A homeschooling family in Southern Germany spent six hours in a grueling German Family Court session this week with the hopes of regaining custody of their six homeschooled children, who have been held in state custody since January. After the long and confusing session, the Gorbers regained custody of their 3-year-old son. The judge, meanwhile, retained custody of five other Gorber children now being kept in foster care and youth homes pending a court-ordered psychological evaluation of the parents. The court did allow increased visitation for some of the children up from one hour every two weeks that had been permitted since the children were seized in a surprise raid by the youth welfare office ("Jugendamt") and police.
In January of 2008, Jugendamt and police officials surrounded the German home of the family while Mr. Gorber visited his wife at a local hospital where she had been admitted due to complications from her pregnancy with her ninth child. The oldest son, age 21, and a daughter, age 20, were not taken by the authorities, but all the other children were removed despite their repeated protests.
The siblings reported that the 7-year-old was gripped around the waist by a youth home music teacher, dragged kicking and screaming across the courtyard and thrown into a van. The terrified 3-year-old clung to his 20-year-old sister so tightly that even the police and Jugendamt could not separate them. Both had to be taken to the youth home, where at last the little fellow's strength gave out and he could be taken into custody.
The children then received psychological exams which all reported that they were normal and well-functioning. Although these evaluations attested to appropriate parenting, the judge indicated that he was unwilling to allow the other children, all of school age, to return home because he did not believe the father's assurances that he would enroll the children in school.
Someone who attended the six-hour hearing described the scene as "bedlam in the courtroom, without any attempt by the judge to impose discipline. The parties kept interrupting each other and everyone spoke at once." Some of the children have reported that their court-appointed attorneys said they will fight to keep them in foster care despite the children's firmly stated desire to return home to their parents.
Many in Europe are critical of Germany's Jugendamt. Germany has Europe's highest incidence of removing children from their homes. A recent article in Germany's Zeitung newspaper showed figures indicating that the removal of children from their homes was up 12.5% this year in Germany while the number of abused children remained the same.
Opponents have accused the child welfare system in Germany of corruption driven by exorbitant payments by the government to children's homes and foster care providers. This "youth welfare industry" is financed by a 21 billion euro budget. The local operating youth welfare committees include privately owned and for-profit children's care institutions who participate with legal sanction on the committees with two-fifths of the total vote. No other child welfare system in the world is known to allow this type of intermingling between government and commercial enterprises. Such an intermingling would appear to create a serious conflict of interest.
This is of particular concern to homeschooling families in Germany in light of court decisions and a recent change to the federal youth welfare law that was signed by German President Roland Koch on July 5 of this year. The law, BGB 1666, establishes the standard by which family courts are to determine whether custody of parents can be taken away. The law was changed to make it easier for children to be removed by the Jugendamt when the children are "endangered." But endangerment is not defined in the law. The highest German courts have ruled that homeschooling is not tolerated because it creates "parallel societies" and is an abuse of parent's rights. Administrative agencies and courts have stated that the failure to send children to school is by definition "endangerment."
If you would like to send a note of encouragement to the Gorber Family write to them at: