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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structures > Guiding principles and procedural principles

Principles of action in child and youth services

Child and youth services must always consider the free will of the people. Hence, its offerings can only be created as a product of co-production.

In consideration of this, the actions of child and youth services are:

  • subject oriented,
  • dialogue centred,
  • participative and democratic,
  • reflective,
  • diversity aware and inclusive,
  • local,
  • political.


Child and youth services is fully dependent on reciprocal cooperation by all parties. Services are the product of collaborative action involving both the target groups and practitioners. Without this, there would be no services. Hence, a consistent and communicative approach to generating the goodwill to participate in co-production is of fundamental importance.

Child and youth services professionals thus follow specific principles of action across all of their tasks and fields of work. The actions of child and youth services are:

  • subject oriented. This is doubly true: first, by considering the objective life situations of children and young people, i.e., the societal and social frameworks that either offer or impede/limit their opportunities to find their own path in life; and, second, by considering the subjective lifeworld, i.e., the degree of social integration and, linked intrinsically to this, how the young people themselves respond to and interpret action. The underlying idea is to maximise the subject's autonomy over their life choices both in and despite these life situations and lifeworlds.
  • dialogue centred. Egalitarian dialogue is essential when providing professional support to help individuals determine for themselves how they live. Child and youth services can suggest other lifestyle options and present them in an attractive light, but ultimately it is the right of the individual to decide how they want to live their life.
  • participative and democratic. From dialogue centricity and the maximisation of autonomy it follows that individuals must be involved in decisions pertaining to their own life, as well as decisions on living in social contexts that are taken by child and youth facilities and services. Not only that, but they must also be involved in shaping the social living conditions in local communities and society as a whole. The autonomy of the subjects must be balanced with the need for collective participation.
  • reflective. Child and youth services is a complex field, working with human beings possessed of free will and who cannot be objectified. Socio-educational activities must take account of this. One-size-fits-all solutions are of limited use; rather, it is situative judgement skills and capacity for action that are called for here. Hence, there must be a constant process of reflection and self-critical questioning of both theoretical knowledge and practical experience in terms of their usefulness to each case. Reflection must also include scrutiny of how child and youth services is realised within practitioners' own organisations and in public-sector (local authority and state) structures, particularly with regard to compliance with internal principles of action and respecting the rights of the addressees.
  • diversity aware and inclusive. Child and youth services deals with an incredibly diverse cross-section of people, lifestyles and personal situations. It is crucial that this diversity does not give rise to inequality and injustice. Hence, child and youth services must offer a range of activities that take account of this variety. In this sense, child and youth services is inclusive.
  • local/socio-spatial. Because child and youth services takes place in the socio-spatial lifeworld of the addressee, its structure is local and oriented to the social and political situation on the ground. It considers the social, state and global consequences on the lives of the subjects, whilst working with them at the local/socio-spatial level.
  • political. Child and youth services is oriented not only to the personal lives of young people and their families, but also to the social and societal contexts in which they live. Child and youth services must be a political advocate for its target groups and wherever possible with them by taking part in democratic discussions and decisions that affect how collective living is shaped in the facilities, in the local authorities and in society.

Moreover, there are calls amongst experts to focus attention on the subjective, group-related and everyday needs of young people and accordingly to shape infrastructure and processes in a way that not only gives young people a platform to voice their needs, but also ensures that activities and programmes are negotiated with them and evolved in line with their needs.

Further reading
  • Böhnisch, Lothar/Thiersch, Hans/Schröer, Wolfgang (2005): Sozialpädagogisches Denken. Wege zu einer Neubestimmung. Weinheim and Munich.
  • Merchel, Joachim/Hansbauer, Peter/Schone, Reinhold (2023): Verantwortung in der Sozialen Arbeit. Stuttgart.
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