Developing Youth Work

Katja Komonen, Leena Suurpää & Markus Söderlund (eds)

(In Finnish: Kehittyvä nuorisotyö)

Development projects have become strategically significant as a means of influencing society and, with good luck, collective action. This book will analyse youth-work development projects: on one hand the aims, interpretations and ideals of development activities, and on the other hand the methods and practices, as well as the contexts and problems.

The amoebic nature and multi-faceted nature of youth work, and even a certain kind of difficulty in defining it, is reflected in development activity in the field. Youth work lacks a common ethos that would create easy guidelines for education, research and development activity in the field. The youth work field does not have its own established development methods. Traditionally, development projects within youth work have been practical in nature.

On a national level the legislation that governs youth work has always played a surprisingly important role in the development of Finnish youth work. The book shows that actors have internalized this perspective too: the actors agree that the foundations of development work in Finland are set in place through state control irrespective of the angle, be it information, resources or setting norms. The Youth Law that was enacted in 2006 is the cornerstone that the writers use to provide common guidelines and concrete direction for their own development activities. As the state provides resources (e.g. funding for development projects and special-purpose subsidies) in accordance with the ideals defined in the EU and the Finnish Government's Development Programme for Child and Youth Policy, these mechanisms have a very strong influence on development activities within the field.

Problems in contemporary development activity affect the youth work field in many ways. In the best case it can enhance professionals’ understanding of youth work and strengthen youth work’s role in multi-professional development groups locally, nationally and internationally. This is possible in e.g. projects that influence youth politics.  On the other hand, development work inevitably affects everyday work. The demands of transparent activity, accountability to markets and results, and different kinds of research, development and evaluation practices puts pressure on actors in the youth field to achieve more and make their everyday practices transparent, to others as well as actors in their own professional field. There is reason to scrutinise development activities critically and ask if development is just for the sake of development; can e.g. different kinds of programmes and plans become goals in themselves that can be fulfilled without exerting any meaningful influence on children’s and youths’ lives. Through what conditions and methods are youths themselves actors in a development environment rather than development targets, onlookers or post-action evaluators?

The book looks at themes around development from the perspective of 17 youth workers. Its opening chapter Knowledge states the case for the need to develop the knowledge-base of youth work. The critical gaze is directed at youth-work’s professional self-understanding in the context of the demands of current political guidelines, conflict between different kinds of knowledge within youth-work development projects, and the meaning of knowledge in the context of predictive youth work. The final article in the Knowledge chapter takes a sweeping look at the importance of knowledge with regards to the development of youth work.

The second chapter, Ethics, opens up two different directions. On one hand it considers the possibilities created by a pedagogical frame of reference in the development of youth work, while on the other hand it looks at the ethics of youth work as one of the defining development challenges of our age.

The third chapter, Operational environments, looks at youth-club work in traditional contexts and troublesome definitions of development in an area of youth work that is sacrosanct, and on the other hand extends its gaze to youth work in new environments, such as the library. Additionally, there is an evaluation of what development can mean from the point of view of an entire municipality, especially when it is considered from the point of view of youth instructors. The book’s other articles shed light on how the long tradition of school youth clubs links with development trends in contemporary youth work and the kinds of organizations that constitute the environment of the development of youth work.

The book’s fourth chapter, The interface between education and working life, looks at development themes especially from the perspective of the education of professionals in the youth field. This chapter explores the possibilities for a dialogue between education, research and working life, and the current research and development activity in the youth field in the context of polytechnics. It also considers the education of youth work professionals in polytechnics and the role of development skills in their training.

The last chapter, Networks, leads the reader to one of the cores of developing youth work. The opening article sheds light on the challenges facing group-based development in the youth work field and estimates what a development perspective means when the task of youth work is to prevent substance abuse. The book ends with an article which explores the challenges facing development activities in a multi-cultural society and highlights what is needed so that development work isn’t left to make its own way but rather takes place within a youth work organization, which becomes an active part of the development project.