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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Tasks and fields of work > Assistance and support

Child and youth work

Child and youth work in Germany reaches back more than 100 years. It is enshrined in legislation (e.g., Book 8 of the Social Code).

The aim of child and youth work is subject formation and democratic development: children and young people are to be assisted in acquiring autonomy, developing an ability to help choose and shape child and youth work activities, and becoming independent members of society and their communities.

It follows that child and youth work is voluntary, open to all young people, corresponds to their specific interests, and invites the participation of its target groups.

The child and youth work field includes open child and youth work and child and youth association work and extends to other areas such as international youth work and mobile and cultural youth work. It also incorporates organisations offering games, sports, nature/environmental activities, health activities, etc.

Junges Mädchen mit Luftballon springt in die Luft / Young girl with balloon jumping into the air


Article 11 of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) stipulates that young people must be offered youth work activities that are necessary to promote their development. These activities should respond to the interests of young people, be chosen and designed with their involvement, enable them to achieve autonomy, and encourage them to exercise social responsibility and citizenship. Youth work activities are to be made accessible to young people with a disability.

The following overview shows the intended impacts and objectives of child and youth work in line with Article 11 and the respective underlying concepts.

Intended impact Objective Underlying concepts

Children’s and adolescents’ autonomy

To provide activities that are accessible to all children and adolescents and that correspond with their interests

Subject orientation, self-education

Children’s and adolescents’ social responsibility and citizenship

To enable autonomy and participation

Participation and democratic education, inclusion

The expectation that child and youth work should “offer activities” to its target groups reflects the voluntary nature of this field of work. Child and youth work is not about implementing preventive, controlling or instructional measures. The educational philosophy behind it reflects the conviction that the subject in question undergoes a developmental process; the fundamental idea behind it is that of self-education. Youth work is seen as empowering children and young people to find their own path in life and place in the world.

In a social context, autonomy is interpreted as democratic participation: young people work together to select and design activities in line with their interests; over and beyond this, they exercise social responsibility and play an active role as citizens in a democratic society. They hence become “subjects” while learning what it means to live in a democracy.

Besides the general structure of open child and youth work and youth association work, Article 11 of Book 8 of the Social Code references several other priority areas:

  1. Extracurricular youth education of a general kind as well as in the fields of politics, society, culture, natural sciences and technology,
  2. Youth work in the form of sports and games and in social settings,
  3. Youth work in professional, school and family contexts,
  4. International youth work,
  5. Child and youth holidays,
  6. Youth counselling.

Facts and figures - a post-Covid snapshot

When reading and interpreting current data on child and youth work it is important to bear in mind the recent coronavirus pandemic. The ensuing hard lockdowns, many of which were already in place at the start of the 2021 reporting year, led in some cases to sharp drops both in the availability of child and youth services and in uptake. Compared to 2019, when youth welfare offices, churches, charities and other independent providers across Germany organised around 156,700 publicly funded youth work activities for over 8.6 million young people, in 2021 the number of publicly funded services dropped to 106,700 (-32%), used by only 4.4 million young people (-49%). (Data on participation includes multiple entries.) 40% of these reductions (from 105,900 to 63,300) related in particular to projects or (large-scale) events such as holiday camps, training courses, concerts, festivals or sports events. The number of activities for groups, such as regular group sessions offered by youth associations, dropped by 22% (from 26,500 to 23,200), and walk-in activities such as those in youth clubs fell by 17% (from 24,300 to 20,200).

There was a similar picture amongst the providers of these services. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of organisations declaring the receipt of public funding for their work dropped 23% from 18,300 to 14,100.

Headcount trends reveal a particularly steep decline in the volunteer sector. According to the statistics, the number of active volunteers fell by 44% from 563,466 in 2019 to just 317,364 in 2021. This trend was not reflected in the paid workforce at the last reporting date (31 December 2020). In fact, the number of full-time equivalents has increased slightly by 1% to 19,986 (32,731 individuals) since the last count in 2018.

It is not yet possible to identify long-term trends from the statistics available as of mid-2023. It remains to be seen whether the number of services and corresponding uptake will return to pre-pandemic levels and if an increase ensues in the number of paid workers.

No current data is available on the uptake of child and youth services by children and adolescents with disabilities. In an earlier (2016) survey by the German Youth Institute, just under 60% of youth centres stated that they were also attended by children and adolescents with a disability, owing to the presence of specially qualified staff, suitable concepts and partnerships with disability groups and facilities. However, given a general lack of suitable activities and the fact that social services are provided separately for disabled and non-disabled young people (Book 8 vs. Book 9 of the Social Code), recent decades have seen parallel structures develop, to some extent with inclusive services, but also exclusive recreational activities specifically for children and adolescents with disabilities by integration organisations and/or disability community organisations. The Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz/KJSG) of 2021 explicitly requires that child and youth services under Article 11 of Book 8 be designed in an inclusive manner, so an increase in the number of suitable inclusive activities is anticipated.

In 2021, €2.127bn was spent on the area of child and youth work, or 3.4% of the total child and youth services budget. (See Expenditure for child and youth services)

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