Even in 2021, equal participation by children with physical and intellectual disabilities in programmes offered by child and youth services – as called for by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – is still not a reality.
The 2021 Act to Strengthen Children and Youth laid binding foundations in Social Code Book 8 for development towards full inclusivity, and in particular the convergence of overall responsibility for all children – with and without disabilities – under child and youth services from 2028.
In March 2009, Germany ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) thus undertaking to uphold the human rights contained therein, which relate principally to combating the discrimination of people with disabilities. The CRPD has been part of German law ever since and must be implemented by all public agencies. This includes (but is not limited to) the obligation arising from Article 7 (1) CRPD – Children with disabilities, which requires "States Parties [to] take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children". In the past, efforts in this regard tended to focus on participation in medical care and equal participation in education. Since responsibility for education falls to the federal states, the way in which equal participation by children and adolescents with disabilities in the education system (inclusive education) is implemented nationwide can vary hugely. However, it is generally the case that implementation so far is lagging well behind expectations.
A major obstacle to implementing inclusion-oriented child and youth services still remains: although the mandate of child and youth services (Article 1 Book 8 of the Social Code [SGB VIII]) applies universally to all children and adolescents – and thus also to children and adolescents with disabilities – at present young people with a physical or intellectual disability are largely excluded from child and youth services.
This is a result of the systematic dividing line in the law on individual participation services: young people are only entitled to support from child and youth services exclusively where a psychological disability is present or the young person is at risk of such. If the young person also has – or is at risk of – a physical and/or intellectual disability, they fall under the integration support system pursuant to Book 9 of the Social Code (SGB IX), which supports all adults with disabilities.
The introduction of the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz/KJSG) in 2021 laid the foundations in SGB VIII for merging child and youth services with integration support for all young people under the umbrella of child and youth services and defined the steps for implementation. A deadline has been set of 1 January 2028, although it requires a federal law to be enacted at the latest by 1 January 2027 laying down (at the very least) specific rules on beneficiary criteria, the type and scope of service, cost sharing and the process itself.
At present, the separation of responsibilities between child and youth services and integration support for young people with physical and intellectual disabilities often ends up with both sides failing to acknowledge responsibility. Discrimination also plays a role: for example, despite children with physical or intellectual disabilities being fundamentally exposed to far greater risks to their welfare, they are often overlooked in the context of the state's duty of protection (Article 8a SGB VIII), which applies to all children and adolescents equally. This is because youth work professionals often lack adequate training in recognising and dealing with any endangerment of the child's welfare.
And although existing standard and infrastructural services offered by child and youth services are available to all children and adolescents equally (e.g., child day-care facilities or youth work programmes), they are still not inclusive enough. Whilst the convergence of responsibilities is planned for 2028, the 2021 Act to Strengthen Children and Youth calls for these areas to begin working towards inclusivity now (see Inclusion).