10.8 Current debates and reforms
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The Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz, KJSG) came into force on 6 June 2021. The act introduces numerous reforms to Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII). Two new features are of primary importance for child and youth work. Firstly, the law now stipulates that in all future design of services, youth work must ensure “the accessibility and usability of the services for young people with disabilities” (Article 11(1)(3), SGB VIII). This addition sets in stone what was a central concern of the reform in the field of child and youth work: the inclusive solution. ‘Inclusive solution’ means that child and youth welfare services, as a first step, open up their services to children and young people with disabilities, before undertaking further developments accordingly. With this in mind, key parts of the general provisions for child and youth welfare services were rewritten. The very first Section of Book VIII of the Social Code requires that in their provision of services, child and youth welfare must in particular [...] “enable or facilitate young people to interact in a self-determined manner in all areas of life that affect them, as appropriate for their age and individual abilities, and thus be able to participate in life in society on an equal footing [...]”. (Article 1(3)(2) of Book 8 of the Social Code, SGB VIII). Ultimately, child and youth welfare – and consequently child and youth work – must provide services for all children and young people, and that means services for children and young people with a disability – of whatever kind.
In a second step, which will first require regulation under a new law, however, it is planned that responsibility for all children and adolescents will be transferred to child and youth welfare. Until 31 December 2027, integration support is currently responsible for children and young people with physical and mental disabilities, whereas child and youth welfare provides services for children and young people with (threatening) psychological disabilities and all other children and young people. The future “one-stop” support for children and young people requires a further law which, as things stand currently, is scheduled to be drawn up and adopted in the present legislative period of the German Bundestag, i.e. by summer 2025 at the latest.
Another new aspect of the KJSG in the context of child and youth work is that it makes reference for the first time to school social work as a separate area of youth work. In line with the new Article 13a SGB VIII, school social work now includes all socio-educational youth work services that are provided to young people at school. First, this covers a broad field. Crucially, it provides that “the detail of content and remit of school social work [...] shall be regulated by federal state law”. (Article 13a (2) SGB VIII). This means that the federal states (Länder) are therefore obliged to adopt their own implementation laws for this field of practice. However, federal law grants them the option that school social work “may be provided by other bodies and legal provisions” (Article 13a (4) SGB VIII) – which, put simply, means that school social work can also be provided under the auspices of the school and therefore the federal state (Land) and not the child and youth welfare service, i.e. the local authority. This takes account of existing differences in approach and concept within the federal states (Länder).
Debates on and in youth work take place in academia and research, in alliances of child and youth services institutions [e.g. Child and Youth Welfare Association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, AGJ)], in consortia or alliances in the field of youth work [e.g. the open doors association of North Rhine-Westphalia (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Offene Türen Nordrhein-Westfalen, AGOT NRW)], the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring, DBJR), the federal state and local youth councils (Jugendringe), as well as in a range of specialist publications (e.g. 'deutsche jugend' magazine). Conferences and workshops attended by decision-makers from state and local youth offices, organisations and more, as well as youth work professionals, offer further platforms for the debates surrounding youth work. The committees responsible for child and youth policy in the various municipalities (Gemeinde), districts (Landkreise), urban districts (kreisfreie Städte), federal states (Länder) and nationwide (such as the local child and youth service committees) offer further forums for debating matters of this nature. Foundations also weigh in on the debates surrounding child and youth work.
A series of debates have long been waged to do with the legal mandate of youth work. They focus on aspects including to what extent youth work can be incorporated into social functions such as care for school-age children or preventive activities, and what role youth work plays or should play in this context.
Participation is also a recurring topic in youth work, not only in terms of how child and youth work can be structured participatively, but also in terms of how political participation by young people in their living environments (such as local participation processes or participation in youth services planning) can be increased and structured.
