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Several aspects factor into the debate on what constitutes good quality child and youth work. These aspects range from ensuring a sufficient quantity of services, the preventive effects, safeguarding child protection, content and impact – such as promoting democratic values – to the educational benefits for young people. A central yardstick used to assess the quality of youth work is to look at how they address the agendas, needs and experiences of young people and how relevant the services are for them. Article 11(1) of Social Code Book VIII (SGB VIII) requires youth work to appeal to the interests of young people. Academic papers on and framework concepts for youth work use this aspect as an integral quality element. Youth work is already oriented to young peoples' agendas. The voluntary nature of participation in youth work means that services must appeal to the interests and needs of young people – if they are not, young people will vote with their feet and simply not make use of the activities available.
As a general rule, the quality of youth work is not safeguarded by way of youth work-specific quality assurance and development programmes. There are no systematic national surveys on whether youth work meets the needs of children and young people or, for example, whether youth work lives up to its principles in practice. However, at the various political levels there are a number of institutionalised ways of influencing the structural quality of youth work and the ongoing professional development of child and youth work.
In terms of staffing quality, SGB VIII stipulates the employment of youth work professionals (Fachkräftegebot). This applies directly to personnel working in the local youth offices and indirectly to the staff of non-statutory organisations. The implementing acts in the federal states specify which criteria must be met by paid workers involved in the provision of child and youth services – which also includes youth work. Employees must demonstrate personal suitability and have the relevant training qualifications. As the bodies with overarching responsibility for the activities and services provided as part of child and youth services, the local youth offices have a responsibility to employ appropriately trained staff and to safeguard the overall quality of child and youth services. The SGB VIII requirement for youth work professionals does not apply to volunteers, for example those working in youth associations. However, other rules and procedures apply to youth work volunteers to ensure they have the relevant skills and suitability. One example is the JULEICA training programme (minimum of 30 hours; cf.), which teaches key skills required in youth work and certifies programme graduates as eligible for a youth leader card. Legal requirements are also in place to ensure that individuals cannot engage in youth work if they have a criminal record as a result of committing offences against sexual self-determination or other relevant offences as defined in Article 72a SGB VIII.
The Federal Child and Youth Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes) and the state youth plans (Landesjugendpläne) influence the quality of child and youth work in part by funding paid posts in child and youth work organisations, as well as by including certain developments, such as raising intercultural awareness, as mandatory rules. Mission statements and framework concepts are also in place in the federal states and local communities. At a local authority level, the youth offices (Jugendreferate), youth officers and youth support services (cf. “Administration and governance of youth work") work to ensure qualitative youth work by providing professional and organisational support to facilities, associations and organisations active in the field of youth work and by coordinating them.
The local child and youth services committees (Kinder- und Jugendhilfeausschüsse) are part of the local youth offices and, as co-decision makers on the structure of child and youth work, have a say in its quality and needs-based focus. Committee members comprise representatives of child and youth work from the youth councils (Jugendringe), the youth associations (Jugendverbände) and other organisations active in open and associational youth work, as well as representatives of the statutory authority and non-statutory organisations from other areas of child and youth services. In many cases, youth work sub-committees or working groups have been established. One key task of the child and youth service committees is to carry out child and youth services planning (Jugendhilfeplanung) as prescribed by law. This planning is designed to ensure the availability of a sufficient number of high-quality child and youth services and thus youth work activities. Many local youth offices also finance internal (partial) posts to perform youth services planning activities.
Beyond the above official channels of safeguarding quality and the professional development of child and youth work, further efforts to measure and demonstrate quality are undertaken consistently. For example, the research and development project of the Wanja project group at the University of Siegen, which developed criteria for assessing the quality of open child and youth work activities (Wanja project group, 2000). The criteria are intended as the basis for quality and effectiveness dialogues between facilities, organisations, local youth offices and youth policy governance at a local authority level (Deinet 2013). No data is available on how widespread their use is across Germany. With respect to governance, some communities orient themselves to indicators such as measurable facts about child and youth work collated in reports using data collected from child and youth work facilities (Mühlmann 2013). These may also include quality indicators. However, the extent to which quantitative indicators can genuinely make child and youth work services visible is subject of debate.
Research is largely carried out by universities and research institutes that receive institutional funding from the national or federal state budget. Youth work research is usually conducted by the faculties of social education and/or social work. However, only a handful of faculties focus primarily on youth work (see “Youth workers” for details). Faculty research tends to focus on the conceptual foundations of youth work, its functioning and frameworks, as well as on the question of how youth work addresses current social challenges.
As Germany's largest socio-scientific research institute in the fields of childhood, family and youth, the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut) has a long history of youth work research. Of particular note in this context is the project entitled "Youth services and social change" (Jugendhilfe und Sozialer Wandel), which carries out regular surveys amongst youth work organisations.
Two bodies in particular focus on researching youth work in Europe: The Centre for European Youth Policy at the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut) began researching youth work in a European context in July 2019. Secondly, in September 2019 the Jean Monnet Chair for education and youth work in Europe (Bildung und Jugendarbeit in Europa) was instituted at Cologne University of Applied Sciences (TH-Köln).
