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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.2 Administration and governance of youth work

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Governance
  2. Cross-sectoral cooperation


Youth work, as defined in the previous section (open youth work and youth associations), has a complex structure of organisations and governance both on a horizontal and vertical level. It follows the triple-level structure of Germany's federal system – comprising the federal level (Bund), the state level (Länder), and the local level (Kommune) – with extensive rights of self-government guaranteed under constitutional law for authorities at all levels (see “Youth Policy Governance > Youth policy decision-making"). Moreover, in Germany's "dual welfare state" ("dualer Wohlfahrtsstaat", Tennstedt 1992), the structure is shaped at all levels by the parallel existence of governmental and non-governmental organisations. Non-governmental organisations that play a key role in youth work are the non-statutory organisations amongst others the youth associations (see “Voluntary Activities > Administration and governance of youth volunteering"). Of most relevance to youth work is the local authority level. This is where most youth work services and activities are offered, coordinated and financed.

Governmental structures

At the local authority level, the local bodies responsible for child and youth services play a particularly important role. These are the rural districts (Landkreise) and urban districts (kreisfreie Städte), as well as municipalities municipalities (kreisangehörige Gemeinde) with their own local child and youth office (Jugendamt) under federal state law. In some cases, the municipalities themselves are directly responsible for youth work, even if they do not have their own local youth office. The local youth offices comprise two pillars: An administrative office (Jugendamtsverwaltung), which is responsible for the day-to-day running, and a youth services committee (Jugendhilfeausschuss), which discusses and adopts measures on basic issues related to local child and youth services, including the structure of the services offered and financial support for youth work activities (see “Youth Policy Governance > Youth policy decision-making"). Members of the youth services committee often include representatives of youth associations. The local youth office is in charge of planning, coordinating and supporting youth work facilities and associations, as well as for ongoing quality development and financing decisions (see “Support to youth work” and “Quality and innovation in youth work”).

Many local child and youth offices as well as local authorities have a separate department or office to support local youth work activities (known as Jugendreferat/kommunale Jugendpflege). These positions in the local administrations assist young people with youth-led activities and support non-statutory youth work organisations and youth associations (Jugendverbände). Advisory services, training and networking are just some of the ways in which they achieve this. The functions performed by these offices can vary greatly across the federal states. The local authorities also provide facilities for open youth work facilities and activities (e.g. youth clubs).

The federal states (Länder) have two central responsibilities: defining a framework for youth work activities and providing organisations at the local level with expert and financial support assistance. The state parliaments (which have legislative powers in matters relating to child and youth services) and the respective state ministries are the key authorities at federal state level. Each federal state adopts its own acts on child and youth services, which also contain rules relevant to youth work. In some states, separate laws on youth support services specify which child and youth work services and financial assistance are to be provided. In many cases, youth (support) plans (Jugendförderpläne) exist at federal state level as funding tools (see “Support to youth work > Funding”).

Also at state level, youth offices (Landesjugendämter) perform important supporting and coordinating tasks for youth work. Like their local counterparts, the state youth offices also consist of two pillars: an administrative office and the state youth services committee (Landesjugendhilfeausschuss), made up of politicians and experts who specialise in this field. The state youth offices act as consultants to practical training institutions and associations, provide training opportunities for youth work professionals and funding for youth residential training centres [see Art. 85(2) Social Code Book VIII (SGB VIII)], among others.

The major national organisation in the field of youth policy is the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ). As the supreme federal authority, it is the task of BMFSFJ to promote and provide funding wherever child and youth services carries supraregional significance and where, by its nature, it cannot be effectively supported by a federal state alone (Art. 83(1) SGB VIII). A central task of BMFSFJ is to draft federal laws. Any federal laws that touch on the interests of the federal states require an authorising resolution of the Federal Council (Bundesrat) in addition. Whilst federal law-making activities in recent past have not directly focussed on youth work, they have had an impact on the field; for example, the 2012 Federal Child Protection Act (Bundeskinderschutzgesetz) which introduced a new law requiring persons who work with children and young people to present a Criminal Records Bureau check. The same applies to the requirements – in force since June 2021 – for the inclusive opening of child and youth work activities.

BMFSFJ is also responsible for the Federal Child and Youth Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan, KJP). This funding tool (see “Support to youth work > Funding”) provides financial assistance in particular for supraregional support structures and associations of open and associational youth work organisations as well as for exemplary projects designed to develop the field further.

BMFSFJ is also responsible for delivering the federal government's Child and Youth Report (Kinder- und Jugendbericht) each parliamentary term, which looks at the current situation of children and young people and the child and youth services offered. The report is written by an expert commission and rounds up empirical data, discussions and expert political opinions on alternating areas of focus. Past reports (e.g. 2006, 2012, 2027 and 2020) have consistently devoted considerable attention to youth work.