During the current legislative period, a National Action Plan (NAP) on Child and Youth Participation has been developed as a central component of the federal government’s Independent Youth Policy (Eigenständige Jugendpolitik). Its launch date was November 2022. The NAP kicks off a dialogue that will run until 2025. This varied series of events will deliver recommendations for effective child and youth participation, to be summarised in the shape of a draft resolution and submitted to Germany’s Federal Cabinet and the Conference of Youth and Family Ministers. As one element of this NAP for Child and Youth Participation, in 2022 the Federal Ministry for Youth, Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) and the German Federal Youth Council (DBJR) presented the quality standards on Child and Youth Participation, which contains a lengthy chapter on child and youth work. The quality standards represent an initial policy stimulus and an invitation to joint further development.
Closely linked to the topic of participation is the topic of child and youth work as a central area of political and democratic education. As societies show signs of growing democracy fatigue and rejection, and democracies are increasingly faced with new challenges, the federal government’s 16th Child and Youth Report (https://www.bmfsfj.de/bmfsfj/service/publikationen/16-kinder-und-jugendbericht-162238), which deals with the topic of political education during the different phases of growing up and contains an extensive chapter on child and youth work, has given major momentum to the debate. In terms of the participatory design of services, in particular, and – in the case of youth associations – their internal structures, it identifies compelling spheres of experience for democratic action in child and youth work services. Among other things, it lists as key challenges the further development of political media education, with a particular focus on the digital environment, cooperation with the actors of extracurricular political youth education, and a need for further training and professional development. In the meantime, inputs from the 16th Child and Youth Report have been taken up in various forms within and outside of child and youth work, and these have contributed to political awareness-raising of the importance of political education for young people.
Given that child and youth work is a mandatory requirement of the local authorities, debates often centre on the provision of adequate staff resources and budgets for youth work and the upkeep of youth work services. Attracting youth work professionals is a current topic in child and youth work as well as in other areas of youth services.
Regional trends can be seen in the demographic change. Here, one recurring subject in particular relates to youth work in rural areas and the challenges faced there. The emphasis is on the importance of local, reachable facilities and services for youth work locally despite the falling number of young people in these areas.
Topics that have shifted into the focus of youth work as a result of social changes are: young refugees in youth work; and the opportunities, limits and consequences of the digital revolution; coping with the coronavirus crisis.
The European Youth Work Agenda and the Bonn Process in Germany
The European Youth Work Agenda (EYWA) was adopted by the Council of Youth Ministers in December 2020, during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and reconfirmed by the 3rd Youth Work Convention (EYWC). The term “youth work” is broadly defined and refers to the multitude of different services for and involving young people, including those provided by paid and voluntary staff in formal and informal contexts. The eight priority areas of the EYWA are:
- Development and expansion of youth work services
- Quality development
- A common direction for the youth work community of practice
- Beyond the youth work community of practice
- Visibility, promotion and recognition
- Innovation and emerging challenges
- Creation of policy frameworks
- A strategic framework for youth work development
The path towards putting the EYWA into action is known as the Bonn Process, which kicked off during the 3rd EYWC. Its implementation takes place at all levels, from local to European, and encompasses all areas of youth work. In Germany, the Bonn Process is strengthening cooperation at the national level between a number of child and youth work organisations and bodies, notably the Federal Network on Youth Work and the Academic Network on Youth Work, as well as through the Federal Congress on Youth Work.
A transfer office was established in December 2021 to support the implementation of the European Youth Work Agenda in Germany. It is affiliated with a research partnership between the German Youth Institute (DJI) and TU Dortmund University and is funded through to the end of October 2023 by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ). Its work centres around building networks between practitioners, researchers and policymakers as well as strengthening and sharpening the profile of the very heterogenous field of child and youth work (including youth social work). In regard to the implementation of the Bonn Process in Germany, three key aspects have emerged as particularly relevant. These are:
- Defining the relationship between child and youth work and youth social work
- Experts – Recruitment, training, support and recognition
- Visibility of youth work
In response to these challenges, the transfer office and various partners are implementing a number of projects. They include a podcast, various dialogue formats and events for professionals, and a nationwide online survey of providers of open-door youth work in cooperation with Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. The work being done in all these areas will continue, amongst other things, in the context of the 4th Federal Congress on Youth Work, scheduled for 2024 in Potsdam, Germany.