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Based on university instructor in youth research and youth work at the University of Tampere Mr Juha Nieminen’s article in The history of youth work in Europe (Volume 4), the ‘modern youth work’ in Finland can be seen to originate at the end of the 19th century. According to Nieminen, at that time, youth work was usually done voluntarily, on a philanthropic basis, often by already existing occupational groups such as teachers, priests and officers. The first youth workers were employed by youth organisations, later also in municipalities, to organise voluntary-based youth work. Also, in Church organisations and temperance movement there were also employees who did youth work as part of their job. There was no statutory financing system allotted for youth work but rather there have been incidental state grants for youth organisations in general since the 1890s. (Nieminen 2014, 35-44.)
The professionalisation of Finnish youth work gained momentum since the 1940s, as Nieminen describes. After World War II, the state and public authorities took care of many aspects of social life, even though youth work was still mostly realised by both paid and voluntary practitioners outside of state and municipalities (see Glossary). According to Nieminen: ‘Youth work was increasingly differentiated as a field in its own right, various occupational interest groups emerged, higher education for youth workers was developed, legislation concerning youth work was enacted and scientific research on youth work increased.’ During the 1980s, municipal youth work obtained permission to arrange youth activities also independently of voluntary youth organisations. Youth houses were the main resources for municipalities to arrange youth activities themselves. (Nieminen 2014, 35-44.)
More lately, there has also been a development sphere into the digitalisation around youth work. The aim is for the ‘digitalisation [is] to be gradually more and more understood not only as a media in Finnish youth work but also as content, culture and operating environment’, as Verke - the National Centre of Expertise for Digital Youth Work in Finland, has described. For more information about digital youth work in Finland, see Youth Wiki/Finland 10.4 Quality and innovation in youth work.
As stated in the Youth Act, youth work means ‘the efforts to support the growth, independence and social inclusion of young people in society. The Youth Act also defines the roles and responsibilities of the local authorities, youth associations and other organisations realising youth work. Based on the Act, the responsibility of providing youth work services offered at a local level in municipalities (see: Glossary) rests with the local government: ‘local governments are obligated, with due consideration to local conditions, to create the necessary preconditions for local youth work and activities by providing services and premises for young people and supporting their civic engagement.’
Since the beginning of the year 2017 the newest Youth Act has been put into force. One of the differences from the earlier is that it no longer includes a list of the forms of youth work which should be available at the local level but refers to the responsibility of local authorities to consider the content based on the local need. Furthermore, the list included in the government proposal (PG 111/2016/Proposal of the Finnish Government to Parliament as regards the content of the Youth Act, in Finnish) related to the preparation of the updated Act describes what the content of youth work can be and traditionally has also been in Finland: educational guidance for young people; facilities and hobby opportunities; youth information and counselling; support for youth associations and other youth groups; sport-related, cultural, international and multicultural youth activities; young people's environmental education, youth workshop services and outreach youth work.