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Howard Williamson

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF YOUTH WORK Some reflections on strategies and practice of Helsinki City Youth Department

CONTENTS 1. PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 2. THE CONTEXT – SETTING THE SCENE . . . . . . . . . 5

The social condition of young people in Finland....................................................... 5 Youth work in Finland........................................................................................... 7 Helsinki City Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–2012...................................... 7 The City of Helsinki Youth Department...................................................................13

3. THE REVIEW PROGRAMME AND PROCESS . . . . . . 13 4. KEY EMERGENT ISSUES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Assessing outcomes and impact............................................................................14 Essential youth work?..........................................................................................15 Funding youth organisations................................................................................18 Initiative, enterprise and entrepreneurship.............................................................19 Inter-agency collaboration...................................................................................21 Knowledge base – who are the users?.....................................................................22 On-line youth work.............................................................................................23 Open youth work................................................................................................27 Participation – towards the ‘entrepreneurial self’......................................................28 Separate provision – Girls’ House...........................................................................30 Targeted youth work............................................................................................32 Youth culture and social practice –building from the ground (sometimes underground)................................................36


(I) Partnership working............................................................................37 (II) Online working...................................................................................38 (III) Working with groups and communities...................................................38 (IV) Prioritising older young people.............................................................40 And the four goals that youth work is seeking to achieve..........................................41

6. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 7. HOWARD WILLIAMSON’S EVALUATION OF YOUTH WORK IN HELSINKI – FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS (Lasse Siurala) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THE HELSINKI YOUTH DEPARTMENT . . . . . . . 47 BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 APPENDIX: PAPERS RECEIVED PRIOR TO THE VISIT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49



One keeps on hearing complaints and jokes about (the bad quality of) municipal jobs. I recommend you to visit the Helsinki City Youth Department. There you find the most committed and most progressively thinking people I have met for a long time. They have an enlightened and genuine concern over the current state of youth participation and they have the courage to change that concern into action. If they succeed with the Ruuti, it will be a crucial leapfrog to Finnish – and European – culture of deliberative democracy. (Tommi Laitio, researcher, Demos – trans. Facebook)

But while new visions for youth participation, captured in Ruuti (see below), may be important, perhaps critical, in the lives of young people, other policy and practice – within and beyond the borders and boundaries of ‘youth work’ – is also important. The following reflections draw on a range of documentation produced by or about the Helsinki City Youth Department, together with a two-day field visit that provided a description and understanding of the targeted, cultural, local and digital youth work that it provides or supports within the wider strategies of the city’s Children and Youth Welfare Programme (2009–12). As the Youth Department endeavours to connect more effectively with a broader population of young people and with other municipal departments (significantly the health and social sector), a stranger’s eye on developments and proposals is, arguably, timely to provide a platform for reflection, discussion and moving forward. The fieldwork took place at the same time as Greece was coming to terms with a new round of austerity measures in order to receive a further ‘bailout’ from the troika of international banking institutions, and the distinguished sociologist Richard Sennett published his book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation, advocating the value of dialogical exchange and conversation. Both may seem far away from the following considerations, but they are also both highly pertinent – the Helsinki City Youth Department is seeking new ways to maintain a suitable and meaningful balance of services for young people in the context of financial pressure and, within this, to strike new partnerships – both with other agencies and with young people – to ensure the sustainability of its work. What follows, then, is a partial view – and review – of youth work in the Helsinki City municipality and its strategy, looking forward to 2016. The paper first sets the scene and the context, and then draws out some striking themes and issues from the paperwork provided and the perspectives offered during the field visit. For better or for worse I provide my reflections and thoughts, both corroborative and critical, on that documentation and those meetings. Some will be misplaced, others moderately useful and, hopefully some will be sufficiently provocative to generate constructive debate. Roland Barthes once wrote, in his book Camera Lucida, that most photographs shown to you by others are rather uninteresting, even boring. But occasionally there is one that attracts what he calls ‘studium’, worthy of further attention and study, and even more rarely there is one that produces a sense of ‘punctum’, piercing one’s consciousness and imagination. His illustration is of a formal picture, in sepia, of a family in the deep south of the USA, where everyone is dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ but the


children have no shoes on their feet. I hope there are elements of studium and occasionally punctum in this report. Please consider those issues, and please forgive the mistakes. Finally, here, I would like to express my warmest thanks to all those who facilitated my visit and shared their experiences, thoughts and perspectives with me. I hope I do justice to them. I also hope that our contact and discussion may already have produced some value for the individual projects and initiatives I observed, simply through the questions I raised and the reflection I encouraged.


Young people in Finland generally (and therefore in Helsinki, given the demographic concentration of the population in the capital city and its hinterland of Vantaa and Espoo) are not doing too badly, but they are not doing as well as they were just a few years ago. On a range of issues and indicators (such as schooling, employment, health), there is a growing minority who are struggling with a variety of challenges and facing difficulties in making at least effective, if not successful, transitions to adulthood. All of this has demanded a re-appraisal of the direction and focus of youth policy, including the nature of the youth work that has, for many years, been a significant anchor in leisure-time provision for young people. The City of Helsinki Youth Department has had to grapple with new thinking, new planning and new positioning of youth work within the broader context of the health, learning and occupational challenges in the social condition of the lives of young people.

The social condition of young people in Finland Compared to young people in other parts of the world and indeed in most other parts of Europe, young people in Finland are in pretty ‘good shape’. It is part of the task of the

Young people in the opening of Pihlajamäki Youth Park in 2010.



Helsinki Youth Department to help to keep them that way, and new challenges are clearly emerging. But it remains important to keep those challenges in perspective. The majority of young people in Finland are doing well: their well-being has in fact increased in recent years and they are satisfied with their lives (Koste 2011, p.5). On the other hand, around one in five young people are not doing so well. They are experiencing some level of social exclusion, and having notably increasing physical and mental health problems, and accompanying concerns around suicide and self-harm, and drug and alcohol misuse. [None of this is to be unexpected; it is, according to Rutter and Smith (1995) a product of a sense of ‘social dislocation’, and is confirmed in parallel in the UK through new research from the Nuffield Foundation (Hagell 2012).] There are also growing concerns about crime and violence amongst young people, as well as emerging issues to do with educational drop-out and underachievement, and youth unemployment (one quarter of young people in the labour market are unemployed). In particular, according to the Labour Force Survey (Työvoimatutkimus), the numbers of non-active young people is on the increase: the increase is particularly strong in those under 20-year-olds who are invisible in all registers, because they do not register themselves as unemployed as they would not be granted unemployment benefits (Koste 2011, p.15)

Of just over one million 15-29 year olds in Finland (something under 20% of the population), it is estimated by the Ministry of Education and Culture that there are around 15,000 who are ‘lost’ in this way – about 1,000 young people in each year group about whose activities there is no information. [NB. This is the group now often referred to across the globe by the dreadful English acronym of ‘NEET’: young people who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training.] The contemporary economic crisis throughout Europe does not yet, however, appear to have produced long-term youth unemployment in Finland. Very few young people experience unemployment for more than a year. By many international comparisons, young people in Finland, though possessing the highest levels of civic knowledge, are often disinterested in party politics, have declining participation in formal youth organisations and activities, and have a mixed attitude towards voluntary work. It appears that they trust social institutions to take care of them. Those institutions, however, are keen to promote greater youth engagement and youth voice, in keeping with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Indeed, Finland’s Youth Act of 2006 states that


Youth work in Finland Youth work in Finland has, historically at least, been about organising leisure time activities for young people, supervised by (professional) adults but based on the interests and needs of young people themselves (Peltola 2010). It is formally separate from schools, social work and child welfare, and it is regulated by the Youth Act 2006. The Ministry of Education is nationally in charge of the youth work system as a whole. Municipalities provide local youth services: youth centre activities, targeted youth work and funding for local youth organisations. Youth services are provided for all young people, particularly those under the age of 18. Youth work is intended to be both integrative and educative, offering space for young people to come together and a platform for experience, dialogue and learning. As in other countries, youth (work) provision has often operated in splendid isolation, with an exclusive focus on young people rather than wider societal concerns. This ‘forum’ notion of youth work has increasingly been complemented, if not sometimes replaced, by the idea of youth work as a ‘transit zone’, supporting the transition of young people to adulthood (see Verschelden et al. 2009), and requiring youth work to connect with wider public services concerned with, for example, welfare, health and employment, and, indeed, social integration. Though Peltola’s (2010, p.28) specific interest is ‘intercultural opening’ in youth work, particularly in Helsinki where the proportion of foreign-speaking people is around 10%, she makes the following observation: Youth work activities cannot be thought of as an isolated area, but multiple forms of cooperation are needed with other actors within the youth work field, with other professionals working with young people and with families and local communities. The importance of cross-professional co-operation has grown during recent years; it is especially important when working with young people who are considered vulnerable.

This fairly direct statement conceals a range of complex questions and challenges for Finland, both around the idea of inter-agency collaboration and the possible idea of focusing – and targeting - youth work attention on young people who may be more vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Helsinki City Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–2012

Young people must be given opportunities to take part in the handling of matters concerning local and regional youth work and youth policy. Further, young people shall be heard in matters concerning them (Koste 2011, p.43)

These changes and new challenges are clearly one reason for the development, within the municipality of Helsinki, of an overarching Welfare Plan for children and young people. This is in fact a legal obligation placed upon municipalities following the reformed Child Welfare Act 2007, which came into effect the following year. In Helsinki,

Approaches to promoting and strengthening youth participation, through the Ruuti initiative, are at the heart of the contemporary work of the City of Helsinki Youth Department.

the focus of the welfare plan is to develop basic services and early support crossing the borders of the branches of administration in such a manner that the welfare of children and young people will increase (City of Helsinki 2009, p.3)


A central objective of the welfare plan is, through preventative intervention, to achieve a reduction in the number of placements of children and young people outside the home. The plan has specific outcome objectives in relation to welfare, process and resource objectives concerned with collaborative strategic activity across different branches of the administration and the distribution of resources, and personnel objectives relating to the effective operational delivery of the plan. The welfare objectives comprise the following: • Healthy and safe development for young people • Greater involvement of parents and strengthened parenting • The strengthening of participation and communality by children and young people • The securing of an education and employment pathway for children and young people To achieve this, there will need to be improved departmental co-operation across the municipal administration, equal access and opportunities for services, improved support for those with multicultural and immigrant backgrounds and, significantly, increased use of the Internet for the promotion, access to and use of services. And, to ensure that ‘no one is left alone’, practitioners will need to shared basic information in order to make their cooperation more effective. Though confirming the general position in Finland that children and young people are usually healthy, safe, learning and enjoying life, the Welfare Plan registers areas of concern: The welfare of young people appears to become differentiated. The health and health behaviour of vocational school students is considerably weaker than for sixth formers. Dropping out of school is a serious risk of social exclusion. Approximately 300 young people are left without a secondary education placement to study after comprehensive school every year. Young people showing serious psychological symptoms have also increased alarmingly, which appears as an increase especially in juvenile aged custodies and the necessity for psychiatric treatment. The serious presentation of psychological symptoms for boys is often strongly visible outside, with girls it is most often self-destructiveness. In relation to young people with immigrant backgrounds, there are challenges of various levels, such as difficulties related to education, employment and living (City of Helsinki 2009, p.9)

