Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
Skip to main content
European Commission logo


EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.3 Support to youth work

Last update: 28 November 2023
On this page
  1. Policy legal framework
  2. Funding
  3. Cooperation

Policy/legal framework

According to Article 1 of Social Code Book VIII (SGB VIII), child and youth services and thus also youth work must help every young person make use of their right to personal development and to become a responsible and socially competent individual. Furthermore youth work corresponds to the overarching values and principles laid down in the German constitution (Grundgesetz) (see “Youth Policy Governance > Target population of youth policy") and the human rights. Articles 11 & 12 SGB VIII stipulate specific rules regarding youth work. Article 11 SGB VIII says that young people must be given access to youth work needed to help their development. As such, there is an objective obligation on statutory child and youth services providers, i.e the local offices, to provide and/or finance youth work activities. However, there is no subjective legal entitlement by children, young people or families to such or certain services.

The law (Art. 11(2) SGB VIII) divides providers of youth work services into three groups:

  • Youth associations, groups and initiatives,
  • Youth work organisations,
  • Statutory child and youth services providers.

The law also requires services to reflect the interests of young people, who should have a say in what and how services are structured. Furthermore, services should help to teach young people self-determination and motivate them to take social responsibility and get involved in social issues. Unlike with other youth services, the law does not pinpoint specific target groups; instead, youth work activities are aimed at all young people (see “General context”). The law explicitly mentions that persons over the age of 27 can also make use of certain youth work services.

The law specifies the following key areas of youth work

  • Informal youth education in general, political, social, health-related, cultural, natural and technical subjects
  • Youth work in sport, games and social interaction
  • Youth work related to the working world, school and family
  • International youth work
  • Child and youth recreation and recuperation
  • Youth counselling (Art. 11(3) SGB VIII).

Since June 2021, the law also requires that the design of services must “guarantee the accessibility and usability of the services for young people with disabilities.”

Article 12 SGB VIII contains rules that apply specifically to associational youth work/youth work associations. These rules require statutory youth services providers to provide financial assistance to youth associations and (independent) youth groups. Here, too, the emphasis is on young peoples' agendas and their willingness to engage and take responsibility for the services.

Many other rules in SGB VIII also apply to youth work, for instance on funding, local youth services planning (Jugendhilfeplanung) and quality development, inclusion, or child protection. The same goes for the general provisions of Social Code Book X on Social and Administrative Procedures and Protection of Social Data (SGB X – Sozialverwaltungsverfahren und Sozialdatenschutz).

Each federal state adopts its own acts governing child and youth services, many of which contain regulations on youth work – such as on fundamental principles (e.g. its voluntary nature), state-specific focal areas (e.g. work with girls), the objectives targeted (e.g. tolerance), or the combined effect of paid and volunteer workers. Numerous states have also introduced more detailed regulations in the form of specific laws on youth services or youth education, and in particular on youth work funding (overview of many of the relevant laws at Jugendhilfeportal).

At the local level, local authority-issued (youth services) planning and directives determine how youth work is executed in practice. The importance attached to youth work by the individual local authorities is the result of local traditions and the balance of power in local politics (cf. Grohs/Reiter 2017).


With local authorities the primary source of funding for facilities and activities in the field of youth work (open youth work and youth associations), the importance of the local authority level is clear. According to the financial report for education (Bildungsfinanzbericht), total public funding for youth and youth association work in 2020 stood at around EUR 2.5 billion. Of this figure, 60.8% was provided by the local authorities, 15.4% came from statutory authorities at state (Länder) level, and 23.8% from the federal (Bund) level [cf. Federal Statistics Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) 2021]. The EU provides only a small amount of funding for youth work, some of which is used to finance state- and nationwide initiatives (cf. Pothmann 2011).

Facilities and associations receive further funding in the form of donations from individuals, companies and foundations. Youth work organisations also earn money by renting rooms or equipment, and from participation or admission fees (e.g. for excursions and concerts). Membership fees are another source of funding for youth associations (cf. Mairhofer 2019).

Basic funding for open youth work facilities and youth associations is often provided at local authority level via the local youth offices and on the basis of decisions by the youth services committee. As such, it is heavily dependent on the budgets and priorities of the local authorities (Art. 11 & 79 SGB VIII). Funding from the federal government is channelled via the Federal Child and Youth Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan, KJP). The government's aim with this funding tool is to encourage and promote overarching tasks in child and youth services. In the context of youth work, the KJP funds in particular nationwide structures of organisations, associations and professional bodies ("Bundeszentrale Infrastruktur") , as well as special projects, such as pilot projects and their evaluation, expert events and international youth exchange programmes. Funding is allocated on the basis of a formal application and settlement process.

Along the same lines, the federal states allot funding for open and associational youth work activities on the basis of state youth funding plans (Landesjugendförderpläne), which cover funding for associational structures and facilities. The federal states also pick out thematic focal points in their funding initiatives, such as activities for young people from immigrant community families. State-level funding is also generally allocated on the basis of formal application and settlement processes.

Grants are one of the main methods of obtaining funding. Whilst associations or facilities receive a contribution towards putting their youth work activities into practice, they have wide discretion over how the services are structured and implemented. The Law on youth services requires grant recipients to meet numerous criteria. Article 74(2) SGB VIII limits financial assistance to those organisations that meet the specific criteria, that guarantee the funds will be used efficiently and for their intended purpose, that pursue charitable goals, themselves make an appropriate contribution, and promote the aims of the constitution (Grundgesetz). These rules are applied at local, state and national level. Article 74 SGB VIII also stipulates the instrument known as ´youth services services planning´ (Jugendhilfeplanung) as the definitive basis for funding decisions. The type and amount of funding is decided at the discretion of the statutory authority and must take the available budget into consideration (Art. 74(3) SGB VIII).


Cooperation between statutory authorities and non-statutory organisations, and between paid and voluntary workers is fundamental to youth work in Germany.

Youth work includes other forms of cooperation between practitioners, academics and politicians. One example is the network for intercultural youth organisation work and research (Netzwerk interkulturelle Jugendverbandsarbeit und Jugendverbandsarbeitsforschung, available in German), which aims to improve intercultural and racism awareness in associational youth work. Another example is the federal network for child and youth work (Bundesnetzwerk Kinder- und Jugendarbeit) which was established in 2019. It serves as a national platform for the various fields of practice and subject areas relevant to youth work, and promotes a professional debate around the fundamentals of youth work.

Yet another example is the Academic Network on Youth Work (Wissenschaftsnetzwerk Kinder- und Jugendarbeit) which was founded in 2021 to encourage more scientific discourse and dialogue among researchers and academics.

Organisations providing youth work also cooperate with numerous other organisations. On the one hand, youth work organisations are involved in various local networks and committees (such as community conferences, prevention networks and child protection networks). On the other hand, youth work organisations cooperate with one another and with a range of other organisations from the social and education sector. For example, some youth clubs offer integrative activities in cooperation with disability organisations. Numerous youth work associations and open youth work facilities cooperate with schools to provide after-school childcare or all-day schooling. Current studies show that around one-third of youth work facilities are active in this area. Other frequent cooperation partners to youth work facilities and associations include the police, e.g. as part of crime prevention initiatives; healthcare institutions and drug abuse counselling centres, e.g. as part of addiction prevention projects; and employment services, e.g. as part of joint initiatives to assist with career entry, to name just a few (see “Administration and governance of youth work”).

In individual cases, the various forms of cooperation (see examples above) can be established on the basis of (formalised) agreements. However, federal law contains no specific provisions regarding cooperation in the field of youth work.