Work with Children and Youth: Theories and Strategies in Germany
Before starting my report, I would like to make some remarks.
In Germany the terms social work with children or social work
with youth are seldom used. More commonly used is the term
social pedagogy which does not only describe work with children
and youth who have psychosocial difficulties, but which is
also used for work with children and youth in general, youth
work for instance. That is why I'll use the terms social work
and social pedagogy as synonyms in the following report.
In trying to compile
a survey of the present theories and strategies of social
work with children and youth in Germany, you'll find three
different approaches. The emancipatory approach says that
social work does not only have to educate and support children
and youth but at the same time, it has to change the present
society. The room-oriented approach aims at offering children
and youth enough room to develop and socialize themselves.
The self-oriented approach wants to support children and youth
with difficulties in finding hidden or blocked abilities and
1. The model of
the emancipatory social pedagogics
says that emancipation must have been a goal of social work
in the past. However, this goal was oriented on a firm conception
of society: people became emancipated for society as it was
to get their place in it. To act politically, that is to try
to change society, was the task of those already grown-up.
Social pedagogy saw no reason to take heed of the claim to
change society and to integrate it into the process of education
Giesecke, however, wants to integrate political emancipation
into the process of socialisation as soon as possible. In
his opinion, emancipatory pedagogics has to support children
and youth very early in delivering themselves from the dependencies
they've been caught in from the first days of their lives.
According to this viewpoint, children and youth have conflicts
in modern societies on principle. These conflicts have common
social reasons but children and youth experience and assimilate
them differently. Thus Giesecke declares:
task of social work / social pedagogy to offer the youth systematic
help to deal with such conflicts successfully within the meaning
of emancipation" (p. 154).
Thus, social pedagogy
starts with the conflicts and contradictions the youth experience
as mediated by society. That is, these troubles do not only
have individual reasons and have deal with (p. 159). Giesecke
tries to connect the perspectives of individual emancipation
(that is, the pedagogic side) with social emancipation (that
is, the political side). Therefore, the change and, if necessary,
the fight of social factors causing conflicts must be included
in the treatment of the troubles of the youth; the idea is
that work on individual conflicts brings about political engagement
(p.161). Accordingly, social pedagogy has to review all other
effects of socialisation critically to advance emancipation.
Moreover, it has to focus on conflicts for which others, schools
for example, are jointly responsible. The goal of social pedagogy
is the deliberate treatment of such conflicts within the score
of a social emancipation process (p. 161).
task of social pedagogy has to be a communication dealing
with conflicts on four dimensions:
1. the dimension
of companionship and support (advice)
2. the correcting dimension (critical dialogue)
3. the topical dimension (pedagogics of spare time, education
and adventure being oriented by needs)
4. the solidaric dimension (political engagement for one another
To be able to
put the emancipatory task into practise, the pedagogical field
must have the following features:
1. The field largely
has to be free of outside expectations which can't be reviewed
and selected by participants (p.177).
2. The field largely has to be free of sanctions which could
affect the status of participants outside the field, for example,
at school and at work.
3. Inside the field, only a minimum of repression is allowed.
Nobody shall be defamed and denounced on the grounds of his
or her interests, needs, opinions or attitudes; nobody shall
be blamed for his or her lack of success or motivation (p.
The effect of
emancipatory social pedagogy is first of all abstract. It
starts by revealing social contradictions. The resulting process
of treating conflicts leads to more self-confidence, and this
causes an improved ability to resolve conflicts and to act,
which finally leads to more democracy.
According to Giesecke,
such an approach doesn't only have to be true for "normal"
social pedagogy but also for work with children and youth
with difficulties. Let me illustrate his approach briefly
using an example dealing with street children as a pedagogical
According to Mueller
(1997), the traditional way of dealing with children and youth
in difficulties was to put them into homes in order to provide
them with security, a familiar atmosphere and a preserve allowing
them to be children and to grow up in peace and quiet. However,
today's debate on the question of whether they can be put
into homes against their will was not only triggered by the
partly unsatisfactory conditions within homes, but also by
an increasing tendency of youngsters to run away from such
homes. Youth welfare departments had a certain tendency to
solve this problem by offering parents and youngsters alternatives
so that they had a free choice. Cases where children and youth
are put into homes against their will are rather the exception
today, and most homes are no longer ready to keep children
there against their will. This explains why children and youth
who are unwilling or unable to live at home or in a home increasingly
live in the streets.
of cities and the children's often surprising capability to
live on their own results in the creation of 'scenes' where
they can live for years. Now and then they get arrested by
the police and are put into homes, but only until they run
away again. Against this background, Mueller (1997) asked
the question whether social work is to force young people
to integrate into society and he pointed out the increasing
problem of social workers to help street children and youth
adequately. In his eyes, the public's agitation about the
existence of these kids in wealthy Germany is not justified.