During my visit to Helsinki, I was told that some 13% of Helsinki teenagers are not ‘in good shape’: “there is certainly something to be fixed – all is not well”. The point was that there is a significant, and arguably growing, minority of young people displaying what I once called a ‘tangle of pathologies’ – exclusion from school, substance misuse, mental ill-health, behavioural challenges, offending. However, rather than in fact trying to ‘fix’ such problems, the Welfare Plan’s focus is firmly on prevention and early support, with the objective of reducing the numbers of children and young people taken into foster care or later into institutional care. The framework for services and intervention is a relatively self-evident one: basic, universal provisions (such as child health or formal education), preventative services and early support (such as working with parents and families, and advice and counsel-


ling), and ‘re-constructive services’ (specialist interventions concerned with, for example, child protection or substance misuse treatment). The model is a triangular, tapering one, based on the belief that the more effective the work done at the base of the triangle, the less there will be a need for specialist, and expensive, action at the apex. In England, for teenagers, it was this model that has informed the ‘youth support service’ (Connexions) over the past decade: a universal service differentiated according to need. It is also reminiscent of what, in the UK, is known as the tiered approach: non-specialist generic support for a range of issues by a range of professionals, community-based specialist support, community-based ‘treatment’ for identified issues, and residential or institutional treatment services. Just under a decade ago, the Council of Europe embarked on dialogue concerned with bringing youth policy, family policy and children’s policy closer together. At the inaugural meeting for that purpose, I considered the shifts in policy emphasis in relation to age bands: for children aged roughly 0–12 (where the concern, broadly, is safety and development), for young people aged roughly 11–18 (where the concern, broadly, is keeping them ‘in good shape’ and avoiding some of the ‘pathologies’ outlined above), and for young adults aged roughly 16–25 (where the concern is promoting and support their ‘life management’ in transitions to the labour market, independent living and families of destination). The Helsinki Welfare Plan grapples with similar age-related challenges, considering services for children (distinguishing between those aged 0–6 and those aged 7–12) and then services for young people (aged 13–20). By and large, provision for children is considered to be of good quality, versatile and flexible. There are concerns, however, about the availability of access to and availability of mental health and substance misuse treatment services for parents (an issue that exercised the minds of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs in England, a few years ago – see ACMD 2003), and the pressures on current child protection arrangements. For older children, there is an issue of those who fall in the gap between the playground and the youth club, and of children who do not take part in hobbies because their parents cannot afford to pay. For some, there are, again, concerns about insufficient psychological services. Our primary interest here is in services for young people. The Welfare Plan notes, once more, that services are generally of a good quality, though young people do comment about a lack of information on, and sometimes difficulties in accessing services. Financial barriers and poor mental health for young people are two prominent issues: The forms of help are also found lacking. The traditional operation and care methods in child welfare or mental health services do not produce results for all young people, and new, comprehensive and multi-professionally realised forms of helping are needed..... ..... active multi-professional support and guidance for drop-outs is still lacking. There is not enough preventive services and early support available in relation to need (City of Helsinki 2009, p.12)

The specific objectives within the Welfare Plan are, as one would anticipate, wide-ranging, focusing on children and young people and their families, and stretching from the prevention of violence and psycho-social disorders to engaging children and young people in one


interesting hobby, irrespective of the socio-economic circumstances of their parents. The Welfare Plan is especially preoccupied with the approximately 300 young people who drop out – or who ‘are left without a place to study’ - after comprehensive school each year. [The multi-professional Luotsi project is the flagship response to this concern –see below.] If the Welfare Plan is implemented with some measure of success, it is anticipated that there will be a decrease in the placement of children and young people outside the home, in depression and smoking amongst young people, and in the proportion of young people left outside of education. Conversely, it is expected that the numbers of young people taking part in hobby activities will increase. These are the formal indicators concerned with the welfare objectives of the Welfare Plan. I was told that there is a “new will” for partnership and collaboration between the various administrative departments of the municipality of Helsinki. The key actors within the municipality are outlined as follows: • Social services • Health • Education • Youth • Sports • Culture • Libraries • Hospitals Clearly, there is also the third sector, and NGOs obviously have a part to play in these arrangements (though I did not hear a great deal about them).

It was acknowledged that the implementation of the Welfare Plan was “a big challenge” but, when I asked about levels or pockets of resistance, this was firmly denied. The Welfare Plan, it was argued, produced “synergies of professional knowledge” in the interests of constructing holistic services. Combined knowledge and a common understanding had led to agreed services. And although there had been limited common training, people were working together and using the same language. The overarching framework of the Welfare Plan had led to more multi-professional activity and shared commitment. An evaluation of the Welfare Plan will be concluded later in 2012. The presentation of the Welfare Plan reminded me a great deal of the development of Youth Offending Teams (Yots) in England and Wales, following the UK’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Though focused exclusively on young offenders and young people at risk of offending, the law has, since 1998, required municipalities to form Yots (now more often called Youth Offending Services) through contributions in cash or in kind from five key agencies: social services, health, education, probation and police. [I note this here because I was struck by the absence of any reference to the police in most of my discussions.] The goals of the Welfare Plan also reminded me of the former framework for children’s services at both national and local levels in England: Every Child Matters. Though now abandoned by the current UK coalition government, that framework emerged from a child protection tragedy but evolved into an overarching policy commitment for children and young people enshrined in the following five themes: • Staying safe • Being healthy • Enjoying and achieving • Making a positive contribution • Achieving economic well-being Those themes, which are hardly rocket science (the science, and art, lies in making them a reality) can clearly be detected in many elements of the Welfare Plan. Shortly after the development of Every Child Matters, a complementary policy framework called Youth Matters was established. It had three core components: • Somewhere to go, something to do • Information, advice and guidance • Targeted youth support On that note, it seems appropriate to turn to the work of the City of Helsinki Youth Department.

The City of Helsinki Youth Department There it a short document called The Guiding Principles of the Local Youth Work. It first sets out the values of the City of Helsinki Youth Department: Kids painting the wall at Kalasatama Refresh event in spring 2012.



• Joy in Living – experience, caring for others, curiosity and excitement about the future • Resident Orientation – young people are partners and their needs are taken into account • Ecology – supporting sustainable lifestyles, connecting young people to nature • Entrepreneurial Approach – supporting young people in bringing forward new ideas • Fairness – treating people equally, supporting young people and challenging discrimination • Economy – seeking efficiency and result, and using resources responsibly • Safety – creating safe spaces and developmental environments for young people and staff The short paper goes on to set out a vision – ‘Room to be young, to be heard and to shine’ - and mission for the Youth Department. It views its tasks as promoting life management, a spirit of community and social participation. And, across the eleven youth work units of the Local Services Department, its sets out the core services that will be available: • Open Evenings for young people at the Youth Centres • Small Group activities • Holiday Time activities • Youth Participation and Democracy Education • Online Youth Work These five core areas of service delivery are then elaborated, with details about the rationale and process, methods and goals, and anticipated outcomes of each area of provision. A multi-lingual information brochure produced by the City of Helsinki Youth Department proclaims that it “offers high-quality spare time activities to young people” and that its youth leaders “gladly co-operate with the parents of young people”. Its youth services break down into four areas. Youth activity centres cover a range of opportunities, from simply spaces to meet friends and do various activities, to more specialist possibilities (such as theatre and dance, publishing and broadcasting, car maintenance and skateboarding). There is one girls-only centre, a traffic education park that can train young people for a two-wheel driving licence, and an animal park. The second area of provision is personal guidance, available both at youth activity centres and through more specialist initiatives such as Asemanseutu (a multicultural meeting place), Työllistämiskokonaisuuden kehittämisprojekti (employment development project), Kompassi (the Youth Information Centre) and Luotsi (a targeted youth support programme). The third area of provision relates to a year-round programme of events, including dance and music. Finally, the Department makes premises and other support available to youth organisations and other groups of young people in Helsinki.


The visit underpinning the review took place over two days in mid-February 2012. Meetings were scheduled with those responsible for the City of Helsinki’s integrated welfare policy, youth workers engaged in targeted and cultural youth work, representatives of youth organisations, managers and practitioners engaged in local and multicultural youth work, those leading the evaluation and assessment of youth work in the municipality, and the organisation developing methods of working with young people through the Internet. Prior to the visit, a range of paperwork and documentation was made available. This took two or three days to read through and annotate; it is listed in an Appendix. Immediately, at the end of the second day of the visit, some initial, impressionistic feedback was provided to a number of colleagues, including the Director of the City of Helsinki Youth Department. It is important to emphasise that this is not a formal evaluation but a contribution to reflection and thinking through some of the issues that currently exercise the minds of those working within the Department. It has been described as an ‘audit’, which can be an intimidating process in the UK, but I am told that ‘audit’ is a much lighter word in Finnish! I hope that what I can do is to illuminate some of the corners of the workings of the City of Helsinki Youth Department and, through shedding different light on familiar practice¹, encourage a sense of self-reflection and a commitment to considering alternative angles. A ‘stranger’s eye’ can be valuable in exposing or highlighting points that may have escaped the attention of those closer to the action. Such perspectives can also be irrelevant, in that they really have no bearing on the Helsinki reality. If so, please ignore them. It is quite impossible for the outsider to know, with full confidence, one from the other; all that a review of this kind can do is to offer a platform for debate. I have been sparing in reporting from the paperwork I received. This is listed at the end of the report and people can read it for themselves. I have used extracts occasionally and selectively to provide context and sometimes illustration. When I was a young researcher evaluating ‘mini-enterprise in schools’, the senior academic in the team said that the most important question we should constantly ask is ‘does it matter?’, before we get carried away down the track. That question should lie at the heart of the issues I discuss below.

Such provision is primarily for young people aged between nine and 18. The City of Helsinki Youth Department has approximately 400 employees.


¹ Somebody once said that we are often over-enthusiastic about shedding new light on old problems – explaining and understanding them in a different way; whereas what is often equally important is to shed old light on ‘new’ problems – pointing out that they have often been around for a long time, though with different characteristics and different responses. Rather than re-inventing the wheel (and making sure it is round), it can be worthwhile taking stock of the lessons of the past. This is, indeed, the reason for the recent efforts made by the Youth Partnership to capture the diverse histories of youth work in Europe in order to inform the debate about the direction of youth work and youth policy in the future.



*These issues are in no particular order of priority; they are discussed in alphabetical order.

