On the Lookout. Outreach youth work as a profession and development of the professional field – aspects of practical work

Anne Puuronen

(In Finnish: Etsivän katse. Etsivä nuorisotyö ammattina ja ammattialan kehittäminen – näkökulmia käytännön työstä)

Anne Puuronen: On the Lookout. Outreach youth work as a profession and development of the professional field – aspects of practical work

The book On the Lookout examines the substance of outreach youth work from the viewpoint of the work’s professional practices. What does outreach youth work mean as an approach to working? Starting from the workers themselves, the book discusses the goals of outreach youth work, the target groups and methods, professional requirements and cooperation networks, as well as policy measures for steering the sector. In addition, the book presents workers’ expectations with regard to developing the sector.

The material comprises interviews of field workers and cooperation partners, on the one hand, and supplementary training material reflecting on the outreach youth work process, on the other. The material also includes researchers’ observations of outreach youth workers’ daily work. This material was collected during action research.

Seen from the viewpoint of the ethos of outreach youth work, the sector is, in essence, characterized by interactive encounters with young people. These encounters often emphasize such aspects of qualitative work as giving time and being present so that young persons are listened to and their questions, needs and wishes are heard. This study shows that the results and effectiveness of outreach youth work are linked with these qualitative factors of the work. They form the foundation for the youth work identity of the sector. With regard to the effectiveness of outreach youth work, this study recommends that the documentation of the qualitative dimensions of the work should be developed in a more systematic manner than at present.

The study indicates that outreach youth work is constantly conducted in the margins of its basic function, street-based youth work. The most notable distinctions exist in cooperation with schools and educational institutes. An object for development raised by the study is how to retain the youth work identity of the professional sector when entering a new operating environment. According to the study, working in the margins of one’s own basic task also involves the challenge of limiting one’s own work. This is perceived as a loading factor in terms of well-being at work.

Working in the margins also raises the issue of the limits of outreach youth work tasks. Where should the limits of the work be drawn from the perspective of youth work aiming at the holistic social empowerment of young people? In this respect, strengthening the competence needs of the work is associated with family work, work done with parents, and youth health work.

According to the study, outreach youth workers come from very different educational and experience backgrounds. This is both a professional strength and a challenge in view of the development of the field and supplementary training. Important directions in the development of supplementary training include the retention and enrichment of the professionals’ diverse competence background, and the increased mentor-type sharing of this background among workers with differing work experiences.

The study also describes what field workers think of the social recognition of the multi-sectoral competence of outreach youth work and how they perceive the pay trend in their sector.