10.5 Youth workers
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The profession name ‘youth worker’ (pracownik młodzieżowy) is not commonly used in Poland, e.g. in Erasmus Plus programme youth worker is translated very widely as a person working with young people (osoby pracujące z młodzieżą). Nevertheless, youth worker is a profession included in the Classification of Occupations and Specializations for Labour Market Needs (code: 235916) prepared in 2014. More precisely this profession is named in Polish ‘Animator czasu wolnego młodzieży (Pracownik młodzieżowy)’, meaning “Animateur/organiser of free time of young people (Youth worker)”. It is defined as follows:
Youth worker supports, initiates and organizes free-time activities for young people who are at risk of addictions, crime, aggression, prostitution, missing parental care; she/he conducts workshops and activities in youth clubs, institutions of formal and non-formal education or on the streets; she/he collaborates with schools and local communities; she/he organizes support and help from social services and health services.
The professional tasks include:
- diagnosing problems and needs of environments of young people that need support and organization of their free time (shopping malls, parks, beaches, railway stations with their surroundings, uninhabited buildings, building gates, staircases, courtyards etc.);
- getting into contact and developing relations with young people from the risk groups, reaching them with reliable information around the potential threats and places where they can receive help and support in developing youth initiatives;
- initiating and realizing interesting and emotionally engaging workshops and activities with young people at the risk of social exclusion;
- street work among children and young people „living on the streets”: np. organising getaways/trips to new unknown places, that allow to fully take advantage from those opportunities/adventures;
- organizing sport activities and cultural events building pride from one’s values and achievements;
- developing motivations to alternative forms of spending free time and giving emotional support in case of life hardships;
- cooperation with school and local communities and organising support for youngsters from social services and health services;
- keeping records and gathering statistics about the conducted activities;
- taking part in the training concerning facilitation of activities for young people at risk of social exclusion.
Additional professional tasks include:
- activities in relations to youth policy for institutions that support young people at risk of pathology, such as: trainings, conferences, seminars etc., to exchange experiences and search for new solutions/tools in work with young people at risk of social exclusion;
- leading trainings for educators, volunteers and social workers work with young people at risk of social exclusion.
Commonly, the name of the profession would rather be used in relation to professional workers, often paid, within youth centers, in youth outreach, streetwork or social services. The volunteers in youth organisations would not be labelled with this name, rather being called activists, or NGO workers.
To comment this definition, the definition is strongly linked to supporting young people at risk of social exclusion, thus youth worker definition is narrower than the one shared by organisations in Poland or the one provided by the European institutions. The definition relates to professionals working in close relation to social services or other institutions providing youth work to vulnerable young people or street work. Thus, this definition does not sufficiently relate to youth workers in youth organisations providing non-formal learning nor professional educators, even if the expertise prepared for Ministry (Matyjaszczyk 2014) suggests to include in the definition also leaders of youth organisations. The perspective directed at activisation of young people, where they become responsible for the activities and where youth workers remain rather facilitators than managers/directors, is still at the stage of incubation is missing from the youth worker profession description. Other authors stress that the core description of the name relates to spending free time rather than to the professional role related to education or resocialization of a young person.
There are no general national criteria for youth worker profession as defined above. But, there are specific criteria to be a youth worker in day care centres, regulated by the 2011 Law on supporting family and the foster care system [Ustawa z dnia 9 czerwca 2011 r. o wspieraniu rodziny i systemie pieczy zastępczej.], which defines the criteria for opening up a day care centre, criteria for the staff and very basic criteria for the work programme. This law regulates qualifications for employed with diverse functions in day care centre. For a general youth worker there is a necessity for having a higher education degree in pedagogy, special pedagogy, psychology, sociology, social work, family studies, or a degree from a different faculty supported with additional education on the postgraduate level within psychology, pedagogy, family studies, resocialization or qualification courses from pedagogy of care, or upper-level education with at least three-year experience of working with young people or families. Additional criteria are set for a psychologist, pedagogue, therapist and child-carer working in such centers. All of those persons, have also fulfil three other rules:
- not being now or in the past deprived of parental responsibility, and their parental authority is neither restricted nor suspended;
- fulfils the obligation to pay alimonies - if such an obligation is imposed on her by virtue of an enforcement order;
- was not convicted by a final judgment of an intentional crime or intentional tax offense.
As summarised in the report of Tomi Kiilakoski (2018), Poland is in the group of countries with youth work structures in need to be developed in order to better support education, development of competences and recognition of youth worker profession. Concerning the education and training of youth workers, there is no specific vocational education schools, or higher education programmes that grant a qualification/diploma of a youth worker. There exist some postgraduate courses (weekend-based) related to care for children and young people, psychology or pedagogy in relation to children and adolescents. There are neither top-level policies or guidelines in regards to youth worker education or learning, and there only exist rules applying to those employed in Day Care Centers (described above). There does not exist a specific procedure to validate competences gained by youth workers through non-formal and informal learning.
While the training is rather individual or organizational, there are some initiatives on national level to build capacity of organisations, including youth organisations. The support development of competences within youth organisations is implemented for instance by through The New Civil Initiatives Fund and well as through Youth Fund. Youth workers can also use Erasmus+ for mobility programmes. Secondly, the National Freedom Institute organizes learning events such as seminars, workshops and webinars through NFI Academy.
Finally, much investment is also done in the training of scout leaders and managers (through The Scout Movement Development Governmental Programme for 2018-2030). Within this programme, funding can be granted at activities within Task 1. Support for education and programme activities in scouting organisations and Task 2. Institutional support for scouting organisations. Particularly, within task 1, the programme funds trainings of scout leaders in relation to methodology of working with young people as well as specialised training (e.g. medical, sport, management, logistics) and educational traineeships. Importantly, the training is not directed only at adult leaders, but also under-aged volunteers in order to build their leadership capital.
When it comes to international mobility of youth workers, the opportunities are usually developed through European funding. E.g. In the Erasmus+, Polish youth workers may participate in the Youth Action 1. Mobility of youth workers. More information on mobility of volunteers see: 2.5 Cross-border mobility programmes.