2.3 National strategy on youth volunteering
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There is a general law on volunteering at the Federal level: The Act on the rights of volunteers (2005), which entered into force in August 2006 (Vrijwilligerswet). The Act on the rights of volunteers (2005) is a wide-ranging law which applies to volunteering throughout Belgium and to volunteering activities abroad that are organized from Belgium.
Based on the observation that the volunteer policy is very fragmented, the Flemish government took in 2016 also the initiative to tackle the volunteer policy at Flemish level in a more coordinated way. This lead to a coordinated policy plan on voluntary work in 2016 (revised and updated on 10 July 2020) and to a Decree on Coordinated Flemish volunteer policy (23 june 2023).
In the Flemish Community, volunteering has been mentioned also in different sectorial or thematic policy plans, also concerning policy papers and plans concerning youth. The Policy Paper on Youth 2019-2024 (submitted on September 8, 2019; Beleidsnota Jeugd 2019-2024) as well as the Flemish Youth and Children’s Rights Policy Plan (2020-2024) mention an engagement to support volunteering in youth work.
Federal legislation – Act on the rights of volunteers (Vrijwilligerswet)
The Act on the rights of volunteers (2005) is a wide-ranging law which applies to volunteering throughout Belgium and to volunteering activities abroad that are organized from Belgium.
- It provides a precise legal framework and ensures formal recognition of the status of volunteers;
- It protects individuals from certain abuses, promotes volunteering and gives newly defined responsibilities to volunteering organizations.
More specifically, the law on volunteering regulates the following aspects of voluntary work:
- the legal definition of volunteering
- issues of liability and insurance
- the relation between the law on volunteering and other legal areas
- the reimbursement of expenses
- the access to voluntary work
Flemish Government – coordinated policy on voluntary work (Gecoördineerd Vlaams Vrijwilligersbeleid).
Based on the observation that the volunteer policy is very fragmented, the Flemish government took in 2016 the initiative to tackle the volunteer policy at Flemish level in a more coordinated way
In 2016 an action plan was made, built on 6 pilars:
1) Keeping volunteer work 'pure';
2) protecting volunteers;
3) focus on support and information for volunteers;
4) support association life;
5) give everyone the opportunity to volunteer and
6) promote and make volunteer work visible.
A horizontal consultation on volunteering policy monitors the plan. This plan aims to install an improved and well-coordinated policy on volunteering across different sectors, including the youth sector.
The plan focused on three major issues:
- the administrative burden for (young) volunteers and voluntary (youth) organizations
- provision of information
- common rules applicable to volunteers
The Flemish Government approved a revised and updated version of the coordinated policy plan on voluntary work on 10 July 2020.
The Decree on Coordinated Flemish volunteer policy of 23 june 2023 (Decreet over het gecoördineerd Vlaams vrijwilligersbeleid) formally embeds the coordinated volunteer policy, which provides assurance for sustainable transversal policy coordination and volunteer support. This happens in three ways.
- coordination between policy areas. Since 2016, this has been done through the Horizontal Consultation on Volunteer Policy, a body within the Flemish government in which all the administrations involved are represented.
- the subsidization of the Flemish Support Centre for Volunteer Work (Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk), a cross-sector center of expertise for volunteers, voluntary work and voluntary policy. The support center has been supported by the Flemish government for some time. The new decree provides a solid legal basis for its full operation.
- alignment with European, federal and local policy . Inter-administrative information sharing and policy coordination are necessary to raise bottlenecks and challenges and thus to provide maximum protection and support for volunteers in Flanders.
Flemish youth policy
In the Flemish Community, volunteering has been mentioned also in different sectorial or thematic policy plans. The Policy Paper on Youth 2019-2024 (submitted on September 8, 2019; Beleidsnota Jeugd 2019-2024) as well as the Flemish Youth and Children’s Rights Policy Plan (2020-2024) mention an engagement to support volunteering in youth work, mainly through:
- relieving the administrative burden for volunteers and voluntary organizations by trying to cut back on the regulations that prevent young people to take initiative;
- strengthening the competences of youth volunteers, for example through training initiatives. A specific attention should be paid to an appropriate training of volunteers working with special target groups, for example youth volunteers working with children in poverty;
- recognising the competences resulting from volunteering.
