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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Child and youth services and digitalisation

As digitalisation advances and becomes a growing presence in the lives of young people as well as in professional activities in the social work field, it is changing child and youth services on multiple levels:

  • At the first level, digitalisation and digital experience spaces have a stark influence on the experiential worlds of children and adolescents. The lines between real and virtual spaces are becoming increasingly blurred.
  • At the second level, digitalisation is increasingly forcing programme structures in the various fields to adapt in order to stay relevant to young people’s digitalised lifeworlds.
  • At the third level, the dawn of the digital age requires statutory and non-statutory organisations providing child and youth services to rethink approaches to administration so as to ensure modern, effective and efficient work and cooperation formats.


Ein Kind schaut durch eine Virtual-Reality-Brille / A child looking through virtual reality goggles

Digital media have become a natural part of the lives of children and adolescents and have changed everyday family life in many ways. Equally ubiquitous in the workplace, digital media form an important component of the work of child and youth services. Digitalisation, in the context of child and youth services, is thus a topic fraught with major challenges both now and in the future. These are:

  1. First, digital media are starkly influencing the lifeworlds of children, adolescents and families. Inevitably, this will have an impact on lifeworld-oriented socio-educational action. However, whilst digitalisation generates opportunities in connection with the developmental activities of children and adolescents (acquiring, maintaining and cultivating friendly relationships in peer groups, shaping individually chosen [virtual] spaces for learning and experience, etc.), it goes hand in glove with exposure to certain risks (cyberbullying, creation of digital echo chambers, access to content which is pornographic and/or depicts the glorification of violence etc.). This trend shows no signs of abating and must be accepted by child and youth services as a fact of growing up. The goal should be to reflect critically on this development and provide constructive guidance to help educate young people to be independent, responsible and socially competent individuals (see also Article 1 [1] of Book 8 of the Social Code [SGB VIII]). The challenges this poses for child and youth services in the context of preventive/educational child and youth protection (see Educational child and youth protection) will only continue to grow. A central topic in this context, especially at the intersection with the school (see Child and youth services and cooperation with schools), will be imparting digital literacy to children, adolescents and adults in a way that is apt in the digital world.
  2. Secondly, digitalisation is increasingly affecting the way socio-educational support services are structured – ranging from the familiar online advice services, to advisory settings as part of parental counselling, or non-residential socio-educational support services (e.g., as part of activities involving parents) and, increasingly, digital youth centre concepts. Digitalising services opens up a slew of opportunities across the entire youth services spectrum. Nonetheless, it is not without risk – one only has to look at, for instance, the emergence of attempts, e.g., in child protection to develop and deploy digital decision-making rules on the basis of statistical risk computations or an algorithm logic. Attempts of this nature are not without impact on the professional patterns of thinking of experts in this field.
  3. Thirdly, information and communications technologies change the way social services and child and youth services institutions organise their work, from the way internal administration is handled (e.g., digital file-keeping, remote workstations, online team meetings, cost-sharing structures) to the management of structures (e.g., collaboration between public-sector and non-public-sector organisations, financing modalities, quality development).

Child and youth services organisations will have no choice but to actively address all three dimensions of the topic of media development and digitalisation.

Further reading
  • Alfert, Nicole (2018): Medien. In: Böllert, Karin (ed.): Kompendium Kinder- und Jugendhilfe Bd. 1. Wiesbaden, p. 527−552.
  • Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (ed.) (2017): 15. Kinder- und Jugendbericht. Bericht über die Lebenssituation junger Menschen und die Leistungen der Kinder- und Jugendhilfe in Deutschland. Berlin (last accessed: 31 July 2023).
  • Lange, Andreas/Klimsa, Anja (2019): Medien in der Sozialen Arbeit. Stuttgart.
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