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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structures > Guiding principles and procedural principles

Subsidiarity and overall responsibility


  • Whatever the individual, the family, or groups and associations can do independently must not be appropriated by a higher authority or by the state.
  • The state still has a duty to – if necessary – empower these smaller, private units to act by providing the requisite assistance.
  • In the context of child and youth services, subsidiarity refers to conditional priority over the public-sector provider when it comes to providing services (Article 4 [2] Social Code Book 8).

Overall responsibility of public-sector child and youth services:

  • Overall responsibility for planning and for fulfilling the tasks of child and youth services under Social Code Book 8 (Article 79 [1]) resides with the public-sector provider of child and youth services.
  • It is also the basic responsibility of the public-sector provider to ensure quality, especially with respect to safeguarding the rights of children in facilities and protecting them against violence (Article 79a).


The "social state" principle, enshrined in Article 20 (1) of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz/GG: "The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federal state.") (see The Federal Republic of Germany as a "social state"), is the nucleus of Germany's socio-political values system. As a prerequisite for ensuring individuals' dignity and freedoms as afforded under the rule of law, its goal is to realise social justice: hence, it is incumbent upon the state to grant aid to persons in need and to establish social equity for disadvantaged groups and individuals. As a core principle, the social state also provides a basis for the constitutional interpretation of laws.

All social forces play their part in achieving a just social order. The goal is to provide effective support on a case-by-case basis for the benefit of those in need.

One of the principles underpinning this interaction is that of subsidiarity. Simply put, it means that whatever the individual, the family, or groups and associations can do of their own accord must not be appropriated by a higher authority or by the state. The aim is to ensure that the skills and accountability of the local community are both recognised and utilised. But it also means that the state has a duty to – if necessary – empower these smaller, private units to act by providing the requisite assistance. By virtue of acknowledging social initiatives via the principle of subsidiarity, the people in need of help are simultaneously given a right to choose. This goes back to their constitutional rights: respect for human dignity, freedom of the person and free development of personality, religious liberty.

Zwei Hände fügen zwei Puzzleteile zusammen / Two hands putting two pieces of a puzzle together

Article 4 (1) of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) promotes mutual collaboration between public-sector and non-statutory providers of child and youth services. Article 4 (2) reiterates the principle of subsidiarity, stating that public-sector child and youth services must refrain from action wherever suitable facilities, services and events are operated by – or can be provided in time by – recognised non-statutory providers. However, since public-sector providers have a statutory duty to deliver services, they can – and, in fact, where necessary, must – take supportive action themselves in order to ensure needs are met.

That said, the public-sector provider can make its funding for the facilities, services and events of non-statutory providers dependent on their being offered in accordance with youth services planning requirements and in compliance with the principles in Article 9 (Article 80 [2]).

Above and beyond this, the public-sector provider has overall responsibility, including for planning, for fulfilling all tasks under Book 8 (Article 79 [1]). It is thus the public-sector provider to whom the needs of the people for aid and support are generally directed.

Moreover, in the context of fulfilling all tasks of child and youth services, Article 79a requires the public-sector providers to further develop, apply and regularly review principles and standards for evaluating quality and take suitable action to safeguard compliance with these requirements. These quality assurance requirements expressly include (but are not limited to) (Article 79a):

  • safeguarding the rights of children in facilities, and
  • protecting them against violence, and
  • adapting tasks to ensure inclusivity and incorporating the specific needs of young people with disabilities.

Further reading
  • Klie, Thomas (2021): Subsidiarität. In: Amthor, Ralph-Christian/Goldberg, Britta/Hansbauer, Peter/Landes, Benjamin/Wintergerst, Theresia, Weinheim, p. 902 f.
  • neue caritas spezial: Subsidiaritätsprinzip; issue 1, March 2017.
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