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Benefits of mentoring people and families in difficulties in Augsburg


Augsburg (about 287,000 inhabitants) in the south-west of Bavaria has a long standing reputation for initiatives aimed at reducing inequalities. It has the oldest social housing estate in the world which was founded by the tradesman Jacob Fugger in 1521 for impoverished citizens of Augsburg.

In 2003 a new tri-partite network between the local authority, local business and third sector organisations was set up to encourage more co-production with citizens. A year later, two new mentoring programmes were launched: the family mentoring programme one is targeted at families in difficulties whereas the so-called social mentoring programme aims at helping individuals in financial or personal difficulties. Read the case study to learn how the mentors help service users to help themselves and achieve behaviour change. This has also benefitted the City of Augsburg, as evidenced by the cost-benefit analysis which has been carried out.   

Hier können Sie die Zusammenfassung der Fallstudie auf Deutsch lesen 
(download the German version).


The Augsburg  social mentoring programme targeted at people in financial difficulties is driven by the following objectives:  

  • to reduce long waiting times for debt counselling
  • to strengthen preventative approaches, so that fewer people get into debt
  • to offer place-based solutions
  • to increase volunteering in Augsburg.

So-called social mentors help local people in financial difficulties and the personal emergencies to which they lead, encouraging them not to stick their head in the sand and do silly things, like not opening their post anymore, for example. This social mentoring programme puts the focus on learning, talking together, negotiating and staying in touch with creditors and public agencies.

Another mentoring programme is directed at families who are in difficulties, where the head of the family has no partner, friends or wider family to help them. The family mentor plays the role of a social network, accompanying the family at risk for a limited time.

The key principle in both mentoring programmes is ‘help for self-help’. People requiring support are supported to recognise their own strengths and to activate them to deal with crises more effectively. It is important that they are supported at an early stage to avoid their situation getting worse and their health deteriorating. Volunteers working as mentors of individuals or families offer ‘help as partners’ – from citizen to citizen. 

Change management

In 2003 the City of Augsburg set up a tri-partite network, consisting of voluntary organisations, local businesses and the local council, to promote and coordinate volunteering across the city. The so-called Augsburg Network analyses social challenges in Augsburg and has initiated many social innovations which are led by citizens taking responsibility for the quality of life in their city.

Family Mentors

The family mentoring programme was initiated in 2004 based on the approach developed by the City of Nürnberg. In February 2004 the governing board of the local branch of the German Child Protection Association (Kreisverband Augsburg des Deutschen Kinderschutzbundes) decided to deliver this project following planning meetings between the Social Care Department and head of youth services of Augsburg Council.

The programme started in March 2004 with the first training day for the volunteers. The first family mentor had already been identified: The manager of social care at the time had been in touch with an engaged citizen who was looking for such a volunteering opportunity. The Social Care Department put her in touch with a suitable family. The stories generated by this first family mentor were reported in the local newspaper and attracted the interest of six citizens who also wished to engage as family mentors.

The local press continues to play an important role in attracting volunteers. Another source of volunteers is the Centre for Volunteering in Augsburg, which tells potential volunteers of the initiative. A small proportion of family mentors comes from volunteers who are engaged in other projects of the Child Protection Association or become motivated because they know another family mentor. Some people also find out about the family mentoring programme through their own website research.

The youth services of the City of Augsburg coordinate the allocation of family mentors. In particular, they assess whether a family mentor is likely to benefit the family at risk. They then get in touch with the local branch of the Children Protection Association, which delivers the family mentoring programme as a third sector provider. The family concerned, the youth service worker, a staff member of the Children Protection Association and family mentor discuss and agree jointly a family mentoring plan.

The two staff members of the Children Protection Agency coordinating the family mentoring programme support the trained volunteer to work effectively with the family concerned. In particular, they are available to answer questions and to give further support. They also organise group meetings between mentors once a month and identify suitable training offers. This includes issues of health risks and preventing ill-health, substance abuse and dependency, managing homework and managing private financial affairs, how to explain and fill out bureaucratic forms and how to handle visits to public agencies. In the start-up phase Augsburg developed its own training offer. Since 2014 the Augsburg family mentoring programme has become a member of the Bavarian Family Mentors Network and now trains mentors based on the Bavarian curriculum.

The kind of support given by the family mentor depends on the needs of the family concerned. This may include different issues such as school, vocational training, how to organise their day, how to deal with public agencies, social wellbeing, leisure, education and emotional support. The support of a family mentor typically lasts between half a year to a year.

Social mentors

In Germany, the number of households in debt or bankrupt has been increasing. These people are faced with a number of problems, which can cause their social or mental breakdown. In Augsburg about 32,000 adults and 4,800 children are considered to be poor or at risk of poverty[1].