Assessing outcomes and impact I fully accept the need to try to register and gauge the relationship between financial and human resource input, process features, and the eventual outcomes and impact. Equally, I sign up to the saying that ‘not everything that is important can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is important’. I am also concerned about trying to isolate and attribute the particular contribution of youth work from a range of other influential and development processes in the lives of children and young people. And I am concerned that, if we become too obsessed with these things, we will only be able to deal with the short term, when there is much to suggest that the impact of youth work can, literally, last a lifetime. I read the paperwork on ‘Youth work performance and quality assessment’ and listened attentively to a presentation on the assessment of quality and outcomes. What struck me, and impressed me, was the determination not to rely on any single method or measure, but to explore performance through a number of lenses – professional feedback to line managers, ‘customer’ feedback (though I dislike the term customer and, if we are not to use young people, then I would favour ‘service user’), ‘customer’ research, self-evaluations and audits (themselves drawing on different sources of ‘evidence’), some number crunching around small group activity, and a productivity model looking at the ratios between finance and figures. Looking at some of the figures in the paperwork, what was notable, though not particularly surprising, was the huge variations at play. Forming judgments about economy, efficiency and effectiveness from those data is likely to prove very difficult. Somebody, eventually, will have to do this interpretation. The critical question before that takes place is the reliability and validity of the data. Some of them will be more reliable than others. There is always an important question of trust; policy research tells us that when practitioners and service managers feel that feedback from the data provided helps them with their everyday work, they are motivated to providing increasingly accurate, detailed and honest information. [Conversely, of course, where there is no trust, material provided may be fabricated, exaggerated or distorted – in exactly the same way as young people ‘spin yarns’ when they have no faith in a process.] Different information from different sources may be interpreted in different ways, both positively and negatively. Classically, youth work can usually work either quite superficially with large numbers or much more intensively with small numbers. Which is more important? What is the balance to be struck? A further question of balance concerns the ‘enabling’ aspects of assessment as against the ‘ensuring’ aspects; the first supports professional development, the second is associated with managerial control. I understand that the evaluation tools being adopted and adapt-


ed by the Youth Department came from England. It is therefore perhaps useful to note that former inspectorial regimes (in education, which included youth work) were seen as allies of professional practice, whereas in recent times, they are considered to be enemies preoccupied with the humiliation of the profession. The new Chief Inspector of Schools for England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has decided to scrap the middle ground ‘satisfactory’ inspection label (the others being excellent or poor) because he argued that schools in that category are not good enough and need improvement. Much depends on how the assessment relationship is constructed and it is a relief that the word audit, in Finnish does carry a less threatening meaning!

Essential youth work? One of the papers I read was a concept paper from 2011 called ‘What is essential youth work?’ I do not intend to repeat it in detail, though its framing ideas need to be conveyed. It starts with the assertion that youth work is about “the fostering of learning to become an active citizen”. It makes further assertions about the social identity of young people, the increasing importance of peers, media and popular culture in shaping young people’s world views, that youth work is concerned with providing a learning environment and learning process for active citizenship, through a dialogue with the rest of society. These are rather visionary and conceptual thoughts, but they are important in seeking to anchor the contribution of youth work to young people’s lives, rather as a recent British progressive educational initiative sought to construct learning practice from the grounds that education for young people should be considered as ‘an initiation into the world of ideas’ (Pring et al. 2009) – through schools, technology, peers, communities and youth work. The ‘essential youth work’ concept paper sets out, on the basis that ‘youth work must constantly redefine itself’, new areas for emphasis: • The young need diverse opportunities for action and making a difference • Integration into studies and working life • The internet as a growing environment for youth • Age focus: 13 to 24 year olds • The diversity of service needs • Increasing co-operation with groups and communities • Development of youth work as a learning environment • New partnerships • Revision of service network • On-going change Many of these themes and ideas inevitably lie at the core of the Youth Department’s vision that is discussed in the last section of this report (Quo Vadis? – see below, p.37). Others crop up elsewhere. They are simply reported here. I once gave a lecture called ‘Youth work: cherished values and sacred cows’. It was an attempt to stimulate a debate about core values and principles that required robust defence


al’ way, perhaps now compounds the isolation and separation, dare I say the exclusion, of young people from wider contexts. Youth centres should therefore, some would assert, no longer be islands of escape for youth cultural and recreational pursuit, but launch pads for voluntary and community engagement – for service and sociability to the neighbourhood. Youth workers are consistently adamant that youth work is not about preventing youth crime or combating unemployment, however much politicians and policy initiatives may seek to make these connections². What youth work can do, in keeping with the latent and implicit views of those working at the open youth work Centre, is help to effect the personal change that is a pre-requisite for positional change. This is the core conclusion of a relatively recent evaluation of youth work in England (Merton et al. 2004). In other words, youth work can support young people’s confidence, reflection, motivation, and determination to a point where they themselves may wish to desist from offending or apply themselves harder in searching for work.

Girls taking care of the animals at the Fallkulla farm.

and, possibly, sacred cows from the 20th century that needed to be laid to rest in the 21st. My visit to Helsinki certainly exposed the tensions that can prevail between proponents of open youth work and those engaged in more targeted youth work. Both may, of course, be important and necessary. But even the principle of the ‘voluntary’ relationship, still manifest even in Helsinki’s most targeted youth work (Luotsi), has become more confused in the UK as youth work and youth workers have ventured into non-voluntary settings such as schools and, in particular, young offender institutions. Street-based youth work clearly has no option but to base its interventions with young people on their consent (after all, if they don’t like you or what you offer, they can just walk away), but who knows what may lie behind – or, in the future, lie behind – the ‘voluntary’ engagement of young people in other contexts. Does that matter? If it is a less than voluntary participation, does that mean that ‘youth work’ can no longer take place. Arturas Deltuva from Lithuania insists that youth work can only take place where space (setting) and method converge – sports instruction in leisure space is no more youth work than non-formal learning in schools (Deltuva, forthcoming). I like the ‘essential youth work’ paper, though it might elaborate some points in rather more detail. I subscribe to the view that youth work should be assisting young people in forging connections and relationships with their communities and other generations. Formerly, when young lives were highly structured through family, school and employment, youth centres provided the opportunity for young people to be actively disengaged: more autonomous, more equal, more ‘free’. There is an argument that such provision, operated in a ‘tradition-

Yet it is also always important to remember that youth work itself is not an island; it is clearly embedded within a framework of public policy and public services. Youth workers do not operate in some splendid and privileged isolation. The rhetoric of being exclusively focused, unconditionally and non-judgmentally, on young people is almost certainly misguided, as any training course would soon reveal, as youth workers drew their own lines in the sand (about working with racist youth, for example) and discussed their role in addressing anti-social behaviour or substance misuse. There are still the purists but most youth workers would concede that they have to fit in the centre of the following triangle, not in any one of the corners. And if they find themselves in any corner, they are likely to be trapped and paralysed, instrumentalised by the state, individualised by young people or neutered by a complete preoccupation with principle:

The aspirations of public policy

The place and position of the youth worker The philosophy and principles of youth work

The expressed needs and wishes of young people

The position of the youth worker between public policy, the needs of young people and the principles of youth work.

² In the UK, during the Ministerial Conferences on the Youth Service 1989-1992, it was made quite clear that youth work was expected to make a tangible and measurable contribution to vocational preparation and the prevention of youth crime. More recently, the celebration of ‘youth work’ (socio-educational instruction?) by the European Commission is closely linked to its perceived and assumed role in serving wider educational and economic agendas.



Funding youth organisations “The suppression of mutual loathing in pursuit of public funding” – a statement made by a former UK government minister about youth NGOs making joint applications to deliver particular government youth initiatives!

In all countries, support for independent youth NGOs, though invariably confirmed as important in general terms, can become a contentious issue when more specific practice, procedures and precedents enter the picture. Long traditions die hard and some youth organisations can believe they have an automatic right to a particular level of funding. This becomes a source of tension and an arena for dissent when either overall resources diminish and there is less in the pot for everyone, or when new organisations attempt to secure a slice of the action. The Civil Society Support Unit of the Helsinki Youth Department funds members of the ‘Helsinki Team’ (formed in 1943, and currently composed of 19 youth NGOs) and local NGOs serving the needs and interests of young people, of which there are around 400 in Helsinki. Resources provided by the Unit are used for premises, staffing and training. Despite competing for resources (and indeed youth membership), it was argued that the Helsinki Team – which includes Finnish and Swedish speaking Scouts, youth political parties, the Red Cross, settlement movements, and 4H clubs - together form a “bigger fist in society” and committed and coherent advocacy for youth work. The Helsinki Team was described as “a tool, a voice and a sounding board”. The criteria for supporting NGOs are relatively straightforward. The organisations have to be concerned with the personal development of young people and legally accepted. Beyond that, they can apply for resources to support the provision of activities, projects and camps, and to pay for staff. For the 19 members of the Helsinki Team, there is a threeyearly Quality Management assessment based around a self-assessment and discussions of strengths and weaknesses, achievements and limitations. Though the Helsinki Team has requested greater flexibility in the funding system, this has, to date, been within a context of re-balancing the funding arrangements, not reducing them. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, money has not yet become an issue. Yet it was acknowledged that the growing multiculturalism of Helsinki would see the emergence of new youth organisations that would intensify the competition for resources and, in turn, produce greater demands for robust evidence of reach and effectiveness. [It is interesting that, in Flemish Belgium, the traditional youth organisations have largely retained their access to public resources; only now is the Flemish education minister announcing more proactive measures to encourage applications from ‘immigrant’ youth organisations and to extend financial support from the Flemish government to them.] When I asked about links to the private sector, the retort was that many youth NGOs are “way ahead of the Helsinki Youth Department” in attracting and sustaining a diversity of funding sources, including through business partnerships, sponsorships and donors. And


part of the role of the Helsinki Team, it was argued, was to provide support for the Helsinki Youth Department, to marshal and prepare the arguments and information that the Department needed to sustain public financial support from the political decision-makers. I asked two further questions. One was about whether or not the relationships with the Helsinki Youth Department were felt to be an important link or potentially a trap; after all, the Department both facilitated and ‘educated’ the youth NGOs (on how to show results and measure what you do, through an annual seminar), and judged them further down the track. As the former chair of the National Voluntary Youth Organisations grants committee in Wales, I had once faced this issue, of both enabling applications and arbitrating between them. The grants scheme was administered through the Wales Youth Agency, which also supported the work of voluntary youth organisations and helped them to prepare their applications. As Vice-Chair of the Wales Youth Agency, in order to avoid any suspicion of conflicts of interests, I had established a clear ‘firewall’ between the development and decision-making functions. This was not, however, viewed as a problem in Helsinki. It was felt that there was enough money around (“and birds in the same nest always want more”). The issue was how to allocate it fairly and how to strike an appropriate balance between flexibility and targeting. “So far, so good”, it was suggested. Youth organisations had a big role in youth work provision in Helsinki and their relationship with the Youth Department was “like a marriage”. I observed that the relationship might become somewhat more rocky when the money gets tighter! Even if the resource base remains at its current level, it may become tighter if more organisations are seeking a slice of the cake. My second question was about whether or not the Civil Society Support Unit should be more proactive in seeking out and encouraging applications from organisations that may have a special niche or focus on the lives of particular groups of young people or particular youth issues. This has been an issue in other places, where an essentially reactive process based around established relationships and procedures has, in effect (if only for reasons of perception rather than reality), inhibited others from engaging with the process and had the further effect of limiting the diversity of potential youth work practice that might be available to young people from certain social groups or geographical areas. This is a completely speculative observation, but it is grounded in experiences whereby ‘gaps’ in youth work provision (say, for young people with disabilities, or environmental initiatives) are identified, and then relevant actors in the youth field are actively encouraged to seek support for ideas about how to fill them. There was some reticence about this proposition, though there was a reluctance to concede that this might be to do with increasing the competition over the funding pot. It remains a reasonable question.

