Emergency cash, care advice: Nine ways a French social worker can help

We look at the role of social workers in France and the support they offer to those in need

French social services are often organised by not-for-profit associations so their local availability can vary

Social workers (travailleurs sociaux) play an important role in French life.

Most attached to institutions such as nursery schools, maternity units, hospitals and prisons.

Their mission is to point people in difficulty towards any available help. 

This can range from benefits, legal advice and free services to educational options, grants, housing and healthcare.

Note, however, that French social services are often organised on a local level by not-for-profit associations, which means that their availability around the country can vary.

Most people first access a social worker via their local mairie.

They are usually asked for help with problems relating to employment, housing, finance or healthcare. 

Here are nine things, amongst others, a social worker can do:

  1. Advice on home help

If an elderly loved one is getting to the stage of needing support to remain in their home, a social worker can explain how to access home help, meals on wheels and respite care. 

They can help organise equipment, such as grab handles for the bathroom and raised seats for the lavatory. 

They can also help families apply for the relevant benefits.

Read more: What are the rules for claiming aid for home carer in France?

2. Educational signposting

If a young person is searching for training courses, or might benefit from boarding school – to pursue a specific educational aim not available locally, for example – a social worker can steer families to the right information, and also help parents apply for financial help.

3. Financial aid for families

The social worker is the first port of call for parents in severe financial difficulty. 

There are various emergency grants available to help people in crisis. 

These funds are provided by the local authority and managed by the CCAS (centre communal d’action sociale) or the CIAS (centre intercommunal d’action sociale).

Read more: How France's free CCAS centres can help residents

4. Affordable food

L’aide alimentaire can take the form of access to food banks and/or solidarity groceries, which sell goods at substantially reduced prices. 

It could also mean a cash payment, or subsidised/free school meals. 

5. Emergency grants

Cash grants (l’aide d’urgence – a one-off payment of up to €150) can be awarded to help cover utility bills, purchase children’s clothes, and buy food. 

These grants can be awarded in the case of handicap, death, or other unforeseen crises. 

They are not intended to replace benefits.

6. An address for homeless people

A social worker can provide an official address for a homeless person to enable them to claim benefits. 

The Croix-Rouge and Secours Populaire also offer this.

Read more: Homeless in France get accommodation in offices when workers go home

7. Extra cash to buy essential items

Chèques d’accompagnement personnalisé (CAP) can be allocated on a case-by-case basis by a social worker. 

They are worth €10-€30 and can be used to buy groceries, hygiene products, medication, or equipment for children. 

8. Support for expectant parents

During pregnancy, a social worker can help expectant mothers navigate the benefits system and attend the appointments required to receive the full range of state benefits. 

They can also advise on grants available locally – some mairies give money to new parents in their commune – finding a midwife, accessing prenatal care, choosing a maternity unit, and even finding a local mothers’ group for moral support. 

Read more: Checklist: 7 things new parents must do after giving birth in France

9. Interest-free loan

A micro-crédit (interest-free, repayable loan) can be arranged to buy essential items to get a job or access training, such as a car. 

This is awarded to people who are not eligible for a bank loan because of a low income.

It can be for amounts from €300 up to €8,000 and the repayment term can be between six months to five years. 

This can be extended to seven years in exceptional cases.