The social mentoring programme was designed in Augsburg in summer 2004. The initiative was triggered by legal changes to transfer payments to people in need (the so-called HARTZ IV-reforms to make the German labour market more flexible). As a result, poverty prevention became a new remit of the  Department for Welfare Benefits of the City of Augsburg.

In the first training course in late 2004, 16 volunteers were trained as social mentors during 5 days and 40 hours of training. New training courses followed in autumn 2005. As a result of the experiences with the first training programme, the subsequent courses were reduced to four days with 24 hours of training. Since then the training has been offered annually. This free training does not oblige the trainees to become engaged as a social mentor afterwards. The course participants receive a certificate after completing the training, which provides an important incentive for young people. Furthermore, the course participants are invited to a reception by the Director of Social Care and the directly elected Mayor of the City of Augsburg when they have completed the training programme. This reinforces their feeling of being appreciated and valued.  

The Volunteering Centre Augsburg manages the recruitment, training and support of the social mentors in close co-operation with the City of Augsburg. New volunteers are mainly attracted through reports in the local press and word-of-mouth marketing by existing mentors. Interested citizens can do an internship at any time to get an idea of what the mentoring is about, without having to wait for the training programme which only takes place once a year.

Surgery hours for the social mentors started in January 2005 in four neighbourhoods on a weekly basis. It was important that they were held in a neutral space, which is not part of the municipality. Now in 2016, 10 surgery hours are offered each week throughout the city.

The social mentors provide different kinds of support, including a finance check, identification of available social support, joint drafting of a budget plan, overview of debts and  negotiation with creditors who need to get paid. In the case of serious problems the social mentors may signpost their client to a public agency or even accompany them to meetings. Case managers in the Department for Welfare Benefits of the City of Augsburg help to organise the surgeries and support the social mentors. They also facilitate regular meetings of the social mentors for evaluation, training and planning.

[1] Source: (accessed in June 2016).


The following story provides an insight how family mentors help their clients to help themselves:

Family S.:

Mrs S., 32 years old, divorced, brings up her three sons (11, 9, 7 years old) on her own. All three children frequent a special-needs school and visit a day care centre.

First of all, the family mentor has a conversation with a staff member of Youth Services of the City of Augsburg and has a first meeting with Mrs S to identify the problems at stake and the focus of the mentoring:

  • Mrs S feels unable to manage her budget. She cannot make ends meet with the available money. The washing tends to accumulate and is too much for her.
  • Mrs S and the family mentor agree to work on the following issues: How to allocate the available household budget in the best way, identification of cheap shopping opportunities and times, development of a working plan to manage the household, sorting out the overflowing cupboards and getting rid of unnecessary household items.
  • When dealing with public agencies Mrs S often misses important appointments because she does not deal with her post on time.
  • She agrees with the family mentor that Mrs S calls her when post arrives and discusses with the mentor what needs to be done. In the case of appointments with public agencies, she is accompanied by her mentor.
  • Mrs S cannot engage in meaningful activities with her three sons during their spare time. She perceives the children to be difficult and demanding.
  • The mentor develops with Mrs S ideas how to spend their spare time together and how to integrate the children in social activities in the neighbourhood (developing friendships, joining associations).
  • Mrs S can easily be influenced by family members and friends. In particular, she is prone to be persuaded to spend unnecessary money. She regrets this later.
  • The family mentor helps her to change her attitude and have a clear opinion which she expresses to others and is able to stand by.
  • Mrs S has problems with her landlord who often  does not give permission for necessary renovation works to be done in her flat.
  • The family mentor encourages Mrs S to start some actions to improve her own situation,  instead of simply complaining. After a clean-up of her flat the living and dining rooms were freshly painted.

The story shows that family mentors do not take over tasks which the family should do. For example, they do not help children with their homework. The principle of the mentoring is always to provide the client with knowledge which enables them to look after themselves and their children. If mentors succeed in this, it is very satisfying for the. However, often they have to learn to be patient and to be content with small partial successes and learn to perceive and appreciate the small successes. Often the mentoring grows into sustainable social contact which is maintained even after the end of the formal mentoring. Moreover, many mentors appreciate what they learn in their training programme and courses. It is key for the mentors to be part of a group and to meet new people. In particular, they enjoy learning new things from and with other people.

The following extract of a storytelling project in the University of Augsburg provides an insight to the issues faced by social mentors. The interviews with two social mentors point to two key issues: debt and lack of affordable housing.