It is neither possible to give thoughtless prognoses for individual
cases nor to deduce threatening future scenarios for the overall
social development. He particularly advises against reacting
with the classical means of social work/educational theory,
i.e. a "more of educational measures", to this phenomenon.
According to Mueller social workers also misjudge the causes
inducing children and youth to live in the streets. For along
the lines of current theories of socialization, it is often
supposed that faulty developments in the primary stages of
socialization, social and material discrimination and the
lack of offers of child and youth help are causes for deviant
In its simplicity
this offers a practicable knowledge for orientation allowing,
despite many insecurities, to cling to the intention for normalization
and integration which has been the foundation of child help
ever since it was begun and which directs in spite of all
reforms its methodological approach. If earlier socializing
authorities fail and cause deviant careers, then we lack an
effective prevention! (cf. p. 110).
According to Mueller
such patterns of explanation are no longer sufficient today
as they assume that the children and youth have a longing
for normalization and integration. As a matter of fact, however,
this longing does not exist. Even if social workers therefore
talked about "reference to the living environment,"
everyday orientation," "low-scale offers" etc.,
their aim would always be the "colonization" of
children. What ought to be done in his eyes is "questioning
the aim itself and being ready to acknowledge that there are
people who, for whatever reasons, put their lives stress "somewhere
else and not on social integration" (cf. p. 111).
be worse than hunger, no cash and nothing to sleep on at night
but the bare ground? It is the question put to a fourteen-year
old who has been living in the streets for two years without
interruption. His answer: "Toothache. There's nothing
worse than toothache!" (cf. p. 112)
a tramp. In plain English (in the original, of course, German):
this is our home, the street is. We are masters in the art
of living!"(cf.p. 112)
that street children and youth experience new forms of self-reassurance
that are completely contrary to current conceptions of education.
Their marked sense of the present, in the long run, does not
agree with long-term conceptions of one's life that are orientated
towards a future average biography. In structures of their
needs from the point of developmental psychology they are
still and completely children, even if they have for long
experienced the anticipated status of an adult existence,
even though this may only be a "borrowed identity"
(cf. p. 112) So how can one deal with these children in a
pedagogically responsible way?
Are they to be treated as grown-ups or as children? Mueller
argues for a differentiated approach. In his eyes social work
has to move "on a narrow edge between tolerating deviating
behaviour, on the one hand, and ethical limits of an approval
of anything possible to anyone on the other (cf. p.113). It
has to respect nonconformist ways of living ... not merely
as failed, but simply as different possibilities of growing
up and realization of a sense in life. Social work has to
help children to develop a form of living in the long run
that is less burdened with risks, and it has to offer the
chance of a transition to normality for children, but it must
not force its help upon them. Instead, social work has to
be there on interactive demand."
4. The model of
room-orientated social pedagogics Boehnisch/Muenchmeier take
room and time as fundamental dimensions concerning the work
with children and youth (p.89) and suppose that events and
institutions of social pedagogics are places among others
for children and youth (p.90). They hardly visit these places
because of the offers but rather because it is a part of their
surroundings, that is, they go there because they're bored,
because they can meet their friends there, because girls are
there, etc. Offerings of social pedagogics therefore must
be regarded as a part of the whole environment of children
and youth. It is not that important what social workers intend
with these rooms. The decisive factor is how the children
and the youth deal with these rooms. According to Boehinsch/Muenchmeier,
youngsters need their own rooms to find access to contacts
and communication (p.91). However, it's not enough to provide
rooms for the youth: "social work rather has to deal
with the access and the different ways of acquiring it which
the youth search and find in rooms" (p.89). Room orientation
has no sense of itself but makes sense above all if you want
to express a difference to conventional and functional pedagogics.
In the same way youngsters strive for rooms and search new
possibilities there, social workers have to try to refer their
pedagogic notions to rooms. In this room orientation, a new
relation among generations is also visible. Social work is,
according to Boehnisch/Muenchmeier, the place in the field
of education where the typical reference to the presence of
the youth becomes obvious. There, the youth can live this
experience which is focused on the presence: "To break
off, to start something, not to finish, to have a look here
and there ..."(p.116).