Initiative, enterprise and entrepreneurship Youth workers often fight shy of embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, either themselves or in work with young people. Yet they are the first to express the value of youth work in fostering initiative and creativity. Is there a paradox here? Possibly, and possibly not. Few would dispute that youth work is not about producing entrepreneurs but, equally, many


would contend that entrepreneurship is one of the potential outcomes of initiative and enterprise. The European Commission once sought to forge this connection, in the early 1990s through the PETRA programme, which was concerned with youth enterprise. There were furious arguments about the relationship between youth enterprise and youth self-employment (see De Wachter and Christiansen 1993). In times of economic precarity, however, both for young people and for public services, there is arguably a case for trying to strengthen the bridges between youth initiative and entrepreneurship. One sector in which some young people can thrive occupationally and economically is in the cultural and creative industries. At the Happi [meaning: Oxygen] Centre, which does cultural youth work, there is an impressive creative environment of cultural production: art, music, computer games, photography, film and broadcast media. It is a great place, exuding an atmosphere of energy and trust. It provides reactive support for young people wishing to make use of its facilities. It is a safe space, offering ‘culture for all’. Beyond the Centre, it provides information to schools about what it can offer and it collaborates with youth organisations. Its central raison d’être is about making things possible for young people: offering space to gain experience and providing a variety of instruction. That many of the activities are connected in various ways enables young people to embark on what was described as a ‘cultural journey’, during which it is possible to ‘cross borders’ through engaging with different working groups. It all sounded rather ‘arty’ and it does beg some questions about where youth work stops and cultural work begins, but I was persuaded that at that interface the Happi Centre was striking a good position. It was building self-awareness, identity, confidence and other personal skills as well as the more technical skills required in the different fields of cultural creativity.

Where I was less comfortable was at the interface between creativity and commerce. In the context of gaming, as Finland “searches for the new Nokia” (as one person put it), there is already a relationship between the Happi Centre and commercial companies in the area of computer gaming, as young people ‘road test’ and indeed contribute to new ideas. I was told that the relationship was one of “mutual value and benefit”. Yet I was not sure what the financial deal in this relationship is. And presumably, just as the Happi Centre could have some form of commercial relationship with private enterprise, so it could also construct various ‘deals’ with the young people who make use of the resources at the Centre – if, and as and when, they become commercially successful. This is a delicate issue. An over-commercialisation of a place like the Happi Centre would be both contrary to the broader culture of youth work in Finland and risk undermining open and free access for young people. Yet there is no disputing the huge costs of maintaining and running the Happi Centre. Some contributions to income would, no doubt, be welcome. It is a huge building and perhaps there could be space for a dozen business incubators, where young people hoping to make money from their creative talent and activities could ‘start up’. They could pay a tapered rental, increasing as personal and professional (business mentoring) support declined, and business and commercial success developed. Perhaps there could be contracts where the Centre took a percentage if the sales of CDs, art or photographs reached a certain level of success. That would provide some level of connection with the ‘real world’ and produce some ‘return on investment’. These are difficult, often considered unpalatable, issues for youth work but they should not be dismissed out of hand. After all, if the Happi Centre’s philosophy and aspiration is to give young people “wings to fly”, perhaps those who do eventually fly could help to feather the nest for future users. The Centre’s impressive work is resource-intensive, and there are bound to be increasing capital and revenue funding challenges in the more straightened times ahead.

Inter-agency collaboration I was surprised to learn that, despite no common training, there has been broad consensus and commitment to the Helsinki Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–12 and the imperative of working more closely together, combining knowledge and sharing information. In my notes, I wrote that this is ‘almost too good to be true’! In the UK, which, this coming November, will elect its first ‘political’ Police and Crime Commissioners, one candidate recently declared that, if elected, his police officers will be ‘rat-catchers, not social workers’, the implication being that the recent evolution of policing in Britain, especially through PACT (Police and Communities Together) arrangements, has seen the cops go soft. There is always a risk in the development of multi-agency collaboration that professional boundaries will become blurred, lines of responsibility and accountability will become confused, and the sense and confidence about professional expertise diluted. This can produce, as somebody once said, a fruit purée rather than a fruit cocktail. I once wrote that inter-agency partnership and co-operation rested on a ‘precarious equilibrium’ of organisational, professional and personal factors (Williamson and Weatherspoon 1985). Organisational diktat only goes so far if there is professional and even personal reThe winter event Reaktori was organized at Kaapelitehdas in 2011.



sistance. ‘Working together for children and their families’ (Kahan 1972) has been a social policy mantra for over forty years in the UK (right now, in Wales, the latest manifestation is the ‘team around the family’ within a political initiative called Families First), but the assumption of synthesis and agreement (a ‘common understanding’) amongst those involved simply cannot be taken for granted.

ticular characteristics - that this section is not based on any prima facie desire to strengthen a more targeted approach, though that might be part of a subsequent debate. But surely it is still important to ‘know your users’, especially when resources are constrained. Free access to services (such as music or sport) that might otherwise cost money if pursued through the private sector, does make this question all the more important.

Two methodologies for further cultivating that shared understanding are worth mentioning. One is co-location, where a range of services are delivered from the same building, so that people (‘clients’, service users, young people) do literally walk through the same door and so obviously have a single point of access. There is a downside to this; individuals may not wish to seek psychological counselling in the same venue as they are pursuing a music project, and nor may they wish to be seen to. There is the more straightforward alternative of a single point of access, even those services may be spread virtually, geographically and professionally - an information and support point for signposting individuals and groups to a range of different services and opportunities, something that was once recommended for young people in the UK as long ago as 1981 (Norman 1981).

What was striking was how little some providers (of, for example, creative and cultural opportunities, or camps) apparently knew about the socio-economic circumstances of their users. [I was told that 27% of the users of the Happi Centre were from immigrant backgrounds, but that actually says nothing about the resource capacity of their parents, even if some assumptions might reasonably be made.] The door was open, they said, and young people could come in. Low threshold access is a central value for youth work in Helsinki. But behind such a positive and glowing philosophy lie questions about the awareness of young people ‘out there’ of what is available, their interest in taking advantage of the opportunities presented, and their confidence in stepping towards the door. If usage is better understood – and this is not to say that, if it transpires that relatively privileged and motivated young people are the ones who are mainly coming through the door, they should be barred from doing so – then there may be a case for developing more robust outreach and information strategies in order to ensure equal awareness and potential access if not, ultimately, positive action in favour of those less likely to have the possibility of such experiences by other more private or personal means.

Possibly a more promising approach, which I experimented with some years ago in relation to health, is to engage in professional exchange, to consolidate engagement and understanding with the ‘other’ sector. In the case of health, this would involve somebody from the Youth Department, ideally with some specific responsibility for health-focused youth work, spending time in the health office, while reciprocally, somebody from the health department with a brief for activity towards young people would spend time in the youth office. Each would disseminate their expertise in the other camp, while back on home turf they would represent the organisational and cultural perspectives of the other camp to their colleagues and consider how to address them³. It is surprising how much this can oil the wheels of mutual understanding, exchange and subsequent collaboration on both strategic and operational development. The model can, of course, be extended to other policy areas such as housing, economic development, vocational training and labour markets. On a different note, it was surprising that the police were conspicuous only by their absence in most discussions of inter-agency work. They did appear in relation to the traffic education initiative, though rather negatively in that their engagement with the moped phenomenon appeared to be primarily around law-breaking (traffic violations) and public nuisance. They also appeared, surprisingly perhaps and much more positively, in the context of exploratory online youth work. Three police officers are actively working online. They were depicted as having moved from being street cops to online policing, carrying out ‘neighbourhood policing’ on the Internet. And part of that role was to provide information, advice and support to young people. Otherwise the police do not appear to be linked to youth work - at least not in any formal, structured way. This may not matter, but it may.

Knowledge base – who are the users? From the outset, I would wish to stress – because, more and more, certainly in England, publicly funded youth work is being rationed to certain groups of young people with par-

Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not. The problem with open access services is that they do risk getting ‘clogged up’ by those who are arguably less in need of them – the term for such users in the context of medical services is the ‘worried well’. This is not an argument for an exclusively targeted approach (which itself can have a range of ‘perverse effects’), but it is an argument for seeking to strengthen priority for those who – for reasons of finance, background, culture, locality, or something else – might not routinely seek to take advantage of what is on offer. Some may be unaware, while others – though aware – may be ‘blocked’ for other reasons. They may need more targeted support and encouragement to beat a path to the door of what is proclaimed to be ‘universal’ provision.

On-line youth work I am quite unfamiliar with the idea of on-line youth work. The closest I came to it as a practitioner was doing some long-distance advice, information and guidance by mobile phone! So rather than feeling able to comment on developments in Helsinki, I was more fascinated to learn about it. (I) Racism and the Internet Following the Council of Europe’s All Different All Equal campaign (to combat racism, intolerance and xenophobia), the Helsinki Youth Department launched an initiative to address racism on-line. Everyone is now aware of the prevalence of hate speech and racism on-line, something that was thrown into relief following the killing of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July 2011. On-line hate has real consequences for real lives.

³ Generally health promotion messages might be disseminated through youth websites and projects; youth research on health matters would be filtered back into health strategies (think about the cultural attitudes to carrying condoms amongst some young men and young women); special youth health projects (for example, smoking cessation) might be developed collaboratively.



But what, if anything, should youth work try to do about it? ‘Hate speech’ is a controversial term that is not even recognised in Finnish law: it falls within more general provisions around causing harassment, alarm or distress, and incitement to disorder. The project was launched in 2009. The first step was to try to secure some understanding and awareness of what exactly goes on through the Internet. Children and young people tend not to talk about these issues to adults. Nor did youth workers want to talk about these issues; they were considered to be ‘too negative’. In many respects, this stance was simply in keeping with the rest of Finland; as a self-perceived and self-defined tolerant country, there was a reluctance to acknowledge that behaviour of this kind was taking place. Now there is a toolkit concerned with on-line racism, anti-racism and youth work. It is embedded in youth worker training for the first time; multiculturalism has been addressed for some time, but not racism. The emphasis is firmly on attitudes and behaviour, not the individual. But I was informed that the most shocking fact is that, of any 100 people facing racism in Finland/Helsinki, 60% are Finnish – born in Finland with immigrant backgrounds. [Fifteen years ago, when I first came to Finland, I read that the Finns were the most tolerant people in Europe. Coming originally from Birmingham, England, living amongst a large African-Caribbean population as well as a less prominent Asian population, and having chaired an almost exclusively black community project for the preceding eighteen years, I was very conscious that there were very few black faces in Helsinki – most ‘immigrants’ were Russians. That has changed dramatically and with it has come the classic prejudices and hostilities that could, arguably should, have been predicted.]

(II) Digital youth work This has evolved over a considerable time, stretching back to the 1980s, though resource problems had often obstructed more rapid development. Even recent optimism about taking things forward and training youth workers in digital youth work – through a European Social Fund project located at the Happi Centre – has dried up because of changes of personnel. The latest initiative is the development of a search engine for the activities of the Helsinki Youth Department. The biggest challenge, however, is scale: other big cities in Finland need to get involved if the vision for digital youth work is to be feasible. (III) Verke In August of 2010, the Ministry of Education and Culture appointed 13 parties to act as national development and service centres. One of the appointed parties is the Verke – the National Development Centre for Online Youth Work, which is coordinated by the City of Helsinki Youth Department. The development centre creates, produces and develops youth-oriented work and activities that can benefit from the use of the Internet and Information Communication Technology. In addition, the centre acts as an expert and support service by concentrating on increasing information and know-how related to its area of expertise. The target groups of these operations are youth as well as professionals in youth-oriented fields. The activities of the centre are being developed through national and multidisciplinary cooperative work between the public, private and third sectors. The personnel of the Centre comprise employees from the City of Helsinki Youth Department, the Social Services Department, the Health Centre and the Education Department. The Verke project is concerned with both formal and informal education and learning, through web based collaborative learning and web based collaborative knowledge construction. It is about supporting life-wide learning. To that end, it is engaging on-line work in all contexts that relate to young people – youth associations, the police, health care and, of course, youth work4. Verke has also developed On-line Youth Information Services where young people themselves participate in renewing the services. The vision has been to establish an on-line youth centre that would be a space for bringing young people and a range of agencies together. Beyond offering young people ‘low threshold signposting’ to real world issues and opportunities (including those provided or facilitated by the Helsinki Youth Department), it seeks to cultivate in young people ‘media pedagogical’ and ‘media critical’ skills through which they learn to manage the Internet to their best advantage. This reminded me of some ideas developed during Student Forum 2000 in Prague Castle in 1999 when a small group of international and extremely intelligent young people, after discussing Values for Education in a Globalising World, came up with the idea that, with the proliferation of information on the Internet and the lack of clarity between what is advertising, marketing, propaganda, mythology and knowledge, young people needed ‘FREUD in a human envelope’ – FREUD being an acronym for Find, Retrieve, Evaluate, Use and Defend. It also reminded me of a seminar pamphlet written by the English youth work writer Mark Smith (1979) called Creators not Consumers. Though about an ice-skating trip, it could be transferred to Verke, which wants young people to be architects of their own futures not victims of the whims, or consumers of the marketed products of others.

