Child and youth services is responsible for supporting parents in raising and caring for their children. This is done, inter alia, by offering
These services are complemented by what are known as early intervention services (mostly provided in cooperation with the health system).
Child and youth services offers many forms of assistance to families with underage children, summarising these under “promotion of and upbringing in the family”. The emphasis here is primarily on supporting parents, who are seen as the main actors when it comes to raising children successfully; as such, this field of work highlights the family policy dimension of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII).
Article 16 of Book 8 stipulates that mothers, fathers, guardians and young people be offered general support services in aid of care and upbringing in the family. These services are designed to support parents and guardians in meeting their responsibilities; helping families acquire the skills they need, depending on the situation at hand, regarding childcare, child-raising, relationships, conflict resolution, health, education, media skills, housekeeping, and reconciling family and work commitments; and strengthening their ability to participate actively in society. The services are also designed to highlight how conflicts inside the family can be resolved in a non-violent manner.
This field of work includes, inter alia,
The list illustrates that this field of work involves a multitude of very different services subject to a variety of legislative provisions. It lacks a shared conceptual background; instead, it brings together a broad variety of services, some of which have a long-standing tradition.
In structuring the applicable legislation in this way, lawmakers intended to bring about a switch in perspective from a reactive form of service provision to a rather more preventive, early-interventionist and supportive approach. The overarching aim is to maintain the functionability and stability of the family unit, especially in challenging situations such as parental separation/divorce or life as a single parent.
In 2008, a range of services known as early intervention (Frühe Hilfen) was added to this field of work, although it is not regulated in Book 8 of the Social Code, but in the act on cooperation and information in child protection matters (Gesetz zur Kooperation und Information im Kinderschutz, KKG). These services are interdisciplinary and provided through a variety of approaches in a range of organisational settings. As the KKG states in Article 1(4), support that is provided to parents by the state so they can exercise their child-raising rights and obligations incorporates information, counselling and assistance in particular measure. This support is offered as early as possible, in a coordinated manner and by a variety of professionals in order to ensure the sound development of children in the first years of their lives to (expectant) mothers and fathers.
These preventive services are hence not limited to the child and youth services field; instead, the idea is to join up various services offered in the social and healthcare areas in order to create a coordinated regional system of assistance. Accordingly, early intervention cannot be seen in isolation. Rather, the idea is to ensure cooperation (and ideally simultaneity) when it comes to procuring a variety of support services from various providers and organisations working in different fields, most of them from child and youth services or the health field, but many beyond, too. The objective is to ensure that families receive all the assistance they need, to develop services that are suitable for purpose, and to improve the quality of provision.
Given that early intervention services are centred around offering low-threshold, early assistance to parents and are hence clearly preventive in nature, from a child and youth services perspective they are interpreted as being part of “promotion of care and upbringing in the family” although they do not come under Book 8 of the Social Code.
However, the branch of services constituting “Promotion of care and upbringing in the family” accounts for only a tiny portion of child and youth services. Just EUR 1.07 billion (1.7%) of the entire child and youth services budget (approx. EUR 62 billion) was spent on services in this area in 2021.