Research is also conducted at the state (Länder) level on the development of child and youth work, in particular in the context of individual states. This research often focusses on individual topics that are of relevance to youth work in the states. For example, the Saxon child and youth office (Landesjugendamt Sachsen) and the municipal social association of Saxony (Kommunaler Sozialverband Sachsen) jointly fund a smart youth work project in Saxony (entitled "Smarte Jugendarbeit Sachsen"), which is working with experts and young people to develop a research-based concept for adapting youth work to the demands of the digital age. Until 2018 the University of Göttingen cooperated with the queer network of Lower Saxony (Queeres Netzwerk Niedersachsen) and the Lower Saxony youth council (Landesjugendring Niedersachsen) on a study funded by the Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Equality of Lower Saxony (Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Soziales, Gesundheit und Gleichstellung) to develop practical action recommendations for youth work with LGBTQ* young people with special consideration to the regional challenges faced in Lower Saxony.
Aside from research by universities and research institutes, the associations and organisations themselves both finance and conduct research activities. One example is the research department of the Federation of Protestant Youth in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Evangelischen Jugend in Deutschland, aej). In addition to publishing the aej’s own studies on conceptual approaches to child and youth work in a Protestant context, the aej research department tackles fundamental questions relating to Protestant youth work and organises a regular forum (entitled "Forum Wissenschaft und Praxis") to provide a platform for dialogue between academics and practitioners. Another example is the Franco-German Youth Office (Deutsch-Französisches Jugendwerk), which has its own research department that looks at the evolution and evaluation of educational concepts, as well as issues relating to youth in Europe.
Beyond research data, official national statistics are gathered on youth work at local authority level (e.g. staffing, number of facilities, financing). Efforts to collect more data on youth work have been stepped up in recent years. For example, federal statistics have been updated to include information on youth work services. Individual associations, for instance aej, combine their own questions on associational youth work with the federal statistics surveys in order to gain a deeper insight into the services of their own association structures. State-level data is available in most of the federal states.
At local authority level, some communities collect data on youth work beyond the scope of the federal statistics, e.g. for planning purposes. No nationwide overview exists of the community-level data.
As diverse organisations at different levels take responsibility for youth work (see “Administration and governance of youth work”), funding for research is equally varied. Research is performed and funded at national, state and local level. In addition to institutional support for universities and research institutes, many studies by these institutions receive external funding. The money primarily comes from federal funds (e.g. Federal Child and Youth Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes)) and the individual state budgets (e.g. youth support plans (Jugendförderpläne)). In some cases this is supplemented by money from the European Union. Research projects in the youth work field are also financed by foundations (e.g. Aktion Mensch, Deutsche Telekom Foundation, German Research Foundation (DFG)) and by the youth associations themselves. The research projects are carried out individually by universities and research institutes as well as in partnership with civil society organisations and research bodies. Given the complexity of the field (cf. “Administration and governance of youth work”) and the resulting rich and manifold research landscape, no central body is in place to collate research findings and data across all levels.
By and for young people: This is the basic ethos of youth work in Germany. It also means that, in Germany, participation is understood to include participatory youth work as well as – or especially – the autonomous activity of young people as a form of participation. Participation is thus an integral component of youth work and enshrined in law in Article 11 Social Code Book VIII (SGB VIII). As such, young people are to take part in the planning, execution and evaluation of youth work projects and thus have a say in youth work services.
Beyond this direct form of participation by young people, which refers primarily to specific matters of organising and implementing youth work, young people also participate indirectly at all levels via certain organisations. Article 12.2 SGB VIII stipulates that youth associations (Jugendverbände) fulfil this function as representatives of young peoples' interests (cf. “Participation”). The participation of young people in shaping youth work is thus institutionalised as the local and state youth councils (Jugendringe) represent young people in the youth services committees (Jugendhilfeausschüsse) and local youth services planning (Jugendhilfeplanung). At national level, the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring) plays an active role in shaping youth policy (cf. “Participation > Youth representation bodies”). Beyond the youth associations, other statutory authorities and non-statutory organisations act as advocates for young peoples' agendas at local authority, state and national level in dealings with other organisations and in other policy areas.
Whilst youth work takes place at a local authority level, digitalisation strategies are mainly discussed at national and state level. These strategies follow a general approach, with no single digitalisation strategy focussing specifically on youth work. In March 2018, the federal government appointed a Minister of State for Digitalisation and began efforts to develop various digitalisation strategies. Although there is no federal digitalisation strategy directed specifically at child and youth work, the existing digitalisation strategies nevertheless cover areas that are relevant to child and youth work. For example, an initiative to teach media literacy to young people (entitled "Gutes Aufwachsen mit Medien") was launched to offer activities designed to strengthen media literacy skills amongst children, young people, parents and youth work professionals. Questions surrounding the build-out of digital infrastructure, which will ultimately benefit child and youth work and the services offered, are also discussed in the context of these strategies.
The individual federal states adopt their own digitalisation strategies. North Rhine-Westphalia is highlighting the importance of the digital transformation and channelling funds via the state child and youth plan (Jugendförderplan) into a special programme to address digitalisation in open child and youth work and youth social work ("Digitalisierung in der Offenen Kinder- und Jugendarbeit sowie der Jugendsozialarbeit"available in German).
A core subject of debate surrounding the digitalisation of youth work refers to specific training for youth work professionals in media literacy and media services. Further questions include how digital formats can support youth work in practice and/or open up new possibilities for youth work. Youth work plays an important role in helping young people to acquire media literacy skills. In parallel, it offers advice on using the internet and the dangers to be aware of, as well as internet addiction counselling (cf. “Education and Training > Media literacy and safe use of new media”).