In the Policy Paper on Youth (2019-2024) Flemish Minister of Brussels, Youth and Media Benjamin Dalle argues that youth work should be able to fully engage in the core of its mission: to empower and connect children and youth. Supporting the engagement of children and young people is a key challenge for youth and children's rights policy. Volunteers are the linchpin of youth work. The Minister will actively recognize the importance of volunteers from his Youth competence and continue to look for new levers of support.
In the Flemish Youth and Children’s Rights Policy Plan 2020-2024 (Jeugd- en Kinderrechtenbeleidsplan). ‘Commitment in society through voluntary efforts’ is one of the five priority themes. By choosing this priority, the Flemish government wants to encourage children and young people to voluntarily engage in society. With the Youth and Children's Rights Policy Plan, Flanders commits itself to concrete, feasible and achievable objectives that have an impact and an observable effect on the lives of all children, young people and young adults in Flanders. Its operationalization takes place through a measurable set of actions.
The Flemish Support Centre for Volunteer Work (Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk) supports and promotes voluntary work in Flanders among all age groups.
The Flemish Minister of Youth coordinates the Youth and children’s rights policy plan (Jeugd- en Kinderrechtenbeleidsplan - JKP ), with youth volunteering as one of the five priority goals. The various policy areas and other relevant actors work together in its implementation. A project plan is made for each chosen priority objective . Each project plan is drawn up and implemented by a steering committee and project team. The ministers and administrations involved are represented in this, but experts and other relevant actors are also involved in the project team
Monitoring of the progress and impact of the JKP happens through the annual reporting on actions within the Policy and Budget Statement of each Flemish minister concerned. On the basis of these reports the mid-term review, which will also will indicate whether, and where, adjustments are needed, and the final evaluation of the JKP are drawn up. The administration of the coordinating minister for youth, namely the Department of Culture, Youth and Media, is responsible for the development of these reports. The final delivery is preceded by a substantive discussion in the youth and children's rights policy reflection group, in which the contact points for youth and children's rights of the various policy areas involved are represented. The contact points coordinate with their competent minister. Indicators are linked to the various priorities. Priority-level monitoring is currently drawn up by the Youth Research Platform (JOP), whereby each time a cluster of general indicators is being developed that will allow the evolution of the priorities. This indicator set concerns a mix of survey items and administrative data.
On 17 June 2022, the Flemish Government approved the interim report on the implementation of the Youth and Children’s Right Policy Plan 2020-2024 (report in Dutch).
On the basis of a thoroughly evaluation, the Voluntary Act was adjusted and the voluntary statute strengthened in 2019. This strengthened statute was implemented in the spring of 2019. Since 15 April 2019, this new statute for volunteers has been in force. This new law aims to better protect both volunteers and organizations that unite volunteers and tries to give them a clearer statute. The renewed law:
- Mentions that voluntary managers of non-profit associations fall under the scope of the law on volunteering.
- Clarifies the professional secrecy of volunteers.
- No longer refers to ‘a reimbursement’ but ‘a cost reimbursement’.
- Stipulates that volunteers get a cost reimbursement for the use of their own car or bike. This cost reimbursement is similar to the cost reimbursement received by civil servants.
- No longer limits the allowances for expenses or mileage.
- Explicates that occasional gifts received by volunteers cannot be used to determine the maximum amount of allowances for expenses.
- Gives the High Council of Volunteers a more prominent role.
The Flemish Minister of Youth pays attention to (1) the status of volunteers and the legislation for volunteers, (2) the fragmentation of information about and for volunteers and (3) the over-regulation. For youth in particular, the administrative simplification and the problems with volunteer work abroad are important in the coordinated policy plan on volunteer work.
Future developments will be outlined under section 2.10 of this topic.