This project is divided into two parts. The first part focused on the evaluation of the sponsorships, while the second part is concerned with the continuation of the sponsorships.
Building on the positive experiences gained in the preceding pilot project, "Supporting the Parent-Child Relationship in Kindergartens", the strengthening of the parent-child relationships in a kindergarten in the socially deprived Berlin district of Neukölln was prolonged. However the project was expanded in that psychology students assumed sponsorships for further children (other than those supervised to date) – the "K-IPU" sponsorship programme. This concerned a research project on the effectiveness of sponsorship relationships between psychology students and kindergarten children as a prevention measure in a socially deprived district in Berlin.
The primary aim of the "K-IPU" programme is to establish the sponsorships between students and kindergarten children and to evaluate their impacts. The sponsorships are formed between psychology students from the IPU and children from kindergartens in the socially deprived Neukölln district of Berlin. For a period of at least one year, the students commit themselves to weekly meetings in which they dedicate their time and attention to the children and permit them to gain new learning and educational experiences. The intention is, via the growing relationship and shared experiences, to positively influence the children's emotional, social, cognitive, motoric and linguistic development, as well as the formation of their personality. Thus it concerns a prevention programme with the aim of strengthening the resilience of the children already during their kindergarten years.
Students who participate in the "K-IPU" programme gain the opportunity, through their sponsorship of a child, to apply the theoretical learning content of their course material in practice. In addition to workshops and regular supervision activities, the students are participating in the "Early Support and Early Intervention in Child Protection" e-learning program from Ulm University. Female and male supervisors working voluntarily support the students in their work by accompanying them, reflecting on their experiences as a sponsor and by providing theoretical classifications. The fundamental learning aim of the students is to gain initial experience about the influence of the relationship and its dynamics in pedagogical/therapeutic settings and to reflect on this.
Taking the positive experiences with the, till then, unsystematic application and use of students as interaction partners of the children in the first project phase as a basis, the second phase was developed in such a way that it now focussed explicitly on the application and use of sponsorships in kindergartens – an area that has not been researched to date.
The 53 psychology students met regularly on a weekly basis with "their" sponsored child in order to permit a relational range of options with a voluntary basis. In line with this, the task of the student sponsor consisted primarily of the activities with the child intended to facilitate its development and not in an advisory function for the families. In addition to the children’s development, the relationship structure created by the voluntary student sponsors was of interest. It seemed especially relevant to highlight more precisely the challenges and limits which the female and male student sponsors encountered as an interplay with their personal preconditions, the specific circumstances in the surroundings and the other players.
Two cornerstones were established for quality assurance purposes: Continuous documentation in the form of learning diaries and the regular accompaniment by voluntary supervisors. In addition, differing questionnaires were utilised.
This accompanying research was related to 38 sponsorships. Following the ending of the data collection, fortunately a further 15 new sponsorships were established, which however could no longer be taken into consideration in the research.
The encounters between the female and male sponsors and the children represented the core of the diary entries. Thus the in-depth contextual analyses of the descriptions focused on extracting the resources and challenges of the sponsorship relationships on the basis of general dimensions, with the object of the analyses being determined by the following two key questions:
1. Which personal characteristics in the relationship structure are recognisable on the part of the female/male sponsors?
2. Which challenges that the female/male sponsors encounter are identifiable as prototypical?
The female and male sponsors in the project were characterised by a more altruistic and trusting basic attitude, which was accompanied at times by a tendency to avoid conflict. They provided favourable conflict management and resolution strategies – e.g. using social exchanges aimed at achieving understanding. The findings demonstrate that a special openness for new experiences as well as a positive relationship with one’s own parents and friends provided a basis for handling and treating the sponsored child in a conducive ad supportive manner.
Consequently, the detailed qualitative analysis of the diary entries showed that the female and male sponsors encountered many stressful challenges, and their ability to dependably and persistently maintain the offer of a sponsored relationship proved to be a fundamental condition for the success of the sponsorship. In this regard, the analysis showed that this dependability was effective both in a narrower sense, i.e. in the regularity of the meetings, as well as in a broader sense, i.e. in the search for contacts in less positively experienced encounters as well. Successful sponsorship relationships are characterised by the fact that the female and male sponsors are able to repeatedly assume an open and interest-driven attitude.
This attitude was not only challenged by special requirements on the part of the children, but also by the task of having to repeatedly reflect on their own role as a female/male sponsor in relation to the parents, female/male childcare teachers and ultimately other children. When it worked, this seems to succeed by repeatedly regulating the levels of the functional relationship structure. Among others, this included positive communications about one’s own attitude and regulating closeness and distance both to the child as well as to the parents. Moreover on the basis of examples, such as the deliberate structuring of transitions, it became clear how important expert psychological-pedagogical knowledge was as a foundation for the actions taken.
Regarding the accompanying data collection, it proved possible to demonstrate that the written documentation form which was selected represents an important and suitable means for both the accompanying research as well as for the documentation in the sense of having quality assurance of the sponsorships.
Once it proved possible to prolong the sponsorship project, six of the eight female and male supervisors participated in it over the complete 28 months. The amount of time and effort expended on coordinating the appointments and meeting places of the female and male sponsors with the supervisors, as indeed for coordinating the dates in the kindergartens, was so high that it was not possible to afford the sponsorship-accompanying supervision without funding, despite having voluntary female and male supervisors.
It is clear especially from the descriptions by the female and male sponsors that the supervision was regarded as a helpful means for dealing with the frequently difficult contacts with the children and families in a way that reduced stress. The support provided by the supervision was regarded as very helpful, in addition to the option of sharing the experiences with the children and parents with other female and male sponsors who had similar experiences. This process encouraged them to experience themselves as being helpful for the others. The content of the supervision was primarily the discussions of acute incidents and occurrences in the sponsorship, with bidding farewell and ending the sponsorship being discussed more frequently towards the end.
The reflective statements by the male and female sponsors and supervisors show a picture convergent with the analyses of the diary entries. Especially the clarification of their own roles, the reflection on the influence of one’s own biography, as well as regulating the closeness and distance, proved to be recurring themes. The fact that the supervision represented an effective aid especially when managing moods of resignation was highlighted by both the sponsors as indeed by the supervisors themselves.
Development of the Children
In order to be able to follow the general level of development and the change to same over the course of the partnership period, the 6-6 development test was applied in a pre-post test design. At the beginning of the care period, low initial values were surveyed among the children. However a satisfying pattern in their development became recognisable over the course of the second project phase: The motoric and the cognitive development of the children especially demonstrated significant improvement. At the second measurement time point, i.e. about one year after the first testing, clearly more children were in the normal or even above average range.