1.9 Current debates and reforms
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Current debates on youth policy at the federal level are shaped largely by the agenda of the current government coalition (> Chapter 1.4. Youth policy decision-making > Main themes). The current coalition agreement for 2021-2025 (Koalitionsvertrag 2021-2025) dated November 2021 for the 20th legislative period that was concluded between the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens (GRÜNE) and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) contains multiple references to youth policy issues. (> Chapter 1.3 National Youth Strategy > Scope and contents).
The Federal Government’s existing youth strategy is to be turned into an action plan for child and youth participation. This involves, inter alia, that quality standards for effective participation are given greater visibility and that child and youth parliaments and participation networks are strengthened. A dedicated campaign is to be launched to inform children and young people of their rights and way to file complaints. European and international youth work is to be strengthened and opportunities for participation in such activities improved, especially for apprentices. Youth labour employment agencies (Jugendberufsagentur) are to be expanded in a move to create more opportunities for young people to complete a vocational qualification. A number of other schemes, too, have the same goal; explicit reference is made to the intention to open up work-related training schemes also to young refugees. Possibly one of the most important youth policy projects of the new government is the introduction of a “guaranteed child allowance” (Kindergrundsicherung) for children and adolescents, which has two parts: an income-independent guaranteed allowance for all children and adolescents and a means-tested additional allowance depending on parental income.
The coalition agreement references a number of other youth policy projects in, e.g., the area of child protection, the destigmatisation of mentally ill individuals, drug policy, the fight against child abuse and sexual abuse, the prevention of hostility towards the LGBTQI+ community, European and international youth exchanges, and migration/refugee/integration policy.
The coming into force of the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz, KJSG), part of the reform of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) in the summer of 2021 represents a major step forward in terms of ensuring that child and youth services will now be provided to children both with and without disabilities (the “inclusive solution”). As it stands now, until 31 December 2027 child and youth services providers will remain responsible for assisting children and young people with (developing) emotional incapacities, while integration support remains responsible for individuals with any other form of disability. However, the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth seeks to have all forms of support and assistance provided to all children and adolescents from a single source (child and youth services). Besides the many new provisions introduced through the Act in regard to child protection, counselling, complaints and fostering that now have to be implemented, the “inclusive solution” will be the determining theme in the years to come. Many of the existing provisions of the Act now have to be implemented. In addition, reliable forms of cooperation between child and youth service providers and integration service providers have to be established, and facilities need to open up to children and adolescents with a disability. Meanwhile, another federal act is in the pipeline that is scheduled for adoption by 31 December 2026. Many details remain unclear, requiring much debate across the professional community. The coalition agreement of November 2021 stipulates that a participatory process is to be launched involving the federal states, local authorities and associations in order to discuss unresolved issues and any necessary amendments to Book 8 of the Social Code. This legislative process is scheduled for conclusion at the latest by the end of the current legislative term, that is, summer 2025.
Incorporation of children’s rights in Germany’s Basic Law
The new coalition agreement of November 2021 also calls for enshrining children’s rights in Germany’s Basic Law. This is a second attempt, after a first draft produced by the previous government failed to pass through parliament in summer 2021. On the one hand, it failed to gain majority support; on the other hand, it was widely criticised by many stakeholders since in many cases the wording fell short of the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In Germany, children’s rights as enshrined in the UN Convention, which Germany ratified in 1992, are set out in what is known as a “einfaches Bundesgesetz” (a federal law adopted by simple majority). It is hoped by many that incorporating children’s rights into Germany’s constitution (Grundgesetz) will lead to a stronger legal and societal recognition of the principles of the Convention as well as an improvement in the participation opportunities available to children and adolescents.
Both the public and political debate centre around the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. From a youth policy point of view, it is evident that after a long period during which much attention was given to the impact of the pandemic on young people’s opportunities on the labour market and in education, the focus is now shifting to its personal and social effect on children and adolescents. Empirical data suggest a strong psychological impact on young people, with an attendant increase in mental health problems among this cohort. Although it is currently impossible to tell what medium- and long-term limitations young people will suffer as a result of the pandemic, it is becoming ever clearer that an urgent need for longer-term assistance is emerging. There is still no definitive insight into the consequences of the pandemic for young entrants to the labour market and how the extended periods of remote schooling will affect their opportunities. There are many factors at play here, notably the extent to which the economy will recover once the pandemic is over.
Another current topic is the impact of the pandemic on child and youth services, specifically during lockdown and the (partial) shutdown of child and youth services facilities. Child and youth services providers initially found it very challenging to maintain contact with their target groups, however the situation has improved somewhat, even though many activities, notably youth work, are currently (January 2022) still restricted. Other subjects under discussion in recent months include the structural enablement of child protection; providing support and mentoring in lockdown conditions; and safeguarding the existence of social institutions and welfare services. The pandemic also revealed major deficits across the child and youth services field in terms of digitalisation.
Promotion of democracy
The last two decades have seen democracies all over Europe coming under pressure, for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, factors such as globalisation, digitalisation, climate change, migration, social division, the call for more participation and structural problems inherent in modern democracy have had a clear effect; on the other, several undemocratic social movements, parties and groupings have risen to prominence. Against this backdrop, during the last legislative term a comprehensive report was prepared by an independent committee detailing the state of play in civic education as well as challenges to be overcome in order to strengthen democracy (16th Child and Youth Report/16. Kinder- und Jugendbericht der Bundesregierung). The proposals contained therein now need to be translated into practice. In addition, the Federal Government is funding two major programmes (“Live Democracy!”/Demokratie leben!” and “Cohesion through participation”/Zusammenhalt durch Teilhabe) that promote democracy. Both programmes are time-limited, however efforts are being made to make them permanent either partly or entirely. The Federal Government is also planning to pass an act to promote democracy (Demokratiefördergesetz) by 2023 in a move to strengthen democratic civil society.
Beside the above-mentioned action plan for child and youth participation, the new coalition partners have agreed to reform Germany’s election laws in the current legislative period and in so doing, lower the voting age for national (parliamentary) elections from 18 to 16, reflecting a wider ongoing debate around voting age. This is expected to improve opportunities for young people to participate.