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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structural framework > Society

Child and youth services and the judicial system

Child and youth services is reliant in several respects on cooperation with the family and juvenile courts attached to the local courts:

  • The family court handles custody matters and related issues concerning parental separation and divorce, and decides on the need for interventions to avert endangerment of the child’s welfare.
  • The juvenile court presides over criminal hearings involving juveniles and young adults who face criminal charges under the Youth Courts Act.

Child and youth services is required by law to cooperate in these court proceedings (Articles 50 and 52 Social Code Book 8). The courts are obliged to involve the youth welfare offices in all such proceedings (Act on Proceedings in Family Matters and in Matters of Non-contentious Jurisdiction and Youth Courts Act).


The youth welfare office is obliged to participate regularly in hearings on matters of family law before the family court and hearings pertaining to crimes committed by adolescents and young adults before the juvenile court. Rather than being independent organisations, family courts and juvenile courts are branches or divisions of the presiding local courts in the districts and cities.

Local courts in Germany are established by the federal states (Article 92 of the Basic Law [Grundgesetz/GG]). Federal state (Länder) legislation assigns the local courts to certain county court divisions with the aim of safeguarding their general availability to citizens. There is a total of 638 local courts within Germany's 16 federal states. Depending on the local court's catchment area, the number of judges available to it can vary dramatically, from just a few to up to 100 per court. The local court judges sit alone (Article 22 [1] Courts Constitution Act [Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz/GVG]).

Zwei Paragrafen legen sich um einen Kreis, in dem eine Familie dargestellt wird / Two paragraphs wrapped around a circle in which a family is depicted

The local courts preside over civil matters, including children and family cases, as well as criminal matters, including juvenile criminal cases. The local court is the court of first instance. Higher courts (for appeals and major criminal offences) are the regional court, the higher regional court and the Federal Court of Justice/Federal Constitutional Court.

Family courts constitute a division of the local court and handle family cases pursuant to Article 111 of the Act on Proceedings in Family Matters and in Matters of Non-contentious Jurisdiction (Gesetz über das Verfahren in Familiensachen und in den Angelegenheiten der freiwilligen Gerichtsbarkeit/FamFG) (of relevance to youth services: custody issues following the parents' separation/divorce, custody issues in the context of endangerment of the child's welfare, rights of access for parents living separately, protection against violence, adoption, child maintenance etc.).

Juvenile courts are another division of the local court. Pursuant to Article 39 of the Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtgesetz/JGG), they preside over criminal offences committed by juveniles (aged 14 to 18) and young adults (aged 18 to 21). A juvenile court judge presides over proceedings in which a maximum penalty can be imposed of supervisory measures or short-term confinement.

The youth welfare office is required by law in Germany (FamFG, JGG, Article 50 [Cooperation in proceedings before the family court] of Book 8 of the Social Code [SGB VIII] and/or Article 52 SGB VIII [Cooperation in proceedings in accordance with JGG]) to participate in all such court hearings (see Taking into custody and Involvement in family court proceedings in cases of (suspected) child welfare endangerment). The youth welfare office contributes its expertise in social education, expert opinions and proposes social education services and intervention strategies to the courts.

Further reading
  • Münder, Johannes (ed.) (2017): Kindeswohl zwischen Jugendhilfe und Justiz - Zur Entwicklung von Entscheidungsgrundlagen und Verfahren zur Sicherung des Kindeswohls zwischen Jugendämtern und Familiengerichten. Weinheim and Basel.
  • Höynck, Theresia (2016): Jugendhilfe im Strafverfahren/Jugendgerichtshilfe. In: Schröer, Wolfgang/Struck, Norbert/Wolff, Mechthild (eds.): Handbuch Kinder- und Jugendhilfe. 2nd edition, Weinheim and Basel, p. 969−983.
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