Young people at the counter – three perspectives to social exclusion and young people’s position in the service system

Sanna Aaltonen, Päivi Berg & Salla Ikäheimo

The book Nuoret luukulla [Young people at the counter] is based on a joint research project by the National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland (THL) and the Finnish Youth Research Network, which examined the costs of social exclusion and how the youth, social and employment services meet 18-29-year-old young people and their needs. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which concerns the use of health services by youth classified as socially excluded and the associated costs, and the second the encounters of youth and service providers.

The first part is based on an analysis of THL’s records on basic services, combined with data from the social assistance register, the Finnish Centre for Pensions’ earnings register and pensions register, Statistics Finland’s registers, Kela's registers and AvoHILMO from the years 2006–2011. The study examines differences in the use of health services and medications of Helsinki youth born 1982–1984 and at risk of social exclusion (N=7579, 62% men) compared with different control groups of corresponding age. Based on the material, the various pathways of the socially excluded are studied, and for the purposes of the analysis, ‘socially excluded’ youth is classified in three groups according to the duration of their exclusion: chronically socially excluded, socially excluded, and those at risk of social exclusion. Further groups extracted from the material are the ‘droppers-in’ and ‘attached’, permitting also the study of the fluctuation of social exclusion risk and other situations in the lives of young people.

The second part is based on qualitative interview material amassed in Espoo and Kouvola (N=29). Of those interviewed, 19 are 18-29-year-olds using various services, and ten are customer service professionals from TE employment offices, job service centres, social work, outreach youth work, Vamos, and youth information and advice points. The young people interviewed were mostly satisfied with the services. However, from the youth viewpoint long waiting times were a problem, from the employee viewpoint unkept appointments. Particularly in the mental health services, accessing acute treatment was difficult. The employees stressed the creation of trust between the young person and the employee as the condition of effective service. Instead of one-door services, the interviews of both the young people and the employees highlighted a need for a single person who would coordinate the young person's situation and clientships.

Overall, the project corroborates the observation noted in earlier studies that socially excluded youth is not a homogenous group. Moreover, the states and situations of young people are not stable, but they fluctuate between unemployment, employment, study and clientships of various services. The services do not meet the needs of young people with reduced capacity to function and who are not capable of working or studying, and therefore not included under the youth guarantee. These young persons also use a lot of health services: for example, the health services used by young people classified as chronically socially excluded were sevenfold compared to the control group, when measured in monetary terms.