Forschungsfeld 1


Projekttitel:  FIRST STEPS (Erste Schritte) – An Integration Project for Infants with a Migrant Background

Akronym: First Steps 

The integration of children with a migrant background is known to have become one of the most urgent social responsibilities.  Children with a migrant background are especially disadvantaged in our educational system.  Currently, only every fourth child with a migrant background obtains an apprenticeship, and this is a downward trend.

The subsequent public discussion lead to, among other initiatives, the Integration Course Law (“Integrationskursverordnung”) from 13th December, 2004.  New migrants to Germany are obliged to attend an integration course.  Our project “First Steps” is directly attached to these integration courses. The pilot study in Frankfurt am Main evidenced two thirds of the women participating in the courses have children under three years old.  One third of the women become pregnant during the two year course.  Mothers, and also fathers, who normally show a minimal interest in the integration in the German society, are open to initiatives that their children can benefit from in this phase where they are either expecting or new parents.

Our project builds upon this early intrinsic interest.  To Mothers involved in the integration courses this provides a binding and continuous structure. The goal is to support young fathers and mothers so that they do not retreat to a parallel society with their infants. 
The group offering is designed to sustainably prevent this social retreat.  The offering is aligned to the specific needs of fathers and mothers with infants, and contact with project team members from “First Steps” begins during the pregnancy.  In the following three years, the babies and toddlers and their families will be supported, accompanied and aided in groups tailored to the stage of development of the infant.

Cultural scouts and cultural offerings are available for the necessary placement in social networks (Pre-Birth Course, Baby Care, etc). The group meetings take place at the locations where the Integration Course is held and empower the parents to help with optimal psychological and physical development of their children. The concept of the “parenting courses” is based on psychoanalytical development theory.  A curriculum has been developed which allows the course to be delivered successfully in other locations.  The Moderators of the groups will be trained on the basis of this curriculum.  Subsequent supervisions of the practical activities ensure a reflection on the implementation and an optimal training course.

The “First Steps” Project has been conceptualized as a scientific study, where the results of the Model project will be evaluated on a scientific basis in order to implement the project to other locations. The project is scheduled for four years, in order to support the children until they start kindergarten.

Background of the Project „First Steps“

There are numerous models and projects to support the integration of children with a migrant background into the German society, mostly focused on acquiring the German language.  Systematic integration projects with the goal to optimize the first environmental and relationship experience of a child with migrant background are scarcely evident in Germany.  Neurobiological, epigenetic and research findings from the empirical psychoanalytical infant and attachment research concur that the first environmental and relationship experiences have a definitive impact on the later execution of cognitive, emotional, speech and social development.

Infants that are raised in a positive and emotionally secure environment show more creativity and less destructive aggression and have a better language and social development.  They can solve problems in kindergarten in a more creative way, are usually less often involved in destructive aggressive conflicts, show more curiosity and a pronounced interest in their environment. Children develop a secure attachment through empathy and reliable relationship experiences in the first year of life.  Longitudinal studies show that these children possess better cognitive-affective and social competence already in kindergarten. Instable, strained and suffocating early relationship experience lead to problematic attachment types (insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent or disorganized).  These children have lost the fundamental trust in the world. Their curiosity, exploratory and learning behaviours are restricted. They show inadequate fear and aggression more frequently, and are more poorly integrated in social groups.

It is to be expected that assistance applied during the early relationship experience phase will improve the long term integration of migrant children.  Numerous studies have shown that the empathy of the parents during the development of attachment is the most important variable illustrated. Empathy is a characteristic that most parents possess, however proven to be an interference though sickness, stress and also the feeling of being alone and isolated, which often occurs with migration, and can damage this characteristic.  Migration can be a wearing experience, especially at the vulnerable time shortly after the birth of a child. This is often escalated as important support systems, such as parents, family and friends from the country of origin are not available to the new family.  The risk of a depressive withdrawal at this time is therefore significant.

Thereby a goal of the project is to systematically support and cultivate the empathy of the migrant parents. Particular focus will be placed on the possible loyalty and identity conflicts that may emerge between the native and German cultures.

Goal of the Project and Research Questions

The short and long term effects on the psychoanalytical oriented early prevention offering from the time of pregnancy until the commencement of kindergarten will be thoroughly examined.

  • How do babies, infants and their parents benefit from our professional offering?  What is the long term impact?
  • Does the project result in mothers more successfully completing the integration course and obtaining work after maternity leave, in comparison to a control group?
  • Does the project have a positive impact on the cognitive, emotional, language and social development of the children?

Research Design and Methodology

As the project First Steps („Erste Schritte“) shall serve as a scientifically supported model project, the short term and long term effects of the psychoanalytic oriented prevention project are investigated empirically in a randomized control group design.

In order to empirically test the short and long term effects of the early prevention offering, integration courses in both institutions will be assigned to the intervention- or the control group in a randomized cluster design. On the basis of the power analysis, sample sizes of n=100 are planned.

A multi-perspective approach will be applied. In the selection of the research instruments experience from early prevention studies in USA, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany will be considered.  The conclusive methodology for the initial measures will be finalized by end of October 2010.


We are able to use the specific competence from integration delegates/consultants and of employees from AWO Perspektiven GmbH, Fachverbund Jugend und Integration and INFRAU e.V.  We are able to combine their experience with the professional expertise for early development of analytical child and youth psychotherapists from the Institute of Analytic Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy (Institut für Analytische Kinder- und Jugendlichen- Psychotherapie) in Hessen e.V. The Sigmund-Freud-Institut in cooperation with the IDeA center (“Center for Research on Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk“) conducts the accompanying scientific study, so that the Model project “First Steps” can be rolled out in other locations in Germany when proven successful.

Milestones for the Current Year

The contact to the women and their families in the Integration Course will begin in Autumn 2010. The programme for the parents and infants with the accompanying scientific research with further milestones will follow.

Scientific Coordinators

Prof. Dr. Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber
Dipl. Psych. Judith Lebiger-Vogel
Claudia Burkhardt-Mußmann, analytic child- and adolescent psychotherapist
Angelika Wolff, analytic child- and adolescent psychotherapist

Statistic Consultants: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Rüger, University München