A growing part of youth work is done online.


4 Other

fields of development inside Verke include such initiatives as Vespa (Online Social Services for Children and Youth) Project, Netari (Online Youth House), NoRa (No Racism) Project, Pelitalo (Game House), Toisen asteen yhteys (Close Encounters of the Second Kind) and Verkkoterkkari (Web Public Health Nurse) Project.


Verke is an ambitious and dynamic venture. It has already developed Exploratory Youth Work On-line, hoping to forge contacts with some of the young people who have gone ‘missing’. This does, of course, beg the question as to whether they are likely to be online, though the digital divide that still prevails, perhaps unexpectedly, in some other European countries, is probably very small in Finland. Verke has also developed On-line Youth Information Services and young people themselves have participated in their design and development. At least an on-line approach may work for some of those young people who have not gone to find out what might be available for them; now they can find out first, and then decide if they wish to go. The great strength of all these developments, from a youth work point of view, is the essentiality of co-production, of involving young people in its practice. It is an exercise, I was told, in ‘collaborative knowledge construction’. At various points, however, I felt some concern about ethical questions that remained unresolved: identities, vulnerabilities, boundaries and confidentiality. Internet governance is something currently exercising the minds of an international group of senior politicians but, again from a youth work perspective, the pace of technological change and the resources required to keep up with it must be tempered with some thought about ethical responsibilities, whatever the protagonists of these approaches may say about peer control and the development of ethical and moral skills.

Open youth work Nearly 20 years ago, I gave a talk in Copenhagen entitled ‘The case for open youth work’. Even then, open youth work provision was under threat in many places, vulnerable to a pincer movement that, on the one hand, prioritised targeted and issue-based practice, and, on the other hand, wanted its open work out on the streets and not in expensive buildings. A British children’s minister made the wry remark not so long ago that ‘it is better to stay at home and watch TV than go to an unstructured youth club’. In contrast, the British youth work historian Bernard Davies routinely invokes my comment that ‘the youth club is the base camp of youth work’. Finland has a longer tradition than most in providing, in discrete residential areas, an open youth centre, alongside other public services such as the sports centre, the library and the health clinic. I was greeted on my visit to one such youth centre by the remark that “communal youth work is a huge treasure that we had”. I felt immediately at home in this centre, especially when young people started to roll up, once school had finished. I was told that there was a need for more targeted youth work at the Centre, but this was emphatically not targeted work of the Luotsi kind. It was more a kind of focused youth work that was often required following initial contact, communication and conversation. Indeed, it was clear that those working at the Centre viewed youth work as, essentially, about ‘being there’, and the core business was “human communication”. That was the basis for any further interaction and support. There was, today, it was asserted, too much planning that carried the risk of inhibiting moving in the directions required by young people, the experiences they were having and the contexts in which they lived. There were fears about the demise of this kind of youth provision, “the relics of old welfare state social democratic youth centres”. Next to this particular Centre is an underground skateboarding area, exploiting the space that had once been a bomb shelter. [I visited later: it is of a scale that is quite indescribable and the noise of the skateboards is deafening.] Youth participation was the core principle of the Centre, something that had a tendency to produce “an endless circle of the same issues”. But these issues were the recurring concerns of young people and an articulated concern was “are we at risk of losing the values that gave us what we’ve got?” In other words, new thinking and approaches to address new groups of young people, such as those with immigrant backgrounds, or new issues affecting young people, such as mental ill-health, may be unnecessary: there was an argument that the old models could and should be continued. It was conceded, however, that since tragic events such as the school shootings in Finland, adults were much more prejudiced towards young people. Historically, youth work had emerged from communities, through the work of supportive adults; now, perhaps, there had to be more direct contact between ‘professional’ youth workers and young people. Open youth work still commanded credibility with young people, and it was up to the workers to ‘hold the line’. Open youth work was contrasted sharply with targeted youth work like Luotsi, which was critically dismissed as social work or, more disparagingly, as ‘Legoland community work’, trying to build intervention and practice with blocks from the police, schools, youth work,

Pelitalo, a.k.a. the House of Games, is a part of Verke and located in the Youth Activity Centre Happi.



art and so on. The cry was to concentrate on the spine of youth work, its distinguishing characteristics around the establishment of long-term relationships and supporting young people with their everyday emotional challenges. One youth work practitioner framed open youth work around its unpredictability. Its planning was virtually impossible if you had no idea which direction you would be taking, nor whether the young people would be easy going or more difficult. The caustic view that youth workers were ‘being paid to say hello’ was deeply resented. Though I subscribe to much of this perspective, I took the group on, querying that if they were neither table tennis players nor therapeutic social workers, what exactly were they? Who were they and where did they fit in the mosaic of public services for young people? How could they demonstrate that their early interventions saved public money further down the track? At this point, they suggested that the skating space (managed in fact by the Sports Department) meant that young people were not skating in car parks and therefore not damaging people’s cars. They then turned on the offensive and said that it was annoying that the benefits and effects of youth work had to be proved: We don’t really have the words to describe our work. We offer open door activities. We know the processes and their importance. But how to describe it to those who are not ‘one of us’ is very difficult.

They went on to talk about building friendships, providing personal support for the excluded and lonely, establishing deep relationships. Just having the youth work space allows young people to cultivate friendships, make new friends and engage with trusted adults. I empathise with their position. Having run a small youth centre for 25 years based around principles that the Thompson Report (DES 1982) captured as the five ‘A’s (association, activities, autonomy, advice and advocacy), I know the long-term value of this kind of youth work. Only a week ago, a 42-year old woman re-discovered me on Facebook and wrote rather poignantly that, when she was a teenager, I had given her an open mind and encouraged her to see things from the perspectives and position of others. But, beyond this kind of anecdote, I also struggle to express how or why my open youth work was valuable. All I can repeat is something I said long ago, that it is an act of faith rather more than an act of science.

Participation – towards the ‘entrepreneurial self’ Ruuti is the new big idea of the Helsinki Youth Department. It has informed the Interaction Plan for Children and the Young 2009-2012, whose goal is to collaborate with the City of Helsinki’s branches of administration to develop permanent operating methods and models that enable the involvement of children and the young in the planning of their own facilities and the implementation of the plans


Ruuti is meant for all young people in Helsinki who are interested in making an impact in society.

This flagship initiative Ruuti aspires to cultivate a ‘dialogue of different voices’, and it is, of course, to be welcomed. Grounded in some persuasive conceptual thinking as well as concerns about what, elsewhere throughout Europe, has been quietly viewed as the tyranny of democratic and formalised youth representation, Ruuti celebrates pluralism and has established mechanisms not only for securing the voice of young people but also for transmitting it effectively across the departments of the municipality (see Concluding diagram). For many years now, often through declarations at a succession of EU Presidency youth events, the European Youth Forum (Youth Forum Jeunesse) has considered youth participation to be the central pre-requisite for addressing a range of challenges facing young people in modern times: unemployment, health, voting, and so on. Few would disagree that eliciting young people’s views and involving young people in decision-making is a fairly critical component within contemporary youth policy and practice, though key questions still remain: who, how, when, what, and why? Some of these simple questions have more complex answers than others. Not all is self-evident, even if there is a prima facie case for promoting the participation of young people – to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to combat the democratic deficit, to provide the experience of active citizenship, and almost certainly to make better policy. [And, within Finland, the right of children and youth to have a say in matters concerning them is laid out in the Finnish Constitution and the Youth Act.] It is even less self-evident when participation is subtly aligned with creating greater autonomy in young people and when that, in turn, becomes an agenda for young people


taking far greater responsibility for their own futures (and the blame when things go wrong). There is an apparent fault line between youth research evidence that young people’s challenging transitions demand more support and assertions by youth organisations that young people desire more autonomy. In fact, the line between support and autonomy is a continuum on which different groups of young people are positioned in different places. We must be careful that policy exposition of more youth autonomy does not cast more vulnerable young people (still needing support) adrift too soon. [This is why it is good to see that the Youth Department has recast its age focus, extending it from 13–18, to 13–24.] Public authorities under conditions of austerity and neo-liberal rather than social democratic political frameworks are likely to be rather enthusiastic in promoting the ‘entrepreneurial self’ and leaving autonomous young people to their own devices; as one author of a book on juvenile delinquency once wrote, ‘freedom, to the adolescent, can look suspiciously like neglect’.

Separate provision – Girls’ House The history of youth work (and, indeed, wider education and other policy) is peppered with debates about the suitability and value of separate provision for different groups of young people. Concern is often expressed when open provision comes to be ‘dominated’ by, or associated with, one particular group. A core, though often unspoken, philosophy of youth work is about bringing young people together – forging social cohesion and mutual understanding, tolerance and respect through doing things together. On the other hand, however, there is an argument that some groups need space defend-

ed and protected for them. They need refuge from the domination of others and an environment where experimentation and discussion can take place open, honestly and safely, without fear of ridicule, abuse or humiliation. They need somewhere where they can build their own capacities and resilience. In Helsinki, the Youth Department (alongside a number of other funders) supports just such a space for girls and young women. Modelled on similar provision in Sweden, the Girls’ House is one of five in Finland. The Girls’ House in Helsinki has been running for twelve years. Drawing inspiration from the Settlement Movement (and Toynbee Hall), it provides for young women between the ages of 10 and 28 and is open from 3pm to 8pm and sometimes on weekends. It is open to all (unless they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol). Access is ‘low threshold’ (there are few criteria for entry) and the fundamental ground rule is to show respect to others. There are 10 staff and group leaders, from a range of professional backgrounds. The manager of the House is herself a psychologist and therapist. The Girls’ House thinks of itself as a community. It is quite intentionally ‘very girly’ – “perfect for teenage girls”. Despite, possibly in the face of, the prevailing culture of equal opportunities and gender neutrality in Finland, it is most certainly not gender neutral. Its objective is, indeed, to ‘bring to the surface’ the persisting inequalities and oppressions facing women in Finland. The House provides for “a lot of lonely girls”. There are something like 1,000 visits a month; 500 girls are supported intensively each year and perhaps 1,000 girls are involved in more ‘open’ groups. Each room is decorated in a particular way and has a particular purpose, even if that is just for ‘chilling out’. Some 50 groups a year take place, some focusing on particular hobbies such as yoga or hip hop, some ‘open’ groups concerned with cooking or crafts, and some that are more interactive and therapeutic, using activities in art or photography to pursue ‘deeper stuff’. Girls and young women may be primarily attached to a particular group (for example, the young mums), but there is a lot of social mixing, discussions of common issues and experiences such as violence and relationships, and access to counselling and sexual health services. Indeed, there is a nurse on the staff and the sexual health room is as much a space to talk as it is to be examined. The broader point here is that this form of youth work operates at the borders and into the realms of much more therapeutic casework. Such an environment throws into relief the challenges of multi-disciplinary teamwork and practice (see also above), notably around training and supervision. The triple meaning of supervision – watching over, overseeing, and higher sight – become acutely important within the context of the Girls’ House, and I would be interested to know how the youth workers in the team swap notes and share their experience with youth work colleagues who work in other settings. No doubt the costs of such provision are considerable. But the Girls’ House felt important and needed. I did not meet any of the young women but one statistic has stayed with me that reflects the educative role of the House and its prospectively long-term impact on the lives of the young women it serves: of those in the young mothers’ group, some 60% are

The Girls’ House is a “boy free zone” for 10–28-year old girls and young women.



breast-feeding their infants, compared with just 3% of new mothers in Finland overall. The numbers are, of course, small – too small for any statistical conclusions – but one can surmise that behaviour change amongst the ‘types’ of young women who come to the House is not necessarily easy to achieve, yet something rather significant has been accomplished.

