Protecting children, strengthening families
What exactly does the modernised Act to Strengthen Children and Youth?
The Act finetunes the legal basis for child and youth welfare. The aim is to put in place an effective support system that protects children from hazards and strengthens families. It is also about securing or achieving participation in society and equal opportunities for all young people. That is why it focuses on those children, young people and young adults particularly in need of support.
Specifically, the reform of the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth provides for the following:
- Better protection for children and young people
- Support for children and young people growing up in foster families or in special educational institutions
- One-stop shop for support for children and young people with and without disabilities
- More preventive services at local level
- Greater involvement of young people, their parents and families.
Why did the Act need to be reformed?
Children and youth welfare services have the job of strengthening all young people. This broad understanding of the mandate is based on the 8th volume of the German Social Code – Child and Youth Welfare (SGB VIII). To ensure that legislation is in line with the actual needs of young people in future too, it must be amended and brought into line with changing needs.
Children and youth welfare services are responsible for helping parents bring up their children. The services also addresses risks to the welfare and wellbeing of children. They base their services on the principle that young people and their parents are not just recipients of welfare services, but are experts in their own field and should be treated as equals and actively involved in support and protection processes, which they should help to shape. The further development of the legal basis for child and youth welfare is an important project that is set out in the coalition agreement.
How does the Act improve child and youth protection?
Child and youth welfare institutions are particularly important. The requirements that must be met before a license is issued to run a children’s home or other facilities will be tightened. Supervision and inspection will be stepped up. In future, it will be possible to inspect homes at any time without any specific cause.
The cooperation between child and youth welfare and important stakeholders in the field of child protection is also very important. The aim is to develop and improve this cooperation. The health service will thus have more responsibility for effective child protection. The modernised Act regulates the responsibility of statutory health insurance schemes and enhances cooperation between doctors and other health care professions and the youth welfare office. In future, when paediatricians contact the youth welfare office because they suspect that the wellbeing of a child is jeopardised, they will receive feedback on the office’s assessment of the risk.
The Act provides for an improvement in the interaction between the youth welfare office and juvenile courts, family courts and law enforcement agencies, as well as other important actors in the area of child protection, including teachers.
How are children and young people growing up in foster families or in an institutional setting to be strengthened?
One important point is that the share of their income that young people in residential institutions are required to pay to cover the costs of the institution is to be limited to a maximum of 25 per cent of their income. They will be able to keep three-quarters of their secondary earnings.
Where support is provided outside the family, parents will also have a legal entitlement to counselling, support and help in developing their relationships with their child. To ensure that the rights of children and young people are respected in fostering, protection strategies will have to be applied in this setting in future.
Moreover, ties that have developed over time and relationships of foster children will be strengthened by expanding the options open to family courts. In future courts can rule that the child should stay in its foster family in the long term, if this is deemed necessary for the protection and wellbeing of the child.
What about support for children and young people with disabilities?
It will become significantly easier for children and young people with disabilities and for their parents to realise their rights. To this end, integration assistance for children and young people with disabilities is to be incorporated and integrated into child and youth welfare law in a step by step procedure. The aim is to put in place a one-stop shop for assistance.
Inclusion is anchored as a guiding vision in child and youth welfare. At nursery level children with and without disabilities should always be cared for together. The relevant service providers must cooperate more closely on a more binding basis. As of 2024, parents of children with disabilities will have the support of a “procedural pilot” who will always be available to them as a contact. The aim is to provide more reliable counselling services.
How are the participatory rights of those affected strengthened?
An important change is that children and young people are to have an unrestricted entitlement to counselling services provided by the child and youth welfare services. In addition to this, ombudsperson offices are to be anchored in law so as to strengthen the participation of young people and their parents. The rights of foster children in particular are to be strengthened. The youth welfare office will be required to guarantee foster children the opportunity to lodge complaints regarding their own cases. Parents are to be involved in what is termed support planning for their children, provided this does not call into question the assistance process. Above all the will and the needs of the young person in question and of the person with rights of custody must be taken into account.
Over and above this, the youth welfare office will be required to provide a full explanation to the child or young person and to the legal guardian or the person with the right of care and custody, where a child or young person is to be taken into care.