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Germany has two national volunteering schemes, volunteering being a specific kind of civic engagement: the youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste) and the Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst, BFD). They are aimed at different target groups and are subject to different legislation. Volunteering opportunities are available in a wide range of areas:
- Social care, e.g., kindergartens or day-care centres, retirement and care homes, hospitals, outpatient social or care services, emergency services, civilian protection or disaster relief
- Culture and monument preservation, e.g. memorial sites, museums, cultural associations, archives, theatres or youth clubs
- Education, e.g., special schools, all-day schools or media education programmes
- Sports, e.g., in sports clubs or associations, “exercise-oriented” kindergartens (Bewegungskindergarten) or leisure and sports activities
- Integration and inclusion, e.g., facilities for people with a disability, or schemes assisting refugees and migrants to integrate
- Democracy, e.g., as part of a voluntary year to promote youth participation (Freiwilliges Jahr Beteiligung zur Förderung von Jugendbeteiligung)
- Environment, especially for Voluntary Ecological Year placements (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr), e.g., in an environment or conservation association, conservation centre, landscape maintenance and horticulture, farming and animal husbandry, forestry, environmental technology and renewable energies, animal care, environmental education, environmental science and environment agencies.
Youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste)
The rules and regulations surrounding the youth voluntary services schemes Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (Voluntary Social Year, FSJ) and Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr (Voluntary Ecological Year, FÖJ) are laid down in the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Gesetz zur Förderung der Jugendfreiwilligendienste, JFDG), which came into force effective 1 June 2008 (last amended 12 December 2019). These schemes are designed for young people who have completed full-time compulsory education but are under the age of 27. The Act sets out the general framework and stipulates basic parameters for volunteers to take part in these schemes, for example the duration of a voluntary service, what organisations may be accredited as providers of youth voluntary services and which labour law, health and safety provisions and data protection provisions must be observed.
The service unit for youth voluntary services (Servicestelle für Jugendfreiwilligendienste, which is attached to the Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben, BAFzA), advises and supports organisations, volunteers’ places of work and volunteers. The FSJ Bundestutorat (national tutoring group) of BAFzA is responsible for quality development and assurance in regard to the educational support provided. It assists the educational staff working for non-affiliated organisations in providing this educational support. It also organises national conferences for experts working in this field and conducts statistical surveys and evaluations.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) provides statistics on the youth voluntary service schemes FSJ and FÖJ.
Development of the number of FSJ and FÖJ volunteers:
Broken down by federal state, in 2019/2020 the numbers were as follows:
FSJ and FÖJ placements may also be completed abroad, as detailed in article 6 of the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Jugendfreiwilligendienstgesetz). In 2018/2019, 20 FSJ volunteers and 6 FÖJ volunteers went abroad for their placement. In 2019/2020, the numbers were 13 and 5, respectively.
Volunteers with special needs (cognitive, emotional or physical disabilities) across Germany receive special assistance and educational support. Volunteers who are members of the immigrant community, too, are covered by a nationwide inclusive approach and are given personal assistance.
Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst)
The Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst. BFD) is a scheme for everyone in Germany who wishes to contribute to the common good outside of work or school. It is open to everyone who has completed full-time compulsory education. Depending on the federal state, this can include young people aged 16 or even 15. The BFD was introduced upon the coming into force of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetz) on 28 April 2011 (last amended 12 December 2019).
The competent authority is the Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben, BAFzA) . It is supported by what are known as central offices (Zentralstellen), which are responsible for providing support to the volunteers’ places of work and the distribution of funds. BAFzA also deploys advisers (Berater) across Germany.
BAFzA collects statistics on the Federal Volunteer Service. Of the 35,246 volunteers who were active in August 2020, 25,085 were younger than 27.
In October 2018, the number of registered and approved BFD places of assignment in Germany stood at 32,150.
For measures to strengthen civil society with a focus on voluntary services, around 353 million euros have been earmarked in the 2020 federal budget (Bundeshaushalt), specifically section 17 of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ). Of this, the following amounts have been earmarked for voluntary services:
- Youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste), including Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) and Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ) (title 684 11)
2020: FSJ: 91,781,000 euros (2018: 75,781,000 euros); FÖJ: 10,300,000 euros (2018: 7,800,000 euros). No funding from the European Social Fund.
- Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) (title 684 14)
2020: 207,202,000 euros (2018: 205,202,000 million). No funding from the European Social Fund.