Haag: „Well, debts are always a big problem. It means that at some stage something cannot be paid. But the worst debts in these situations is always in respect of electricity and gas, so that there is no more heating. Most people approach us in November or December, when they become aware: “Oh, it would be good to have a heating again.” Indeed, we’ve had people who lived for two years without heating, which made me think “what country are we living in”? And some live without electricity. I’ve had someone who lived for one year without electricity. In the end, his landlord gave him leave notice, because lack of electricity meant that he could not look after his flat properly. And then he said: But I do not need electricity. I said: “How do you cool your beer”? “Oh, I drink it warm”. So he was an alcoholic. He did not care. This showed he was addicted but I say simply: debts are the main thing, whether this concerns rent, electricity or gas. And ending of a housing tenancy is always a big problem. So these are the usual problems. Another problem is addictions – they are not always a problem but a recurring theme. Yes, they add additional problems for the people concerned.“[1]

Kerig: “The whole situation has also to be seen in the context of the City of Augsburg. You have to recognise: In Augsburg there is an acute shortage of affordable housing. The social housing service cannot cope with this. And there is very little housing for homeless people. Really – not even 20 places. This is why the local council tries to keep people in their existing housing and our key task is supporting this by helping people to keep their tenancy.”[2]

[1] Haberhauer et al. (2016), Erfahrungsdokument zu den Sozialpaten - ein Projekt des Freiwilligenzentrums und des Amts für Soziale Leistungen der Stadt Augsburg. Universität Augsburg, S. 22-23.

[2] Haberhauer et al. (2016), Erfahrungsdokument zu den Sozialpaten - ein Projekt des Freiwilligenzentrums und des Amts für Soziale Leistungen der Stadt Augsburg. Universität Augsburg, S. 23.

Performance indicators

The mentoring programme for people in financial difficulties has become a key support mechanism for preventing poverty in the City of Augsburg. Now in 2016, about 55 mentors are active for about 6 hours per week. The trained mentors include lawyers, students of law, bank employees and staff working in social security agencies, experienced mothers and housewives and young social workers. Men and women are almost equally represented. However, most mentors are retired. This age bias may be due to the fact that the surgeries take place between 3–5 PM.

Mentoring for people in financial difficulties is well accepted by the target group: In 2015 these social mentors worked on 2100 cases. They can provide quick and easy support for people who are reluctant to accept help of public agencies. This reduces the risk that the health and social situation of the clients gets worse. The proportion of immigrants among the clients of the social mentors is 30%. This is very high compared to the clients of other support programmes in social care. In Augsburg 42% of the population are non-German.

Since March 2004 about 140 families in Augsburg have been supported by a family mentors. The project started with only six volunteers. In recent years the project had about 20 active family mentors who provided support to about 20 families in difficulties per year. The family mentors are mainly women. There is a strong demand for male family mentors but there are few applicants. Most family mentors – as this in the case for the social mentors – are retired. However, a small part are young people starting a career in social care or students of the local university. There is quite a high churn among young volunteers whereas the older family mentors tend to be engaged for several years.

The assessment at the end of each family mentoring plan shows that in almost all cases the desired objectives are able to be achieved. The support of the family mentor has had a stabilising impact on the family. 

Costs and benefits

The report Local Alliances – Opportunities for Stakeholders and Regions (“Lokale Bündnisse – Chancen für Akteure und Regionen”) by the Prognos-Institute commissoned by the Federal Department of Family, Older People, Women and Youth from 2006 shows that the cost-benefit-ratio of the two mentoring programmes in Augsburg is positive: The welfare gain of the local authority in the case of the family and social mentoring programmes is about 174,000 Euro, based on calculation of how much it would cost public services to achieve the same results. By comparison, the costs for launching the mentoring schemes and training and supporting the volunteers are 48,000 Euro (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, 2006, p. 57). 

Lessons learnt

Family mentoring programme:

It is important that there are a sufficient number of staff members to support the mentors, so that they are available when they have a question. This strengthens the self-esteem of mentors and shows that their engagement is taken seriously and valued.

It is  important that youth services of the local council or the German Child Protection Association undertakes an initial diagnosis of the needs of families seeking support, so that volunteers are not asked to help with unsuitable demands.

Social mentoring programme:

In the case of the social mentoring programme the open surgeries, without any appointment necessary, provided locally at neighbourhood level, have proven to be a key success factor.

The social mentoring programme works because unpaid volunteers and paid staff work very closely together and appreciate each other’s strengths and assets. 

Further information

Information on Mentors for People in Financial Difficulties:


Website Network for Augsburg:

Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (Hrsg.) (2006), Die Initiative „Lokale Bündnisse für Familie “ aus ökonomischer Sicht. Berlin (in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Prognos Institut).

About this case study
Main Contact

Manfred Klopf
Deputy Head of of the Department for Children and Families and Head of Youth Services

Angelika Stahl-Kanditt
Coordinator of the Family Mentoring Programme
German Children Protection Association (a national charity), Local Augsburg Branch

Wolfgang Krell 
Chief Executive of the Volunteering Centre Augsburg
Coordinator of the Social Mentoring Programme
Tel. 0049-821-450422-0

This case study was written by Manfred Klopf, Angelika Stahl-Kanditt, Wolfgang Krell und Elke Löffler in June 2016

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