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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structures > Guiding principles and procedural principles

Key concepts and terms in child and youth services

Conceptual debates amongst child and youth services professionals in Germany are peppered with terms with relatively uncontested legitimacy. These terms shape the professional normative basis of child and youth services:

  • everyday and lifeworld orientation,
  • participation, co-production,
  • empowerment, helping people to help themselves,
  • resource orientation,
  • prevention,
  • integration, inclusion,
  • decentralisation, regionalisation, orientation towards the social environment.

However, all of these mainstream terms convey ambivalences and conflicts that must be viewed critically for each conceptual, structural and individual situation.


In cross-sectoral theoretical debates on child and youth services (the concept of actively youth-oriented services, lifeworld-oriented youth services, the capability approach, etc.), several key terms have emerged in recent decades which continue to provide the backdrop for policy development to this day. Although many terms used in a wide variety of contexts have since, to a greater or lesser degree, parted ways with their theoretical origins, their legitimacy remains relatively uncontested and, as such, they continue to shape the professional normative basis of child and youth services even without connoting more comprehensive theoretical approaches. They have, as it were, taken on a life of their own, becoming key concepts with a normative effect.

Terms such as participation, empowerment, prevention, inclusion, etc. provide a normative framework for socio-educational action and are thus, in conceptual discussions, becoming points of reference for "good" child and youth services. The justification or validity of these terms is rarely called into question; there is, in both a professional and normative respect, tacit consensus regarding their use. Hence, discourse revolves not around their justification, but rather – or, at least, mostly – around the question of whether and how to put them into practice and to what extent various approaches are aligned with them both in theory and in practice. Not only do they articulate professional expectations of child and youth services and shape the legitimacy narrative (the "what" and "why" of child and youth services), but they also characterise what is required of methodological action (the "how" of implementation).

At first glance, the concepts and terms mentioned above appear to be of plausible substance and are widely accepted by stakeholders in the field. However, closer observation reveals conflicts and contradictions and thus a need to be mindful of their use. Superimposed onto the reality of child and youth services, each of these terms conveys a certain ambivalence that reveals unwanted side effects or paradoxical demands.

Depending on the field of work and the specific task in hand, in reality child and youth services constantly see-saws between the conflicting extremes of demand and expectation (e.g., between assuming responsibility for a child and respecting the child's right to autonomy). Hence, socio-educational professionals must perform a delicate balancing act in every single task and case if they are to systematically fulfil their mandate and meet the needs of all those they serve.

Further reading
  • Grunwald, Klaus/Thiersch, Hans (eds.) (2016): Praxishandbuch Lebensweltorientierte Sozialer Arbeit. Handlungszugänge und Methoden in unterschiedlichen Arbeitsfeldern. 3rd edition, Weinheim and Basel.
  • Hansbauer, Peter/Merchel, Joachim/Schone, Reinhold (2020): Kinder- und Jugendhilfe – Grundlagen, Handlungsfelder, professionelle Anforderungen. Stuttgart.
  • Stecklina, Gerd/Wienforth, Jan (2020): Handbuch Lebensbewältigung und Soziale Arbeit. Weinheim and Basel.
  • Ziegler, Holger (2018): Capabilities Ansatz. In: Böllert, Karin (ed.): Kompendium Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, Vol. 2. Wiesbaden, p. 1321–1353.
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