2. Substantiations for involvement of children and adolescents

The use of the term participation of children and youth quickly ignores the fact that not only the participation can assume varied forms, but that there are also highly differing substantiations for it. In an expertise, Thomas Olk and Roland Roth combined the arguments some years ago and presented a remarkable spectrum right down to functional – e.g. in connection with prevention, integration, efficiency of planning projects – and economic arguments (Olk/Roth, 2007). Below, the four most important interconnections of substantiations are to be presented briefly and explained:

  • Human and children’s rights argumentations and statutory requirements: participation is a children’s right. The UN Children’s Rights Convention (UNCRC), which is currently bindingly valid in Germany as a so-called “simple federal law”, regulates this in Article 12, subsection 1 – although attention must additionally be drawn as a supplement to the fact that the term “children” means young persons up to the age of 18 in the context of the UNCRC, i.e. colloquially children and adolescents. This standard “contains a general right of a child to participation in decisions which affect it. It provides subjective, enforceable claims against the state. All state instances which have to do with children and their requirements, in particular authorities and courts, but also legislation, are obligated.” (Wapler, 2020, p. 84). In addition, the UNCRC also contains a series of further regulations which regulate children’s participation rights. Above all, this includes Article 3 (freedom of opinion and information) and 17 (access to media; protection of children and adolescents)

    In the various fields of law (e.g. family law, children’s and adolescents’ assistance law, school law, health law, integration law, penal law, data protection etc.), these requirements are specified in various ways (cf. Richter et al. 2020). An example is Vol. VIII of the German Social Code, which was reformed in the summer of 2021 in the form of the Children’s and Adolescents’ Strengthening Act and contains far-reaching, in some cases highly detailed requirements for the participation of children and adolescents in the individual areas of performance. The following is stated in the central guiding norm of the act: “Children and adolescents are to be involved in all decisions of public juvenile assistance which affect them in accordance with their development status. They are to be informed about their rights in the administrative proceedings and also in proceedings before Family Courts and Administrative Courts in a suitable way” (§ 8, subsection 1, Vol. VIII, German Social Code). In addition, most federal states possess their own requirements for the participation of children and adolescents, some of which reach even further.

    Children, adolescents and young adults are granted various possibilities of participation below the statutory level as well, for example in the form of ordinances, agreements and statutes – without this being supposed to arouse the impression that the possibilities existing up to now are sufficient (cf. in more detail the portrayals of the various fields of practice in subsection6).

  • Argumentation of democracy theory: democratic societies are dependent on the participation of their citizens for various reasons, but above all for reasons of the legitimacy of decisions and the control of power, amongst others. Even if participation is understood and weighted differently in the concepts of democracy theory in question, even if there are controversies about the significance of various forms of participation, e.g. with a view to the strengthening of plebiscite elements, the role of extra-parliamentary protests or the change to the role of the popular parties, it is undisputed that democracy presupposes that it is practised, and that means that democratic formation of wills takes place. This is only possible if the condition of free and equal participation in the decision has been fulfilled. Vice versa, quite a number of democracy theories have good reason to see a fair number of democracy theories with insufficient possibilities of participation in the political field as a cause for political disinterest and rejection of democracy.
  • Education theory substantiations: The emphasis of political education – precisely with a view to juveniles, in the recent past also children – is closely connected with this idea of democracy. Most recently, above all the 16th Children’s and Juveniles’ Report of the federal government made these interconnections clear and pleaded for a strengthening of political education in the horizon of societal challenges of democracies, for example climate change, migration, globalisation, digitalisation, but also movements which are distinct from and hostile towards democracies and are increasingly gaining in significance (German Lower House 2020). The Commission of Experts emphasises the fact that on the one hand democracy depends on the participation of children and adolescents, but also that “participation [must] be exercised and experienced in democracy […]. But participation cannot be simulated. Children and adolescents need offers of education in education areas in which they are respected and which they can seriously help to design […]. Spaces which enable self-organisation, societal design and (co-)responsibility as well as democratic negotiation processes within the meaning of “involvement with effect”, are to be maintained and supported […]” (German Lower House 2020, pp.567 et seq.). So offers which have been designed accordingly, enabling not only provision of information and knowledge (“democracy as an object of education”), practical experience in democracy and participation (“democracy as an education structure”) and encourage matching political self-processes are needed (“democracy as experience”) (German Lower House 2020, pp.128 et seqq.).
  • Service theory substantiations: Beyond this argumentation, which is thought in a close connection with democracy, brief reference is made to the fact that participation is an indispensable moment of any pedagogic practice for a quite different reason: basically, pedagogic practice is dependent on its addressees taking part in the elementary sense of the word. It is therefore based on participation and involvement. In the matter, this applies to all pedagogic and artistic offers and to practically all person-related services. In the specialist discussion about this type of work, the term of co-production was used for this. This is exactly the sense in which the 12th Children’s and Adolescents’ Report of the federal government understands “the learners, those to be educated, the children and adolescents not as more or less passive “consumers” of an education process, but as active “co-producers” […]. This concept is based on the assumption that successful education processes originate above all in an active concern with the object of learning and the learning environment. To put it pointedly: nothing works without the learners and their active role.” (German Lower House 2005, p.341).