Two children are dead, the father is suspected of murder. After the horrific crime in Hanau, there are still questions: Was the support from the youth office enough? How well can the authorities protect children at all?
“Where were the neighbors, was the youth office, were you, was I?” A handwritten note flutters in front of the apartment building on Hanaus Römerstrasse. Flowers, candles and plush toys for eleven-year-old Jannatveer and his seven-year-old sister Mukhmanii, who died here almost a week ago: presumably killed by their own father, who has so far remained silent on the allegations. For months, the family had been cared for by the youth welfare service and an independent social agency.
Therefore, the prosecution is investigating the role of the authorities in the tragic case in addition to the charges against the father. Has the free social agency sounded the alarm too late? Has the youth office misjudged the situation?
City lays “hand in the fire” for the youth office
Mayor Axel Weiss-Thiel (SPD) sees nothing to complain about in the work of the youth office: “After all we see with an insight into the case files, the employees have worked to the best of their beliefs,” he said. Monday night in Hanau City Council. Therefore, he put his hand in the fire.
Exactly what youth welfare offices can do to protect children like Jannatveer and Mukhmanii, and where they reach their limits, is Maud Zitelman’s area of expertise: As a professor of child protection at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (UAS), she trains future young welfare office workers.
Asked what could have gone differently in Hanau, she says: “In such a case, one would think that the police would make threatening speeches, that they would show up in the apartment with great force and say: We have an eye. on you. “For this, however, the co-operation between youth protection and the police must be even closer than it is today.
warnings were there
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According to the city, the Hanau Youth Office had signs of problems in the family several months before the crime. Police at the family’s former residence in the Offenbach district had informed the Hanau authorities about the man’s violent behavior. “We found a carrier very quickly,” Mayor Weiss-Thiel said.
According to the public prosecutor’s office in Darmstadt, the police headquarters in Southeast Hesse had already started an investigation against the father. The man is charged with bodily harm and threats to the detriment of his wife and children. The crime took place in December 2021 in the Offenbach district. The public prosecutor in Darmstadt did not get the case on the table until 12 May – a day after the deaths of the two children.
A few days before the sibling couple died, the carrier had warned the youth welfare service that the situation in the family would worsen. According to research from Hessenschau, social workers met the mother of the two children on the Friday before the crime.
Separating children and parents is only a last resort
Warning signs were there – and the Hanau Youth Office was active. Nevertheless, the tragedy happened. Which measures a youth defense takes depends on the individual case. “It is only in extreme cases that it is justified for a child to be separated from his parents,” says child lawyer Zitelmann – for example in cases of physical violence.
In the Hanau case, the authorities simply became aware of the suspicion too late – and a separation is only a last resort. In most cases, offers will be made first: conversations with counseling centers, therapies, day groups. Because the German constitution gives parents a strong right: “Care and upbringing is the natural right of parents and their primary duty,” the constitution says. The state must take care of them.
Expert sees structural problems in the youth welfare offices
But how well can this guardian protect children from violence? Not good enough, says Maud Zitelmann, looking at the youth welfare offices. Because she sees several structural problems there: working conditions, equipment and the employees’ qualifications – everything can be improved, she says.
In many youth welfare offices, the workload is high: too many cases for too few employees. It is not uncommon for one caregiver to be responsible for 40 children and their families. “Many people say, ‘Even though I try to do my job well, I always have the feeling that I can not keep up,'” says Zitelmann.
Working with children from families with problems is only a small part of the training. Acutely needed specialist knowledge for youth welfare work, eg about abuse, neglect and sexualised violence, is often not disseminated. “It does not appear in the syllabus,” says Zitelmann, “so it depends on the teachers whether they can fit it into the course offering.”
Many cases, some time for control
The result: overworked social workers who are only “skilled at the job”, young and often not employed – with great responsibility. “They have to stand up for children in conditions that are not actually created for it,” says the expert. For another crucial resource is also missing: time.
That the family in Hanau also received help from an independent social agency was not unusual, says Zitelmann. Many youth welfare offices do not themselves have direct contact with families, but instead let external organizations do so. It’s not bad in itself, says Zittelmann. But checking for help is so difficult for the authorities: “I have to talk to the children individually in detail – and with both parents individually.” This requires time, patience and expertise.
Residents: “Where were the neighbors?”
According to the city, authorities in Hanau became aware of the police: the youth office had been called because the father of the family had been noticed by the police. One of many ways authorities have learned about families with problems.
For anyone who is worried about a child, can get advice from the youth office – also anonymously, explains Mériem Diouani-Streek: She heads the counseling center of the Frankfurt Child Protection Association. The authorities would also get tips from families themselves, from young people, teachers, educators and adults that children in need have trusted.
Some neighbors and residents came to the small memorial for Jannatveer and his sister Mukhmanii on Monday night. The fluttering note reveals that they too are wondering if they could have done something: “Where were the neighbors, was the youth office, were you, was I?”
If in doubt: seek advice
When asked in which cases people should contact the youth office, Mériem Diouani-Streek answers: “If you have very concrete and weighty indications that a child at home needs.” Not all situations turn out to be a threat to the child’s well-being, she emphasizes: “It can also happen that a small child is in the defiance phase and cries excessively”. But when children confide in themselves, adults must act – even if it seems difficult.
“Sometimes children associate their communication about dangers with a command of silence when they confide,” reports Diouani-Streek. “For example: Dad beats me with a belt – but do not tell anyone!” Then adults had to act “to, of course, still bring protective measures for and with the child on the way”.
In such a case – and also in case of doubt – she advises to seek specialist advice from the youth welfare service or from a counseling center such as the child welfare association. These could help assess the situation and the next steps. “It’s okay to get too much professional advice instead of too little.”
Find help here
Help and advice: If you are worried about a child, you can get advice from the responsible youth welfare service or from counseling centers (eg the child welfare association). More options:
- Telephone for parents (also for non-parents): 0800 1110 550
- Telephone for children and young people: 116 111
- Frankfurt Child and Adolescent Protection Telephone: 0800 2010 111
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