From this perspective,
the central task of social work is to enable the youth to
acquire some rooms. This possession of a room, that is to
concern oneself with the spatial and social surroundings,
shows a social-ecological understanding of individual processes
of development and education. This theoretical perspective
doesn't focus on working towards a better relationship between
the youth and social workers. Social workers now have to deal
with the whole social-ecological perspective. A youth centre,
for instance, must be lead in a way that the experience of
room is expressed. The respective rooms in which the different
target groups stay have to be analysed first of all, and have
to be shaped afterwards.
As an example,
I'll take the work of a social worker who has a group of 11-to
16- year-old Russian children and youngsters having various
difficulties in managing everyday life in school and within
their families. The social worker gets a hut at the fringe
of the district for the group. Two youngsters are responsible
for the keys. Now the group has a room to spend some time
in. However, they have to organise group life themselves.
The social worker meets the youngsters once or twice per week,
supports them and helps if there are conflicts. The process
of acquiring the room becomes a process of learning how to
get along in a group. If the group is no longer interested
in the rooms or if there are too many troubles, another group
will get the hut (all told, the social worker can dispose
over five huts).
5. The self-orientated
approach The self-orientated approach of Scherr (1997) aims
at supporting children and youth in the process of becoming
aware of their responsibility; it
aims at helping them to lead a more self-conscious and self-determined
life than would be possible without participating in social
pedagogics. In this way, youngsters shall be supported in
their efforts to determine their life within an unclear and
contradictory reality themselves. But Scherr also restricts
the tasks of social work. Social work is not responsible for
law and order and doesn't try to achieve adaption: "social
work doesn't see itself as a third authority of socialisation
that has to take care of all the problems which can't be solved
by the family and the school" (p. 45).
in connection with Scherr are:
1. Becoming subject,
that is to learn how to widen the rooms for acting self-consciously
and self-determined in social relationships.
2. The terms "self-respect" and 'social recognition"
primarily deal with the acknowledgment of others and the development
of self-confidence with the help of comparing self-assessment
and outside description. Therefore it is very important that
social workers deal sensitively with and show acceptance to
the attempts of the youth. They have to help youngsters to
determine their identity positively so that the youngsters
achieve self-respect and social esteem (p.54).
3. Development of self-confidence means that elements of which
people are not yet aware are changed into a conscious and
linguistic comprehensible knowledge (reflections about one's
own needs, motives, reasons, intentions, interests, etc.).
According to Scherr, you understand yourself better with the
more you understand about the social conflicts you're living
proposes the following strategies for social workers:
1. Enable political
learning processes and provide chances to participate.
2. Analyse possibilities
and limits of self-determined living and support the youth
in widening their ability to determine their life for themselves.
3. Improve the
material and social living conditions of the concrete clients.
4. Enable the
youth to form everyday life democratically and actively.
5. Support learning
on political and cultural levels.
Social work /social
pedagogics has to (consequences for social work):
1. Create structures
for acting socially which make common acting possible.
2. Develop possibilities
which give youngsters the feeling of being able to act and
3. Enable youngsters
to take part in decisions where they can explain their own
ideas and where there ideas are respected as motivated and
4. Enable youngsters
to experience their own strength and their own abilities in
contrast to their experiences of weakness in society.
5. Offer invitations
and incentives to develop one's own abilities and interests
extensively and actively.
6. Provide possibilities
to deal with one's own life history and situation as well
as outline the concept of one's own future.
7. Shape social
relationships which are truthful and reliable.
his ideas with various examples. One of them is the support
of unemployed youngsters:
The support of
unemployed youth doesn't only have to offer a training which
the youth might not succeed in. The target of social pedagogics
is to help youngsters become subject.
unemployed youngsters need competencies and experiences of
their own abilities which can be generalized and which are
also useful to survive unemployment and to determine their
life even if they have to face unstable employment or the
need of unemployment benefit and welfare. Important is to
strengthen self-confidence which doesn't depend on requirements
of the job market " (p.157).
R. (1989). Wozu Jugendarbeit? Orientierungen fuer
und Praxis. Juventa-Verlag. Weinheim: Muenchen.
Giesecke, H. (1971).
Die Jugendarbeit. Juventa Verlag. Weinheim; Muenchen.
Muss Paedagogik sozialintegrativ sein? In: Neue Praxis 27,
Scherr, A. (1997).
Subjektorientierte Jugendarbeit: Eine Einfuehrung in die Grundlagen.
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