Non-statutory organisations

Most open child and youth facilities (e.g. youth clubs) are run by non-statutory youth providers. Organisations active in associational youth work (see “General context”) are also classed as non-statutory youth services organisations. Although most youth work activities are state financed, these non-statutory organisations and associations do not fulfil a formal legal mandate nor do they see themselves as agencies responsible for implementing government policy. Rather, they work as independent and equal proponents of social policy alongside the state. The structure of the welfare state and thus of youth work is in equal measure the result of government policy and the influence of organisations and associations on the side of the non-statutory organisations and associations active in the field of youth work.

As Germany's federal state system began to take shape, non-statutory organisations, in particular the six recognised welfare associations, also developed associational structures at national, state and local level from the 19th century onwards (see “Voluntary Activities > Administration and governance of youth volunteering"). The internal structures vary between associations. The non-statutory organisations and associations generally fall into one of two groups (see “General context”): Either youth associations as providers of associational youth work; or organisations that provide facilities for open youth work activities. The latter includes an extremely diverse range of organisations, from church communities and the welfare associations to a broad range of initiatives.

The non-statutory organisations and associations also play an important role at local level. In most cases, the local and district chapters of the associations provide facilities (e.g. youth clubs) for open youth work activities. They offer and co-finance associational youth work services (see “Support to youth work > Funding”). The associational structures at higher levels (e.g. district, state, federal) provide administrative, legal and financial assistance for services at a local authority level, train youth work professionals and voluntary workers, and promote the ongoing development of expertise and content. The organisations and associations also represent the interests of their youth chapters or facilities externally – e.g. on committees – and thus actively contribute to organisational aspects.

Youth associations in particular often have a vertical structure that extends beyond their involvement with associations and organisations. This can take the form of alliances between specific associations at a state and national level, e.g. rural youth Hesse (Hessische Landjugend) or rural youth Germany (Deutsche Landjugend). Alongside these are the youth councils (Jugendringe), which are voluntary alliances of various youth associations and organisations at a local authority, state and national level (Deutscher Bundesjugendring, DBJR). These structures also serve, on the one hand, to evolve the field of youth work internally on the basis of expert input and support and, on the other, to represent the interests of youth associations and young people externally. Along the same lines, alliances exist between the providers of open youth work facilities at state level, such as the “open doors” association of North Rhine-Westphalia (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Offene Türen Nordrhein-Westfalen, AGOT NRW), or at national level, such as the federal association of open youth work (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Offene Kinder- und Jugendeinrichtungen e. V., BAG OKJE).

Cross-sectoral cooperation

In 2018, the federal government set up an inter-ministerial working group for youth (“IMA Jugend”) headed by BMFSFJ to coordinate implementation of the federal government's Youth Strategy (Jugendstrategie der Bundesregierung) and cooperation between various government departments. Other established forms of cooperation also exist between the federal states' education culture and youth ministries on the adoption of youth work-related positions, for instance a broad understanding of education with youth work as an integral component. To a certain extent, the youth services committees replicate this cooperative structure at the state level and the local level. The committees discuss matters related to child and youth services as a whole. As such, they bring youth work into contact with other areas of child and youth services (see “General context”). Further, the committees are supported in an advisory capacity by representatives of other systems, e.g. the education system or the police, with whom the committees cooperate.

The overarching organisational and associational structures into which open youth work facilities are integrated or the adult organisations to which the youth associations or youth chapters belong can also be seen as cooperative structures. For example, the youth chapter of an association (e.g. a heritage society, the fire brigade, or a sports club) cooperates with its adult counterpart(s) and thus, with organisations outside the field of youth work.

Since youth work forms an integral part of child and youth services, the general child and youth services bodies can also be described as forums in which youth work cooperates with other child and youth services. Such cooperation formats include the alliance of state youth offices (Zusammenschluss der Landesjugendämter, BAG LJA) or the Child and Youth Welfare Association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, AGJ), which is the central representative of institutions providing child and youth services and regularly issues positions and recommendations regarding youth services in general and youth work in particular. AGJ members include the youth associations (Jugendverbände) and youth councils (Jugendringe), the umbrella associations of non-statutory welfare organisations, professional bodies, the state youth authorities (Jugendbehörden der Länder) and state youth offices (Landesjugendämter). There are also alliances between the welfare associations at local authority, state and national level (known as "leagues", plus the Federal Association of Non-Statutory Welfare (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege, BAGFW). Further, the German Association for Public and Private Welfare (Deutscher Verein für öffentliche und private Fürsorge) is a joint forum for representatives of statutory and non-statutory welfare organisations that also provides expert input in the form of recommendations, position papers and training events.

Numerous youth work partnerships at local authority level with organisations from different sectors (e.g. schools, disability organisations, policy-makers) offer opportunities for active involvement in committees and urban district projects or projects on civic education, for example. In this context, repeated warning is given against the dangers of using youth work for purposes that do not fall within its self-identity, for instance where youth work providers cooperate with welfare-to-work services or the school education system (see 10.3).