hiring notifications: the parents are hearsay witnesses, the children are not yet able to provide information and there is no objective evidence such as camera recordings.

On request, the carrier of the crèche, FortStep, says that there are statements against statements. Conflicts are now dealt with differently and trust points have been created that employees can turn to. According to the provider, the head of the crèche has not worked for FortStep since mid-October 2019.

The BR is researching other cases where there is suspicion of violence against small children, including in Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria. Here, too, the investigating authorities are having a hard time. Investigators and investigating judges, who only want to comment anonymously, explain that in practice only testimonies from children aged five or six years old count. Before that, they say, an adult has to break their silence for a case to stand up in court. Nursery children are usually one to three years old.

Small children as witnesses?

There is no legal age limit from which a person is able to testify. In research, the limit is roughly four years, explains Anett Tamm, forensic psychologist at the Psychological University in Berlin. Preschool children should be interviewed as quickly as possible and ideally only once. It is about depicting what happened only from the memory of the child.

Four-year-olds and younger, emphasizes the statement psychologist, are still incapable of deception: “If children of this age spontaneously, without any external influence, make statements about experiences that shouldn’t have happened, then you have to take it very, very seriously. “

Grafrath crèche children never questioned

At least one family in the Grafrath case had allowed their children to be questioned by trained experts. That didn’t happen. On request, the Munich II public prosecutor said that there were no legal obstacles to the hearing of daycare children. A spokesman said that in this case they decided against it.

Investigating authorities would decide, among other things, according to the following criteria: How long ago was the incident, were children possibly influenced, does the statement burden the children and what meaning could such a statement have?

Children’s charity sees a gap in justice

Linda Zaiane-Kuhlmann, a lawyer from the German Children’s Fund, warns that if you don’t interview children, you’re treating them differently from adults just because they’re children. And that is unfair. In addition, children are deprived of the opportunity that a procedure will clarify possible injustice: “Basically, one must say that the statements of the parents as witnesses from hearsay in combination with children’s statements can very well lead to sufficient suspicion and to an indictment, especially since it is yes, in this case several children were involved.” In addition to the law enforcement authorities, the lawyer also sees the daycare supervisors in the youth welfare offices as responsible.

The youth welfare office in Fürstenfeldbruck, which is responsible for the Grafrath case, did not take action after the first complaints in the summer of 2019. Only in November were officials in the crèche.

Daycare supervisors partly overloaded

BR research conducted a survey among the 103 daycare supervisory authorities in Bavaria, 77 took part. The result: 37 authorities state that they cannot completely fulfill their tasks. According to their own statements, eight daycare supervisors only have up to ten hours a week. In addition, there are vacancies and a constantly growing area of ​​responsibility, write many dem BR.

The information in the survey also shows how differently daycare supervisors work in the Free State: If, as in Grafrath, there is a suspicion that daycare staff have been aggressive or even violent towards children, 30 of 77 participants in the survey question parents and educators. Ten more interviewed either staff or legal guardians or just reporting people. Some daycare supervisors write to him BRthey are not an investigative authority.

The Bavarian Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for legal supervision and, on request, refers to the local self-government: the supervisory authorities are responsible for their own work organization. The ministry cannot make any specifications.

The lawyer Linda Zaiane-Kuhlmann from the German Children’s Fund sees it differently: she calls on the Free State to provide the daycare supervisors with sufficient resources. Authorities would also have to check facts themselves. For the child rights activist, the fact that the supervisory authorities work so differently is unacceptable: “In summary, one can speak of a patchwork quilt. It cannot be that the implementation of the child’s well-being depends on chance or on the child’s place of residence.”

Prosecutors want to hear more witnesses

research of BR prove several gaps in the investigation: A teacher appeared to testify, but the interrogator was ill and the appointment was not made up for. The investigators questioned a total of four daycare workers, but no staff who worked regularly with Martina S. Other parents were not interviewed either.

Upon request of BR the Munich II public prosecutor wants to deal with the Grafrath case again and now hear more witnesses.

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