Targeted youth work (I) Luotsi The youth work unit Luotsi is a multi-professional initiative involving social services and health as well as the Youth Department. It provides support, prevention and early intervention for young people nominated as in need of it because of presenting ‘concerns’, but without severe problems and with a likelihood of a positive response. Each young person referred to Luotsi has an individual support plan and a dedicated counsellor. The principles and philosophy that underpin Luotsi are that it is strengths-based, embedded in young people’s life context, focused on getting teenagers involved and committed, and based on regular contact for a year or more. There are Luotsi projects both for vulnerable young people in general and for specific groups of vulnerable young people, such as immigrants from Russia and Romani (Finnish Roma, who have been in Finland for hundreds of years) young people, for whom school completion and progression is a particular issue. Aggressive and hyperactive young people have been a significant clientele for Luotsi. In my discussion with members of the Luotsi team, it was reiterated that the objective was “preventing, not repairing”, though it could be argued that this is a somewhat false dichotomy: repairing existing signs of exclusion and disengagement is the best way of preventing them from getting worse. I was given a very upbeat account of the value of Luotsi – how challenging and disadvantaged young people received individual support, how a network of those close to young people’s everyday life (school, social work, health, faith representatives, parents and youth work) contributed to setting ‘grounded goals’, how groups of young people involved with Luotsi engaged in activities, experiences and provided peer support, and how all of this ‘enlarged their picture of the world’ and enhanced their self-esteem. And yet, despite rather liking the overall sound of the project, I had some critical observations and questions. These were discussed at the meeting, but are perhaps worthy of further discussion. First, surely it had been a huge leap to take for those who had been ‘traditional’ youth workers. Though pitched positively around the assertion that “there is a wider canvas of possibilities in youth work”, there must inevitably be tensions around become part of a preventative service and around collaborative arrangements with other agencies, not least with regard to confidentiality and information-sharing. Of course, protocols and contracts on the latter front are quite possible to establish but, nevertheless, they do not always make for comfortable professional practice. All in all, ‘targeted youth support’ (as it has been called in the UK and which, please note, does not allude to youth work) is a big leap for youth work, or at least some youth workers.


Secondly, I learned that the group work undertaken usually (possibly always) involved only young people who are on the Luotsi programme. Admittedly, there was sometimes a gender mix and sometimes a mix of young people with different behavioural challenges, but apparently there was no mixing with what might be termed ‘ordinary kids’. Given contemporary theoretical debates about ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital, as well as the professional claim within Luotsi itself about enlarging the picture of the world, and the practical fact that group work with only challenging young people is always disproportionately challenging, there must be a case for discussing how young people on the Luotsi programme might be more connected to more generic youth activities. The Luotsi project is designed to give young people a sense of purpose, direction and destination. It is not for young people with protracted problems around drugs or criminality. For more challenging young people, it can provide a bridge, by signposting them to the services that they need. Participation is voluntary. Each team of four professionals has some 1015 young people a year and some 350 young people a year have passed through the programme. It is claimed that, so far, there has been a 90% completion and progression rate. A further evaluation of its impact is due around April 2012. (II) Unemployed young people The Youth Department has established a comprehensive development project for youth employment, ‘opening the door to working life for the young’. In collaboration with the Employment Office, it offers job placements and guidance for 17-25 year olds, over a period between three months and a year, in kindergartens, old people’s homes and youth centres. Counselling and support is offered to help young people achieve their goals and work towards long-term solutions to the issues they face. This is indisputably an important initiative. Longitudinal research points repeatedly to the ‘scarring effects’ of having been unemployed as a young person. These are lifetime effects on job stability, income levels, health and other things. Keeping unemployed young people as close to training and labour markets as possible is a major policy imperative. Yet the place and contribution of youth work to this task has, in many countries, been a matter of dispute. In Helsinki, young people who want placements or who want to keep their state allowance approach the scheme. Young people are paid by the state allowance; through the Acta Law, they are required to be active while they are unemployed. This is the eligibility criteria for receipt of the allowance. Many of the young people who approach the Youth Department are described as very ‘deficient’, lacking in motivation and social and life skills. Many are from immigrant backgrounds and, as one person put it, ‘some have no idea of the watch’. It was suggested that the scheme is broadly a success; follow-up telephone calls indicate that most young people who have taken part are now either studying or working. However, it was acknowledged that some do ‘disappear’, sacrificing their state allowance in the process. They end up either living at home, supported by their parents, or living independently and homeless.


The young people engaged in this employment programme were portrayed as ‘the lost hope kids’, each with their own individual needs that Finland was increasingly unable to meet. It was argued that a wide variety of responses were required, especially ‘social workshops’ through which youth work could ‘help young people to live their own lives’. There was a deep reluctance to try to classify or categorise the young people concerned in any way. This is a rather naive and disingenuous position to adopt, though it is rather typical of youth workers (as a youth worker, I am the same). From a policy perspective, frameworks do have to be developed. Long ago, I classified different elements of British government programmes for the unemployed as either leaning towards a ‘social work’ model or towards a ‘military/industrial model’. The former cared little about the disciplines of work and gave everything to individual understanding and support. The latter adopted a position beautifully captured by one supervisor/instructor, a former soldier: “let’s face it, mate, life’s a rat race, so you have to learn ‘em to be rats”. In other words, he had no time for personal difficulties or circumstances. He demanded punctuality, obedience and hard work; otherwise, penalties, including loss of a proportion of the allowance, were imposed.

moped phenomenon has rules and hierarchies. There is no alcohol and there are no fights. At 6pm, during the ‘moped season’, the gatherings start in car parks. The street youth workers work into the late evening on these sites, through a process of “encounters and conversations” with participating young people. They have developed education materials, and provide training in the skills of off-road riding. There is much to be said for the opportunism, receptivity, relevance and effectiveness of this aspect of the Youth Department’s youth work activity. Without more detail about the nature of the ‘encounters’ between the youth workers and the moped riders, and what comes out of them – the classic question for any street-based youth work practice – one can only complement the initiative.

Tough and self-assured young people on the ‘social work’ schemes ridiculed and exploited their flexibility and ‘softness’; vulnerable and troubled young people on the ‘military/industrial’ schemes were brutalised and destroyed by their rigidity and ‘hardness’. In Helsinki, there are surely some young people who have ‘no idea of the watch’, but there are different methodologies, mechanisms and time-frames through which time-keeping can and should be encouraged. Patience is needed for some young people; pressure for others. I have likened this, on a broader youth work front in discussions about working with more challenging young people, to advanced car driving. To avoid crashing a fast car on a tricky mountain road, we have to know precisely when to apply the brake and when to push on the accelerator. Too often in youth work, arguably, we keep the brake applied too long. (III) Traffic education The DVD of hundreds of mopeds on the highway is quite amazing, reminiscent of 1950s Rockers, or 1960s Mods, more the latter. Like Vespa 150s (rather than Triumph 750s), the ‘mopeds’ driven by Helsinki youth defy their engine capacity and modest size. Accessories and riding skills, together with the sheer weight of numbers, display something altogether different: a youth cultural phenomenon. As Elina Nikoskinen puts it in her study of this phenomenon, these are ‘cool’ mopeds with ‘tough’ riders. The ‘gatherings’, in open space (car parks) during the moped season, are a site and space for performance and audience participation.

The Youth Department has responded to the challenges caused by the rapid increase of moped riding.

The Youth Department has connected with the moped riders both directly and indirectly, with youth workers attending gatherings, and through providing traffic training and engine workshops for young people to acquire skills in repairs and maintenance. Young people in Finland can ride a moped, with a maximum speed of 45 km an hour, from the age of 15. At 16, they can ride a light motorcycle. Over the past decade the numbers of young people using two-wheels for transport has tripled. Like other ‘gang’ culture, the



Youth culture and social practice –building from the ground (sometimes underground) What is impressive about youth work in Helsinki is the fact that so much is grounded in the diverse cultures of the young. The Helsinki Youth Department not only supports such activity (for example, skateboarding, gaming) but actively connects with it (the moped phenomenon, social media and networking), in order to develop and apply youth work principles and practice. Or at least that seems to be the case. If, as those at the open youth work Centre were keen to emphasise, youth work still has at its heart the building of relationships, conversation and response, then it is quite difficult to envisage such dialogue going on in the din of the underground skateboard space. Conversation there is virtually impossible. That may not matter. But it is illustrative of the fact that, as elsewhere, youth work sits at the crossroads of a range of activities, ideas and aspirations. The skateboard venue is perhaps an extreme example. Yet the challenge it presents for youth work is equally present amongst young people on mopeds who may be more interested in display and performance than conversation, or young people at the Happi Centre immersed in computer games and reluctant to break away for a chat. The City of Helsinki Youth Department likes its concept papers; perhaps it should also produce some case studies of various ‘youth work’ journeys – how youth work hooks into youth culture and on to young people, how the subsequent interaction and relationships identify issues and challenges, how youth workers have responded to these, and the subsequent destinations of those young people. ‘From youth culture to active citizens: mediated through youth work’ could be the title of such a piece.