The final report on the joint evaluation of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetz, BFDG) and the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Jugendfreiwilligendienstgesetz, JFDG) and the most recent volunteering survey (Freiwilligensurvey) in 2014 draw fairly similar conclusions when it comes to volunteering services as a specific, regulated form of civic engagement. The youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste) – the Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr) and Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr) – are the most popular schemes. More women than men opt for a volunteering placement. Most young male volunteers join the Voluntary Social Year scheme, working with seniors, patients, children, adolescents or people with a disability. The age group most likely to opt for a volunteer service is young adults aged 18 to 29 (9.2% compared to 3.8% of 30- to 49-year-olds). Well-educated 18- to 29-year-olds are more likely to complete a volunteer placement than their peers with a mid-level or basic education. Young volunteers from the immigrant community, too, are underrepresented.
For statistics on the Federal Volunteer Service and youth voluntary services), see ‘National Programme for Youth Volunteering’.
The civic engagement strategy (Engagementstrategie) of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) points out that the level of civic engagement among young people has declined slightly in recent years, due amongst other things to increased time pressure, in turn due to rising expectations in terms of education, training and the transition from school to work. The resulting need to remain geographically more mobile and the loss of one’s social surroundings were other factors that have led to volunteers discontinuing the activity prematurely.
Volunteers serving with the Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) have to be issued with a certificate confirming the type and duration of the placement. Under the youth voluntary services scheme (Jugendfreiwilligendienst), a certificate is issued at the volunteers’ request. In either case the certificate must include a reference to the professional qualification characteristics of the placement.
As a rule, volunteers completing a Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) or Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ) (see National Programme for Youth Volunteering) or who are signed up to the Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst, BFD) are covered by statutory social insurance. Contributions towards health, long-term care, unemployment, pensions and accident insurance are paid by the voluntary service organisations or alternatively by the volunteers’ place of work. In terms of social insurance, BFD placements are considered equivalent to vocational training (Ausbildungsverhältnis). Parents of volunteers under the age of 25 are entitled to child benefit (Kindergeld) and all governmental and other benefits this entails. Normally, volunteers receive spending money during their placement. Food, accommodation and work clothes may be provided or the cost thereof reimbursed.
In addition, FSJ, FÖJ and BFD volunteers benefit from educational assistance. They receive support in their places of assignment and must attend training courses during their placements. Normally, they must complete 25 days of training taught by instructors in subjects connected to their placement (e.g., dealing with death and conflict situations, inclusion of refugees in volunteering schemes, etc.). This assists them in reflecting on their own attitudes and developing personal and professional skills.
The quality of Germany’s national volunteering schemes is assured by the existence of various sets of regulations.
Regulations on promoting youth voluntary services in accordance with the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Richtlinien zur Förderung der Jugendfreiwilligendienste nach dem Jugendfreiwilligendienstgesetz) apply to the youth voluntary services Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) and Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ). They came into force on 11 April 2012 ((n. II.4.b. came into force on 1 September 2012) and stipulate that organisations offering FSJ placements must join a national tutoring group (Bundestutorat), which is part of the Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben, BAFzA). This group serves as a central body for quality assurance and development.
The regulations pertaining to the Federal Volunteer Service are known as the “framework regulations pertaining to training and guidance for the with particular reference to training courses and the educational staff used for this purpose” (Rahmenrichtlinie für die pädagogische Begleitung im Bundesfreiwilligendienst (BFD) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Seminararbeit und des dabei eingesetzten pädagogischen Personals). They were adopted on 24 July 2013 and stipulate minimum standards and quality features of the training and guidance given to BFD volunteers, with specific reference to training courses and the educational staff used for this purpose. Organisations offering volunteering schemes have developed their own quality standards, for instance
- a group of Catholic organisations offering volunteering placements (katholische Trägergruppe),
- the German peace movement Aktionsgemeinschaft Dienst für den Frieden.
Quality assurance tools
A number of tools have been developed to ensure quality development and assurance in regard to national (and international) volunteering schemes.
Instruments used to measure quality, e.g.
- quality catalogues on the basis of quality criteria or standards
- quality manuals
- graphs and organisational charts to describe processes and cycles for quality assurance purposes
- structured interviews with individual stakeholders
- questionnaires to evaluate volunteering schemes to be completed by volunteers, organisations or representatives of places of assignment; objective: to measure the level of satisfation of individual stakeholders, or volunteers’ personal development
- suitable online tools, e.g., meinfreiwilligendienst.de by grenzenlos e.V. – Vereinigung internationaler Freiwilliger, an association of international volunteers, where volunteers can rate their placements, or the online self-evaluation tool by AGIAMONDO – Personal und Beratung für internationale Zusammenarbeit, an international cooperation consultancy, which enables organisations to self-monitor.
