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The history of youth organisations and youth work in the territorial area of nowadays Czech Republic goes back to the mid 19th century when Czech people were allowed to create their own civic associations in the Austrian Monarchy.
In summer 1912, professor A.B. Svojsík organised the first boys' scout summer camp near the castle Lipnice. In 1913 the first summer camp using special kind of Czech tents ("podsadový stan") took place, and in 1915 first girls scout summer camp was organised near of Živohošť.
The first Czechoslovak Republic since 1918 was a friendly environment of youth work. Czech Scouts even helped in the first days of the independent state with the necessary services as post and others. The state elite strongly supported the big Youth organisations as Scout or YMCA and others.
After Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and WWII started, the independent youth organisations were forbidden, and the Nazi Policy towards youth was a separate chapter. However, many people from youth organisations were active in the underground resistance and helped to sustain the Czech traditions and statehood. The end of WWII opened a few years of flourishing time again, and youth organisations were also helping with the post-war reconstructions.
The communist putsch in 1948 had a very negative impact on youth work in Czechoslovakia. Youth and children organisations that were not set up under the patronage of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (for instance Junák, Sokol, Orel and others, e.g. church organisations), were gradually broken up, and members who resisted the ban or wished to continue their activities illegally were often sentenced to prison.
Czechoslovak Communist Party promoted the chief organization the Czechoslovak Youth Union (Československý svaz mládeže - ČSM). The main aim was to exert ideological influence on young people and promote the policies of the Communist Party.
In 1949 a single children's Pioneer organisation was set up on the model of the Soviet Union within the ČSM. The banned groups, which had previously united thousands of children and young people, looked for a way to function under the aegis of organisations that were still allowed – for example, within Svazarm (Union for Cooperation with the Army). Organised free-time activities in this period were more or less standardised and were linked to schools or factories, which guaranteed their ideological collaboration with the Communist Party. The Communist regime, well aware of the potential inherent in influencing the youngest generation, supported these organisations both financially and materially.
From 1953 Houses of Pioneers and Young People (Domy pionýrů a mládeže) began to spring up in Czechoslovakia. According to a resolution of the Communist authorities of the late 1960s, they had to be set up in all municipalities with a population of over 5 000. The task of these institutions was to organise free time for children and young people, but obviously everything had to be done in accordance with the prevailing Communist ideology.
Under the influence of social changes and as a result of attempts to democratise the regime of the time, in 1968 the traditional associations of children and young people (e.g. Junák, Sokol, Orel) were restored, or there was a fundamental transformation of them (in the Pioneers, for example), or new types of such associations came into existence. There were, for example, young technicians' centres, young naturalists' centres and young ramblers' centres.
The new model for children and young people was meant to be closer and more attractive to them with an aim to meet their needs in a more flexible way. This trend was forcibly interrupted by the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1968.
With the onset of normalisation, the Czechoslovak Youth Union was replaced by the Union of Socialist Youth (Socialistický svaz mládeže - SSM), which the Communist Party set up. Its target group were young people aged between 15 and 35. Within it, young people could do things their way, e.g., art groups, etc., but checks were made to ensure that the activity was in line with the Communist ideology. Although a number of such groupings managed to carry on their own activities for a certain time regardless of whether official Communist ideals were sustained, for most of them, these activities were banned under threat of sanctions, which extended from police harassment to the risk of being removed from studies or work and going as far as the threat of imprisonment.
The change of regime in November 1989 – ushered in by the "Velvet Revolution "– signified a complete change in the field of non-formal education and informal learning and the functioning of social organisations, including those working with children and young people.
With the transition to democracy, organisations that had been banned during the normalisation period were reconstituted. This especially concerned organisations run on a scouting or woodcraft basis or organisations originating from a Christian environment. The Union of Socialist Youth split into many independent entities, and its fission was accompanied by conflicts as the organisation's property was privatised. With the logic of democratic development, following 1989, hundreds of new non-governmental non-profit-making organisations (NGOs) and private entities appeared, whose alternative programmes began to fill the space in the field of leisure time of children and young people.
