2.3 National strategy on youth volunteering
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In Austria there is no singular strategy for voluntary activities of young people. However, the Austrian Youth Strategy, which is both an official policy and an ongoing process, promotes voluntary activities of young people in its fields of action, especially in the area of 'Participation and Initiative' (see Chapter 1.3). Under the motto 'Engagement pays off', participation in democratic processes and voluntary engagement are to be promoted. The Austrian Youth Goals (Österreichische Jugendziele) for this field of action include youth-relevant support measures on the ground, the contribution to young people's political engagement through civic education and education for sustainable development, the use of youth engagement to jointly achieve climate and energy goals, and the recognition of volunteering as part of young people's qualifications.
There is no stand-alone law defining youth volunteering, but several paragraphs in the Federal Act on the Promotion of Volunteering (Bundesgesetz zur Förderung des freiwilligen Engagements, Freiwilligengesetz 2012, Federal Law Gazette, Nr. 17/2012 as amended in 2016) specifically address young people, e.g. in the context of special volunteering programmes such as the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year and the Holocaust Memorial Service and Peace and Social Service Abroad. The Act provides the legal framework for formal volunteering in the public interest and promotes and supports participation in the country, including that of Austrian youth.
Volunteering is widespread among young people in Austria. At 43%, the share of young people is almost as high as that of adults, which means that more than 500,000 young people are involved in volunteering, as stated in the latest Volunteering Report (Freiwilligenbericht 2019). More specifically, 30% of young people are formal volunteers (in organisations and clubs) and 26% of young people are informal volunteers (e.g. in neighbourhood associations). A proportion of these young people (11,4%) are active in formal and informal volunteering.
As the official document for volunteering in Austria, the Volunteering Act (FreiwG 2012) contains provisions for implementing the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year as well as the Holocaust Memorial Service, the Peace Service and the Social Services Abroad. It regulates the requirements for voluntary service, such as the recognition of providers (assignment sites), the areas of assignment for volunteers, the obligations of providers and institutions that rely on the services of volunteers, the duration of voluntary service, the type of implementation as well as quality assurance. Furthermore, the law regulates the social security of volunteers (insurance coverage), the payment of pocket money, pedagogical support and continuous supervision as well as the payment of family allowance to young volunteers. With this law, a legal framework was created in 2012 to support volunteering as a social and valuable contribution to Austrian society.
Since the amendment to the Civilian Service Act (Bundesgesetzblatt zur Änderung des Zivildienstgesetz) came into force on 1 October 2013 and 2016, it has been possible to acquire credits for regular civilian service through voluntary service within the framework of the Social Year, the Environmental Protection Year, the Holocaust Memorial Service, Peace Services and Social Services Abroad as defined by the Federal Volunteer Act. The prerequisite for crediting is, among other things, ten months of uninterrupted service at a recognised institution.
Financial support for volunteering is provided at the federal level, in particular by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, but the organisation of volunteering is usually done at the provincial state level. Furthermore, most voluntary organisations are subject to the autonomy of the non-governmental sector, but are additionally funded by the state.
The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection and the Department for Family and Youth at the Federal Chancellery are mainly responsible for youth volunteering in Austria. Chapter 2.2 details further relevant actors in the field.
In general, the volunteer organisations are responsible for evaluating the professional and practical supervision as well as the pedagogical guidance and have to submit their quality assurance reports to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection either every three years or upon request. The Health and Safety Executive audits all organisations.
As an ongoing process, the Austrian Youth Strategy and thus also youth volunteering comprised therein are subject to constant improvements and updates.