Overwork, underfunding, juggling from project proposal to project proposal: the state of youth work has been difficult for years. In times of war and other crises, young people need more offers and greater support. At the same time, costs are exploding for organisations that provide spaces for young people. What can be done?
On 13 November 2023, young people and youth work professionals from ten European countries met in Dortmund with representatives from politics, administration and academia. The title of the international symposium: “Youth work in Europe – Mission (im)possible?” Their common goal: putting heads together to develop solutions to the huge problems that youth work is currently facing.
Young people from nine European countries and eleven German municipalities travelled to the big consultation in the “Dortmunder U – Centre for Art and Creativity”, as well as stakeholders and experts from Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain. A Ukrainian youth group, which is currently active in Munich from exile, also took part.
Democracy, Diversity and Depression
In mixed working groups, the participants dealt with topics such as youth work and mental health – a burning issue, as the number of clinical depression cases among young people has risen by 60 percent in the years of crisis since 2019. They also discussed how working conditions in the field of youth work can be improved, the role youth work plays in maintaining democratic structures in Europe and how diversity and inclusion can be increased in youth projects.
The symposium was organised by the International Association for Education and Exchange (IBB e.V.) in the framework of the European youth network “Generation Europe – The Academy”. The Dortmund-based non-governmental organisation has been coordinating networks and funding programmes to enable European youth institutions to work together across national borders for 15 years. In addition to international meetings, the strengthening of local youth groups plays a special part in this.
“It is wonderful and outstanding that so many young people took part in the international symposium,” says Elke Wegener, Managing Director of IBB e.V. “Political and academic consultations on youth policy often take place without those who are most confronted with the consequences. That’s why we felt it was particularly important to facilitate dialogue between politicians, experts, academics and administrators and the young people affected.”
Recommendations to Policy Makers
To enable a discussion at eye level, IBB organised a preparatory and training day for the young participants beforehand. During the event itself, the young people presented the work of their local groups and international project partnerships to the stakeholders, and worked with them to develop proposals for improving the situation. First results of the cooperation include the demand for reliable funding for youth work in all European countries, possibly linked to the GDP, the development of a Master’s degree programme for youth work to strengthen the working field, and the establishment and expansion of safe spaces for young people. The next step will be to produce conference documentation to allow the important debates to be continued.