Communication platforms at various levels:
- Regular feedback interviews between the volunteers and their place of assignment
- Regular internal team meetings on certain topics
- Internal as well as inter-organisational quality group meetings to promote peer support (self-organised),
- Inter-organisational quality committees who, on behalf of the supporting institution, discuss certain quality issues and promote a dialogue with civil society
- Internal as well as inter -organisational national and international training courses and workshops to develop a shared understanding of quality between partner organisations
- Symposia aimed specifically at sending organisations (Entsendeorganisationen) or host organisations (Aufnahmeorganisationen) and places of assignment
Quality marks for volunteering schemes:
- Quifd quality mark The process of obtaining the Quifd quality mark is based on quality principles and standards applicable to national and international volunteering schemes. The organisation behind the mark is Quifd, the agency for quality in volunteering schemes (Agentur für Qualität in Freiwilligendiensten).
- RAL quality mark for international volunteering schemes The process of obtaining the quality mark is based largely on the dialogue-oriented QM system fid-Netzwerk internationalQM. It respects the applicable quality principles of the German quality assurance and labelling organisation RAL (Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung e.V.). The organisation behind the mark is RAL Gütegemeinschaft Internationaler Freiwilligendienst e.V., the RAL quality mark association for international volunteering schemes.
Quality processes to obtain a quality mark:
- Organisation-internal quality assessments on the basis of voluntary self-regulation (fid-Netzwerk internationalQM)
- External quality check/audit prior to the assignment of a quality label (RAL quality label “Gütezeichen Internationaler Freiwilligendienst”, Quifd quality label “Quifd-Qualitätssiegel”)
- External consultants and auditors to assess the quality of the organisations, plus relevant basic and advanced training
Main government agencies and organisations engaged in quality assurance in national volunteering schemes:
- Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ) as source of funding
- Federal Office of Family Affairs and Civil Society Functions (Bundesamt für Familie und zivilgesellschaftliche Aufgaben (BAFzA), especially in regard to the recognition of places of assignment in connection with the Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) and the youth voluntary services FSJ and FÖJ
- Quifd, the agency for quality in volunteering schemes (Agentur für Qualität in Freiwilligendiensten)
- IJAB – International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (Fachstelle für Internationale Jugendarbeit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V.), responsible for training courses, advisory services and publications relating to all international youth work formats, including national and international volunteering schemes
See also Administration and governance of youth volunteering > Main actors
The groups at which volunteering schemes are aimed are clearly defined in the legislation:
The youth voluntary services (Jugendfreiwilligendienste) Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) and Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ) are aimed at individuals who have completed full-time compulsory education but are under the age of 27 (Section 1 of the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Gesetz zur Förderung von Jugendfreiwilligendiensten).
The Federal Volunteer Service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst, BFD) is open to individuals under the age of 27 who have completed full-time compulsory education and individuals over the age of 27 who meet certain requirements (Setion 2 of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetz)).
Specific arrangements have been made to allow easier access to youth voluntary services and the Federal Volunteer Service for certain target groups (in accordance with No. 11.4.a.(3) of the funding rules for youth voluntary services (Nr. II.4.a.(3) der Förderrichtlinien Jugendfreiwilligendienste, RL-JFD). These include:
- School students with poor academic performance, early school leavers, school truants, “street kids”
- Young people who leave compulsory education without a secondary school qualification, young people attending special schools for those with learning disabilities, young people with dyslexia
- Young people who were or are in receipt of socio-educational support services (Hilfen zur Erziehung) as defined in the Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz) (Book 8 of the Social Code); former drug addicts; those convicted of a criminal offence; ethnic German late-resettlers (Spätaussiedler) with language difficulties, members of the immigrant community, single parents.
in addition, special assistance is given to foreign volunteers with weak German language skills (under level B2) (cf. Federal Youth Ministry’s guidelines concerning Section 17 of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Richtlinien des BMFSFJ zu § 17 des Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetzes).
In 2015, an evaluation was conducted of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (Bundesfreiwilligendienstgesetz) and the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Jugendfreiwilligendienstegesetz) that found that certain target groups are under-represented in the schemes, namely male volunteers, volunteers with mid-level or low educational qualifications and volunteers from the immigrant community. See Characteristics of youth volunteering.