With the decentralisation of political power, there was also a gradual transformation of the houses of pioneers and youth. A regulation issued by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in 1992 established a common name for these, as "leisure time centres for children and young people ", which are currently an integral part of the official school system in the Czech Republic. Alongside, in the Czech Republic, there are about 1500 non-governmental not-for-profit organisations (NGO) that are actively committed to providing free-time activities and learning opportunities for children and young people in which children and young people take part on a voluntary basis. These include sports, art activities, nature studies, rambling, technical activities, handicrafts and other areas.
Youth workers active in NGOs are both professional employees and, mainly, volunteerswho work with children and young people in their free time. Their qualifications are not explicitly governed by specific laws or regulations, besides the general ones, but at a number of organisations, primarily those that function across the country. Their training is thus subject to the organisation's internal rules, which means that they often have to participate in various courses for leaders or instructors.
Their funding from the state budget is provided mainly through grant programmes from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, but also from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Culture or, depending on the objective of the activity, other ministries too. Organisations may also apply for grants from regional, municipal and local authorities and, since 2004, also from the EU. Czech Republic participated in the predecessors of the EU Youth Programmes even before 2004.
In an attempt to compare the parameters of the Czech system with that one of Western Europe, we may state that there is a certain difference in the system of funding, and in the amount of resources invested, as well as in the system of recruitment and training of employees working with children and young people in their free time. In the Czech Republic, such work is actively sought by people who want to work with young people (the overwhelming majority because they themselves had this experience as children and adolescents), either as professionals or as volunteers.
In the 1990s, there was a need to deal with the socialist history. There were challenges of the youth work property privatisation and the cooperation of people with opposite ideological backgrounds and experiences. The conciliatory process was successful in 1998 when the Czech Council of Children and Youth as an independent and democratic youth organisation umbrella was created. From the end of the 1990s until 2020, the state also has been creating youth policy concepts/strategies (for details, see chapter 1).
There is NO legal nor common definition of Youth Work. Moreover, in Czech, it is not usually referred to Youth Work as such but to "Work with Children and Youth" (práce s dětmi a mládeží) which is used in more perspectives depending on the context of given public policy (social, educational, cultural, environmental etc.).
At the same time, there are, in a way, two prevalent concepts of youth work.
1) youth work based on so-called leisure-time-based education is provided by the network of Leisure Time Centres (Střediska volného času, SVČ), school clubs (školní kluby, ŠK) and after-school childcare facilities (školní družina, ŠD). These facilities providing leisure-time-based education are not obligatory, but they are incorporated to the formal educational system. The state, regions or municipalities set them up, and to a lesser extent do private entities. They are funded from public sources depending on the number of children in regular free-time activities. Individual participants in the learning activities (children and young people) also cover part of the financial cost of overheads.
With the current development of Educational reform and the preparation of the State Education Strategy 2030+, we can expect closer cooperation of these kinds of youthwork with formal education and their integration. One of the strategy's goals is to create a concept of the "whole-day educational facility" providing compulsory and voluntary leisure and interest-based education and youth work.
Official definitions of Leisure-based education according to the Education Act No. 561/2004 Sb. and the State Youth Strategy 2014 - 2020 is:
Provides participants with leisure time activities focusing on different areas. The term "education" refers to both education and training. Interest education takes place in school facilities for interest education, particularly in leisure centres, after-school centres and school clubs. Leisure centres are also involved in additional care of gifted children, pupils and students, provide for the organisation of competitions and exhibitions in collaboration with schools and other institutions. The objectives, content and outcomes are usually closely linked to all types of school education and are guaranteed by the state as part of the school system.
2) youth work based on non-formal education, informal learning and personality development is provided by non-profit non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose umbrella organisation is called Czech Council for Children and Youth (Česká rada dětí a mládeže, ČRDM). CRDM has 98 member organisations and nine regional Youth Councils. The youth work activities and approaches differ according to the individual subjects and organisation.