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According to a few brief paragraphs in the (now expired) National Youth Programme (2013-2017), the goal of youth work is to contribute to the personal and social development of young people, to support them in the creation and maintenance of quality personal and social relations, to offer young people non-formal learning opportunities and to empower them as active participants in society and decision-making. It is based on the principles of voluntary participation and non-formal education.
There are no official regulations as to the types of activities which are considered youth work, but traditionally they refer to various non-formal education activities, open youth work, volunteering, international exchanges, peer education, leisure-time activities, activities geared towards social inclusion, health and prevention youth work, environmental protection activities and activities geared towards active participation of young people, informing and counselling.
National youth strategic documents have normally recognized several main categories of youth work providers. They include local and regional youth information and counselling centres, youth clubs, youth centres, and youth organizations. These are almost exclusively civil society initiatives but there is also a growing number of public youth work providers (youth clubs and youth centres founded by local or regional authorities).
Social inclusion has been the main policy focus in the field of youth work in the last several years. The Government has thus encouraged youth work projects focusing on several groups of young people at risk of social exclusion, particularly unemployed young people and NEETs, young people leaving care, young Roma and young people living in rural areas.
Youth work organisations in Croatia do not have stable and adequate financial support for their work. They are forced to take on as many projects as they can in order to secure basic (almost exclusively one-year) funding for their youth work activities. Since there is no institutional or long-term programme support for youth work organizations, youth work activities are mostly (short-term) project activities and heavily influenced by the priorities of different donors and calls for project proposals. Such project dynamics make activities less sustainable and it becomes more difficult to focus on the process element of youth work or on the development of competences and attitude and behaviour change (which usually require a long-term intervention). Another issue which threatens youth work organizations is the unreliability of funding sources. Although all national public bodies are obliged to schedule their calls for project proposals in advance and publish the tentative dates in a joint calendar, many of them do not stick to their plans. This makes operational planning for youth work organizations extremely difficult.
The Central State Office for Demography and Youth is the main source of funding for youth work organizations. The government body for youth normally issues two yearly calls for project proposals aimed at youth work providers (a call for project proposals in the area of violence prevention among children and young people and a call for project and programme proposals aimed at youth). This second call has several priorities which usually include the support for regional and local youth information and counselling centres, youth clubs and youth centres, as well as for projects which promote active participation of young people in society and decision-making. Other areas of support may change according to yearly priorities. For example, in 2019 they included support to young people in rural areas, unemployed young people, NEETs and young people at risk of social exclusion.
Normally, there are no specific criteria for applicants, expect for those which compete for the support for regional and local youth information and counselling centres, youth clubs and youth centres. They have to satisfy a comprehensive list of criteria related to their work (space where activities take place, types and number of activities and services offered, geographical scope of activities…). Sometimes, ministry support is also conditioned by mandatory project partnerships or membership in organizations.
Generally, there are no proscribed activities which are funded (although calls for project proposals usually list potential or preferred activities), except in the case of regional and local youth information and counselling centres, youth clubs and youth centres, as explained above.
Other ministries also issue calls for project proposals which fall in the category of youth work. For example, the Ministry of Science and Education has a yearly call for projects supporting extra-curricular activities for students, and the Ministry of Health has a call for civil society organizations which work in health promotion and prevention. However, these calls are not geared exclusively towards youth work organization. Many local and regional authorities also support youth work activities. Usually, only bigger cities have a call for project proposals aimed specifically for youth work organizations, while in smaller towns and municipalities youth organizations have to compete with other civil society organizations in a single unified call for project proposals. The same is true for the three-year institutional support offered by the National Foundation for the Development of Civil Society. The Foundation is one of the very few public bodies which operate institutional grants but there is not one specifically dedicated for youth work organizations.
EU funds are available to youth work organizations within the Erasmus+ programme. Every year more and more organizations apply for support and the absorption of funds is almost complete. Other EU funding opportunities come from the European Social Fund and other programmes. However, very few youth work organizations have sufficient operational and financial capacities to be able to implement such demanding projects. Moreover, the extensive administrative burden imposed by the national operating bodies implementing the European Social Fund is so overwhelming that most youth work organizations are discouraged from even attempting to apply.
There are no frameworks for cooperation among youth work stakeholders established or promoted by the national authorities. It is only possible to single out the well-established practice of grant-making public bodies to encourage cooperation by adding extra scores in the project proposal evaluation if the project will be carried out in partnerships between youth work organizations and public bodies (such as schools or social services). Sometimes these kinds of partnerships are mandatory, which occasionally has negative effects. For example, in previous years in order to get support for their work, youth information and counselling centres had needed to secure a partnership with their local or regional authority. There had been instances when, for political reasons, a local authority had refused to cooperate with an organization, which, in turn, could not apply for the grant even though it had been offering excellent youth work services.
Although encouraged, cooperation with schools is often hard to establish for youth work organizations because many schools have very arbitrary criteria for the programmes which may be run by civil society organizations. However, most schools require the youth work extra-curricular programmes be verified by the Ministry of Science and Education. Yet, the Ministry does not have a defined procedure and publicly known criteria for verification which is very discouraging for many youth work organizations.