I use the heading intentionally. In 1998, when ‘youth work’ was a dreadfully unpopular concept as Tony Blair’s new Labour government was shaping its youth policy across the UK, I used the same heading when I wrote an occasional paper for the National Youth Agency in England asking ‘whither or wither the youth service?’ (Williamson 1998). Where was it going; would it die out? Towards the end of last year, the Helsinki Youth Department set out a vision for its own role and contribution to the lives of young people within the municipality and, perhaps rather ambitiously, to the world. How will the Youth Department make the world a better place by 2016?, drafted in November 2011, set out four goals underpinned and anchored by some guiding principles for development. The four goals are as follows: 1) Making a difference – Ruuti 2) Revision of the concept of operations 3) Actions against dropping out during a change from one educational phase to another and its prevention 4) Development of youth work as a learning environment These four goals will, it is argued, be best achieved through partnership working, making increasing and better use of the Internet, emphasising group work and work with communities through seeing youth as a resource rather than thinking of young people as individual problems to be solved, and prioritising work with youth and young adults and not with pre-teens. Few would argue with the underpinning principles – at least in principle! In practice, there will be pitfalls that need to be at least recognised and sometimes confronted. (I) Partnership working Partnership working, it has been noted already, is not always automatically more effective. Clearly, it lends itself to developing a more coherent and consistent approach to the lives of its ‘target’ group; historically, a great deal of practice can point to the clashes and conflicts in policy approaches that, at minimum, hindered effectiveness and, worse, produced counter-productive interventions and provided more resistant ‘clients’ to play off one professional group against another. There is, from the UK, a classic text on this called ‘Surviving Poverty’ (Stewart et al. 1989), about the rehabilitation of young adult offenders (those aged 17-21), where the probation service’s rehabilitative aspirations were persistently undermined by the restrictions on access to benefits for this age group by the social security system. Probation officers at that time, as a result, spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to get money for their clients rather than engaging in their broader profession-

One of the most popular places of the Youth Department is the Luuppi Indoor Skate park situated in Kontula.



al task. If such problems and tensions are to be avoided, partnership working in practice needs the umbrella of a shared strategy and policy vision. It then needs careful clarification of roles, responsibilities and accountability, especially around matters such as information-sharing and confidentiality. Across different professional disciplines, this is rarely an easy matter; even within a professional area, such as child care and child protection, there can be huge disagreements about the appropriate actions to be taken in the context of disputed concepts such as risk, harm and danger. (II) Online working Such concerns are still relatively unknown to us in relation to the Internet. Finland has always been progressive and resourced on this front, especially in youth work, where the financial support of the slot machine association Veikkaus has enabled some pioneering youth work practice. The vision of the Helsinki Youth Department – that the Internet is a “medium through which the young can be reached, where their active citizenship can be fostered and where they can be supported socially” – is a commendable one, but there are concerns that should be considered. Indeed, Sennett’s (2012) book Together (mentioned in the Preface), points to how communication through the Internet often does not, perhaps cannot, pick up the complexities and nuances of social realities. So thinking about extending the use of the Internet needs careful reflection about its fitness for purpose in securing the range of youth work objectives, as well as about more general issues concerning access (the digital divide) and on-line exploitation and protection. (III) Working with groups and communities An emphasis on working with groups is, in fact, nothing new. The histories of youth work invariably emphasise the centrality of the group (the club, the troop, the brigade, the patrol) and the more recent targeting of individual young people for specialist support through youth work initiatives is more the anomaly. What has been less at the centre of youth work in the past has been making the connections between generations and communities. Indeed, generational links have often been intentionally avoided, on the grounds that young people need their own space. There are, of course, new challenges in seeking to promote greater solidarity between the generations, even if this is a core theme of the current European Union youth strategy. Youth centres cannot always be quite so ‘extreme’ (say, in visual sexual health literature) if they are also youth and community centres. But there is much to be said for finding ways of engaging older people with the young, as mentors, advisers, instructors and partners, just as it important for young people to make some contribution to the older generation, perhaps through conversation, assistance (shopping and gardening, perhaps), display and entertainment. The promotion of mutual understanding is, arguably, one of the greatest challenges of modern times as new technologies and the pace of change appears to divide the generations ever more sharply. There is a joke about an impertinent young man passing an older man quietly fishing on the riverbank. The older man courteously says good afternoon. The younger man is dismissive, ridiculing the solitude of fishing and asserting that he has nothing to do with the older generation having grown up in the age of space travel, email, YouTube, international tourism, Internet and Google, mobile phones and smart technology. The older


Interaction between young people and adults is of great importance.

man quietly observes that it was his generation that invented all those things for young people and asks what the young man is going to do for his children................

The idea of mutuality will be crucial for the future of youth work, especially in straightened times of scarce public resources. It was noted by the staff at the Luupi Youth Centre that there is, today, much greater prejudice and negativity against young people, largely as a result of negative media coverage and in particular following the school shootings in Finland. This can only be reversed by more positive local experiences. Working with communities is therefore, for young people, not only an exercise in active citizenship but one of public relations. And through that public engagement and securing local popular support, youth work is likely to sustain the political support required to maintain its funding through the public authorities. Once more, however, these relationships are not without their risks and problems. It is actually rather easier to keep young people apart. Then there is no chance of something going wrong or youth action in public space being misinterpreted. At the end of a speech I gave in 1985 to the Local Government Association on the future of education, when I argued that the complex challenge for schooling was to enable young people to read situations well enough to know whether to be enterprising or compliant (get it wrong, and you are either rejected or left behind), I was asked what my central curriculum idea would be. I said it would be a cross-curricular project connecting young people under 16 with an older person who was not a relative over 65. At the heart of the encounter would be the discovery of the world, and its choices, when the over-65 year old was around the age of 16.


The 16 would perhaps be surprised at the lifestyle of the older person as a teenager, just as the older person would start to understand the complexity of modern life for young people, despite all the trappings of material well-being. A project such as this would have broader community benefit in that it would (or at least could) cushion the more negative effect of other individual stories about the problems caused by young people. The Youth Department document, like documents of this kind around the world, always want to see young people as a resource, not a problem, but it often take armies of young people doing good over time to build bridges with a suspicious older generation and wider community, and just one young person doing bad to destroy it in an instant. Hopefully the Ruuti initiative will be a central part of a construction process of building robust bridges with the wider community and their political and administrative representatives. (IV) Prioritising older young people The case for working with ‘youth and young adults’ and not pre-teens is now almost unequivocal. In a very early observation about the changing nature of youth transitions and the prospective need to change the form of youth work, I once wrote that youth work remained so preoccupied with the ‘acute anxieties of adolescence’ that it had failed to notice the emerging ‘chronic crisis of young adulthood’ (Williamson 1985). Yet, like the other principles that lie behind the Youth Department’s vision for the future, a concentration on an older group of young people is not without its challenges. As a youth worker, I always ran a youth club for a younger age group because I wanted a staging post and stepping stone for building relationships. With these young people in the ‘junior club’ – children aged 10–13 – I talked about sport, pop music, holidays and their brothers and sisters (if they wanted to talk at all) and organised games, sleepovers, discos and trips. Five years later, this ground work paid off. They were used to talking with me, and now they talked about family difficulties, relationship problems, encounters with the police, alienation from school, the use of drugs and alcohol, and so on. As they entered their twenties, we still talked about relationships, and about jobs and moving away from home. And I provided group and individual youth work support. So there is a strong case for a continuity of provision. The critical point in the Youth Department thinking, as I interpret it, is that earlier leisure-based provision will be made largely by those who are not more trained and skilled youth workers. My position would be that this is a sensible deployment of staff but that even the most experienced and qualified youth workers, who are most focused on perhaps the older, most challenging cohort, still put in an occasional appearance with the younger groups. Even if those particular workers are not around five years or more later, children will be aware that the service remains open to them through the twin sources of the visiting staff and those who are currently working with them. Targeted and more specialist youth work usually works best when – if only through word of mouth and some sort of ‘personal recommendation’ – there are links to more open provision and up and down the age range (France and Wiles 1996).

And the four goals that youth work is seeking to achieve Returning to the four goals of the Helsinki Youth Department, Ruuti is the department’s ‘common cause’. I have already complemented its rationale, vision and aspiration, and suggested ways in which those can, indeed, be strengthened. When ‘everyone and everywhere’ is to be involved, the primary question is whether or not, through the broad base of engagement and attachment to the Ruuti project, who exactly will eventually participate. Buildings are the bane of a youth work manager’s life. Maintenance and other running costs consume resources. Therefore there is a prima facie logic in the desire to rationalise the use and management of premises. Street-based work has become increasingly favoured in some places, as has mobile bus provision; low maintenance youth shelters in parks and other public space have been constructed, the shared use of premises has been encouraged. However, there needs to be a note of caution about ‘shedding’ buildings. In some former Soviet countries where this happened after the fall of communism, it has been a huge struggle to develop more contemporary youth work. Those countries that somehow kept their cultural centres and hobby education centres have found it more possible to make that transition. So buildings can important and, once lost, may never be retrievable. Sharing cost and risk may be a necessary step in harder times: the key question will be on what basis that sharing is negotiated and the extent to which it may compromise the capacity of effective youth work to be delivered. Transitions of many kinds are difficult moments for young people. For teenagers, the most common are transitions in education. Drop-out is on the increase. Such young people are often referred to as the ‘disaffected’, suggesting a bad attitude; I have favoured the term ‘disengaged’, a more neutral description of young people being in a place we don’t want them to be (and, largely, they don’t want to be either). Their motivation to re-engage may differ, for many different reasons. The disengaged has been classified in different ways but the key point is that unless we spend time understanding the basis of their disengagement, then we are unlikely to establish an appropriate, credible response. Some young people will require a great deal more patience than others. Some will need much more support and intervention, others little more than a light touch nudge and an awareness that more help is available if needed. So the Youth Department’s commitment to assisting the ‘life management’ – a concept developed by Finnish professor Helena Helve with the British academic John Bynner (1996) – of young people, especially around this ‘number one problem’, is absolutely correct, but there will need to be concerted efforts to make contact with some of these disengaged young people and even more sensitivity in calibrating a suitable response. A social guarantee is an important political commitment but the basis on which any contract with ‘disengaged’ (and sometimes genuinely disaffected) youth is constructed – especially the balance struck between choice and sanctions - will be the real acid test of its value and credibility with young people. Some would smile at the desire of the Youth Department to develop youth work as a learning environment. Many would argue this has always been the underpinning philosophy of youth work even if it has not always worked out that way in practice. The challenge has al-



ways been persuading others that youth work is anything more than ‘ping pong and pool’. But, as the Youth Department’s vision rightly notes, “the work and activities of youth work are consciously planned, executed and evaluated from the perspective of learning”. Indeed, as youth work has become more planned and structured, so more formal learning (in schooling) has often become more learner-centred and project-based. Thus one can detect a growing convergence between non-formal, experiential learning activities through youth work and formal, more didactic education practice in school. The only caveat here is that there are young people already alienated from formal schooling, for whom more structured youth work provision is already a bridge too far. Throughout Europe, there are decisions being made to abandon some of the low-threshold open access provision which does not seem to (or be able to) produce evidence of value and effectiveness, in favour of more directly targeted contact and intervention with identified groups of young people. This is misguided. It may work for some – those I have called the ‘least disengaged of the most disengaged’. It can also encourage commissioned agencies to focus on this group. Either way, it can push the more disengaged even further to the margins. There need to be some very careful thought about who is charged with developing and providing learning packages and pathways, how these are delivered and what is going to be evaluated in judging their effectiveness. I repeat an earlier observation that youth work should be providing a learning environment that can facilitate and support the personal change that, in turn, may encourage young people to engage in positional change. If we start to judge youth work on its capacity to produce the latter, then there is a risk that a youth service comes to be seen by young people – especially those most disengaged and in need of its support – in a very different light.


At any crossroads there are different routes that can be taken. The Helsinki Youth Department has taken one route into multi-agency collaboration within the framework of the Welfare Plan. It has decided to promote Ruuti as its flagship new initiative, designed to enable young people to exert influence in two directions – towards the youth field and towards the City’s administration. The Director of Social Affairs, in a personal note, celebrates the Youth Department for its effective implementation of a range of objectives: supporting and providing leisure-time activities for young people, broadening democratic thinking and strengthening the voice of young people, and engaging in early preventative interventions in young people’s lives. The Youth Department has a social mission as well as a youth mission. Both a forum and a transit zone, to appropriate the dichotomy that informs the Council of Europe’s history of youth work series, it appears to have successfully combined both classical and innovative youth work practice. Its recurrent challenge with be how it balances those different activities and its presenting challenge will be which priorities it wishes to favour should its resource base be reduced. This review has not intended to point to any particular direction. What is has done is to raise issues that, in my ‘view from a distance’, merit discussion and reflection before any precipitous decisions are made.

The mission of youth work is to support young people in their life management.




1.  Contact with customership According to the report, the youth department offices’ knowledge of youth is strictly limited to those youth who choose to frequent the offices, and the knowledge of even their background is quite limited: What is known about the youth who are not involved with the Youth Department’s activities? What is known about the youth who should be involved with the activities? How should they be attracted to participate? 2.  How are youth supported for the future stages of their lives? According to the report, many specialised activities, such as those at Happi, are frequented by the same youth for a long time in the same group. How could these youth be more effectively supported to engage in more professional activities (vocational training and courses, industry training institutes, practical training, etc.) or to entrepreneurship as their skills accumulate? If, on the other hand, youth show a tendency toward another form of cultural expression, how can they be guided towards other hobbies? If youth require another form of social support, backing or help, how are they guided to other services? The Youth Department is not an educational institute for the arts, nor does it compete with business in the industry. It alone cannot be responsible for all support required by youth. When further guidance becomes more effective, the flow-through will also improve. 3. How to improve cost-effectiveness and increase cash-flow financing? According to the report, the cost per unit of many specialised activities are particularly high, while at the same time they ‘trample the market’ because they are free or very cheap. Would it be possible to reduce the cost pressure by raising the fees, through company partnerships or in another way? Or by stopping expensive (in terms of cost per youth) activities when they are not strategically central. How to make room for new organisational activities without generating 4.      additional costs? According to the report, the brisk increase of multiculturalism in Helsinki and the increase in the number of new groups of youth will put pressure on the current organisational support when it is redistributed in the future. It is rather unlikely that the current (established) receivers of support will be willing to give up the support they receive in order to benefit newcomers. Is this outlook for the future justified and how can we be prepared to manage it in time? How could this type of development – which may be viewed as positive – be actively guided? Self-regulation in the civic activity “scene” may not be enough in this respect.


5.    Could more work be done with “mixed groups” in social youth work? According to the report, the work at Luotsi, for example, is focused very strongly on work with individuals and with groups made up of youth exhibiting symptoms. However, the strength of youth work lies with work done in groups, and particularly that done with heterogenic groups. On the other hand, when the group is made up exclusively of youth requiring special support, it easily results in an “academy of deviation” – a learning environment that supports problematic behaviour. At the same time, role models and a learning environment representing a positive alternative are not put to use. Since there are already several hundred groups of active youth working in the youth department activities, could these groups be more actively put to use as part of social youth work projects? 6.    Do all of our activities fall under the category of youth work? The report questions whether skateboarding, gaming activities, moped activities, social media, transport and the like, can actually be classified as youth work. What is the precise justification for including these activities in youth work? Perhaps it is not enough for us to answer that (1) these activities are part of our multifaceted brand, (2) youth want/ need them, (3) we can reach out to youth through them, or (4) “we engage in them from a youth work perspective”. We need a clearer answer to how they are connected to active civic learning or integration into society. Could another party look after these activities, other than professional youth work in municipalities? 7.    How is Ruuti integrated into other operations? According to the report, Ruuti is undoubtedly a great concept, but how is it integrated into the everyday routine of youth work and among ordinary youth? A challenge faced by youth workers is how to motivate youth who feel they are more in need of “love, support and intimacy” rather than needing activity groups, influencing channels and dialogue with decision-makers. 8.    Youth work as a learning environment According to the report, it is important to view youth work as a non-formal environment for learning social skills. Its appreciation in relation to learning in school should be strengthened. We should find ways to make the skills learned in youth work transparent and to acknowledge learning activities. We have tried to do this by developing non-formal learning certificates, for instance, such as the Youth Academy’s Blue Book of civic learning or the EU Commission’s Youth Pass. These have not really been a breakthrough success and the problem with them is that they ‘formalise the non-formal’. What other ways could there be? This is a challenge for youth work and especially for the Youth Department, which – if anyone – could find ways to strengthen the significance of youth work as a learning environment. 9.    Where do the boundaries of youth work expertise lie? According to the report, youth work involves contact with very challenging customers, for example in work with young girls, and one could ask what is the limit after which working with the problems of youth would be the responsibility of a worker with special skills. These boundaries are probably drawn in youth work practices, but are they written down so-


mewhere? Are they the same for everyone, does everyone know about them, and are they justified? What is the expertise ‘outside of youth work’ that is required when working with youth in Helsinki today? Into what kind of partnerships or multi-administrative teams could this be integrated? 10.     Where does the influencing power of youth work come from? Howard Williamson commented that influencing young people’s life management and judgement lies at the heart of youth work. On the other hand, things like organising jobs, study places or internships for youth, limiting use of intoxicants or providing multi-professional support do not fall under the category of youth work. Can this type of distinction be made? Should youth work be more clearly defined as e.g. “the strengthening of young people’s situation-based judgement through youth work methods”, while leaving the task of integration into working life to employment authorities, that of informing about intoxicants to schools and of controlling substance use to legislators, the police or parents, and that of arranging multi-professional support to social, health and employment authorities? The big question is: How can the influencing power of youth work be identified within this division of work?


ACTIVE CITIZENS Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–2012


BEING YOUNG Targeted Luotsi

Cultural Happi



On-line Verke

Youth engagement (participation) Ruuti

Structural collaboration (municipal departments)


Young people OPEN

Young people ORGANISED




BIBLIOGRAPHY ACMD (2003), Hidden Harm, London: Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs City of Helsinki (2009), Helsinki City Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–2012: Summary, Helsinki: City of Helsinki (approved summary, unofficial translation) Deltuva, M. (forthcoming), ‘A story of youth work in Lithuania’, in M. Taru et al. (eds), The history of youth work in Europe Vol 4, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing DES [Department of Education and Science] (1982), Experience and Participation: The Youth Service in England [The Thompson Report], London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office De Wachter, B. and Christiansen, S. (1993), Training for enterprise -Promoting initiative and creativity in young people, Brussels: Commission of the European Communities France, A. and Wiles, P. (1996), The Youth Action Scheme: an evaluation, London: HMSO Hagell, A. (2012), Changing Adolescence: social trends and mental health, Bristol: Policy Press Helve, H. and Bynner, J. (eds) (1996), Youth and Life Management: international perspectives, Helsinki: Helsinki University Press Kahan, B. (1972), Working together for children and their families, London: DHSS Koste, A. (ed.) (2011), Young People in Finland 2010, Helsinki: Allianssi Merton, B. et al. (2004), An evaluation of the impact of youth work in England, Leicester: De Montfort University Youth Affairs Unit Norman, J. (1981), Neighbourhood services for young people at risk and in trouble, Leicester: National Youth Bureau Peltola, M. (2010), ‘Intercultural Opening in Municipal Youth Work in Finland’, in E. Müller-Bachmann and I. Dähnke (eds), Moving Societies towards Integration, Eutin: CJD Eutin Pring, R. (2009), Education for All; The Future of Education and Training for 14-19 year olds, London: Routledge Rutter, M. and Smith, D. (eds) (1995), Psychosocial Disorders in Young People: time trends and their causes, Chichester: Wiley Sennett, R. (2012), Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation, London: Allen Lane Smith, M. (1979), Creators not Consumers, Leicester: National Association of Youth Clubs Stewart, G., Stewart, J., Prior, A. and Peelo, M. (1989), Surviving Poverty: Probation Work and Benefits Policy, London: Association of Chief Officers of Probation Verschelden, G. et al. (2009), The history of youth work in Europe, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Williamson, H. (1985), ‘Struggling beyond youth’, Youth in Society, No98, January Williamson, H. (1998), Quo Vadis? Whither or Wither the Youth Service?, Leicester: National Youth Agency Occasional Paper Williamson, H. and Weatherspoon, K. (1985), Strategies for Intervention: an approach to youth and community work in an area of social deprivation, Cardiff: University College Cardiff Social Research Unit


APPENDIX: PAPERS RECEIVED PRIOR TO THE VISIT 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.

Comprehensive Development Project for Youth Employment (PowerPoint Presentation – PPP) Traffic training and motor activities (paper) Youth work unit ‘Luotsi’ City of Helsinki (PPP) Nevo Dron project (PPP) Developing Professional Ways to Encounter – Observations and descriptions of multi-professional youth work online (paper) Programme for the Visit Celebrating Pluralism – beyond established forms of youth participation, by Lasse Siurala and Heini Turkia (paper) Helsinki Youth Department Local Services – The Guiding Principles of Local Youth Work (paper) Youth Department’s Service Network and Premises (paper) Mopeds and moped riding – an analysis of the phenomenon, its significance and position in the life of the young, by Elina Nikoskinen (paper) Youth Centres as an enabling local community: youth perspective, by Anu Gretschel (paper) Youth work performance and quality assessment (paper) and Quality assessment model in youth work (PPP) What is essential youth work? (Concept paper) Helsinki Team Ry – Umbrella of youth organisations (paper) How will the Youth Department make the world a better place by 2016 (paper) Helsinki City Youth Department Annual Report 2010 Young people in Finland Anticipations for education and the labour market The two directions of influence for the young Interaction Plan for Children and the young 2009-12 City of Helsinki: Helsinki City Welfare Plan for Children and Youth 2009–2012 - Summary Happi Centre (PPP) Girls’ House EU Multicultural Work Helsinki City Youth Department multilingual brochure Auditing and Self-Evaluation Model for Youth Work – Open Door Youth Evenings Web-based youth work and digital services Verke – The National Development Centre for Online Youth Work Message delivered from the Director of Social Affairs Demos quotation


THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF YOUTH WORK Howard Williamson is known as one of the most experienced experts in European youth work and youth politics. He has carried out in-depth evaluations of youth work in 19 countries in Europe and the surrounding area. Williamson’s evaluation provided an outside perspective on the department’s strategic policies and its most salient forms of operation. The evaluation is based on two methods and sets of data. First, a large quantity of written material was collected for the reviewer regarding the principles, strategic goals and most important activities of youth work in Helsinki, as well as the results gained from these. Then the reviewer travelled to youth work offices, making observations and conversing with employees as well as youth. The evaluation brings forth observations that are significant both for the development of youth work in Helsinki and in considering the future and coming directions of youth work throughout Finland. Williamson views the Ruuti youth agency influencing system, for instance, as a promising new cluster of activities that is still taking its form, and feels that youth work partnerships are a strong resource but also a policy that requires discussion. In addition, William wonders about the relationship and balance between local and social youth work in Helsinki. Do we know the youth involved with activities well enough to ensure that youth work can produce the best possible results? Howard Williamson is Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of Glamorgan in Wales. He has worked for the Government of England as youth policy advisor and at the same time has a long history of youth work at his own youth centre.

The Wonderful World of Youth Work  
The Wonderful World of Youth Work  

The Wonderful World of Youth Work, Some reflections on strategies and practice of Helsinki City Youth Department, Howard Williamson