5.3 Youth representation bodies
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The Youth Parliament was established at a national level at the beginning of 1998. The parliament is not directly part of the constitutional structure, nor either is it mentioned in the Youth Act as such, but it realises the objectives mentioned in both by strengthening the participation of young people. The Youth Parliament is organised and funded as a cooperative effort by the Parliament of Finland and Development Centre Opinkirjo. At the national level, the Youth Parliament has 199 members coming together in the plenary session every second year. Members of Youth Parliament consist of 8th and 9th grade pupils (15-16 years old), representing their Parliamentary Groups at the local level. There are also about 140 pupils working as journalists. The diversity of the representatives is valued and there are many members representing different kinds of backgrounds and spesialised schools.
The plenary is organised in the form of a parliamentary Oral Question Time -session and it is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament. During the day, members are introduced to the committees’ duties and role in parliamentary work. That is also the place where the questions are finalised. However, the most important moment is when the questions are presented and discussed directly with the Members of Parliament. Those young people who are working as journalists participate in the politicians’ nonstop press event, during which they have a chance to ask questions from the MPs. One parliament member from each parliamentary group is present to answer the young people’s questions.
Such parliamentary activity at the local level usually takes the form of a Parliamentary Club, as part of schoolwork or as an extra curricular activity. In some schools, it takes place as a part of the pupils’ council activities. Each club can decide how they choose their representatives, whether it is an election, nomination, discussion or something else. Parliamentary clubs from the local level are given a chance to have their say during the planning of the plenary session agenda. About half of the questions are picked for the agenda based on a vote; the other half are selected at the plenary session. The following criteria are considered when putting the agenda together: regions (questions from each electoral district in proportion to the attending clubs), the sectors of the ministers represented, gender and language of the students presenting the questions.
The aim of the Youth Parliament is to inspire young people to get involved in making a positive difference to matters that are important to their generation. The amount of questions the members of parliamentary clubs tend to submit for discussion at the plenary session is high: often more than 150. Even if all the questions cannot be successfully handled in the session itself, the questions’ content are analysed and summarised, and conveyed to civil servants at different level of decision-making.
According to the Local Government Act, all municipalities must have a youth council or equivalent action group for young people. The youth council should be given the possibility of influencing planning, preparation, implementation and follow-up activities in different sectors that are relevant for residents’ well-being, health, studying, environment, living and public transport, as well as other matters that the youth council considers relevant. Currently, there is ongoing government reform at regional level. According to the draft bill, there will be regional youth councils based in law in the future, with their members chosen from representatives of the municipal youth councils.
There is a cooperative body and umbrella organization for youth councils at national level. It is called the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland. The mission of the Union is to work in advocacy, education, and co-operation for all youth councils in Finland. It works with local youth councils, youth workers, civil servants and politicians and is the expert body regarding young people’s participation in Finland.
The members of the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland are individual members of the local youth councils. Membership is voluntary and requires a small annual fee. The members of Union are between 13 and 20 years old. The Union of Local Youth Councils has eight district organisations, which are individually registered non-governmental organisations. These are trained by and cooperate closely with the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland, which also co-funds them.
The Union of Local Youth Councils is a registered non-governmental organisation. The highest decision-making body is the general assembly which is held once a year. Every member of the Union has a vote in the general assembly. The general assembly chooses a chair, two vice-chairs and between 4 and 10 board members for the period of one year. It also decides on the work plan and budget of the Union, and the membership fee for the coming year. The members of the board are the same age as the other members, so the Union is a genuine young people’s organization.
The goal of the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland is to encourage co-operation between local youth councils, enhance the participation of young people, support democracy education and take care of publicity for the youth councils at national level. The Union is also responsible for assisting in the founding of new youth councils and educating the youth councils about their rights, roles and possibilities. In order to achieve these goals, the Union organises seminars, national level education events and school events at local level for both youth councils and city representatives. The Union actively communicates with the authorities and political actors, for example the Ministry of Education and Culture and Ministry of Finance.
The Union improves young people's opportunities to participate and influence decision-making, and also offers its members the possibility to network, interact and exchange ideas. The Union has an open-access material and knowledge bank Vaikute for young people (Vaikute-sivusto), which offers information and its materials for free.
The Union of Local Youth Councils cooperates with other NGOs and with the state in order to promote the youth councils and their possibilities to participate, but also to give the youth councils the opportunity to take part in the ongoing decision-making progress at national level. For example, in 2016 the Union organised the Annual Meeting of Local Youth Councils together with the Ministry of Finance, wherein representatives from each youth council were invited. The agenda was to discuss ongoing regional government reform and collect young people’s ideas for the work of the parliamentary workgroup. The Union has also cooperated with the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. The function of the Union of Local Youth Councils is partly financed by the Ministry of Education according to its status as a youth organisation, as defined in the Youth Act. Since the beginning of 2018, it belongs also to a consortium administered by the Youth Academy which has been chosen by the Ministry of Culture and Education to function as a Youth work centre of expertise for youth participation realised in co-operation also with Development Centre Opinkirjo. (See more: the Youth Work Centres of Expertise and Youth Wiki/Finland 1.4 Youth policy decision-making.)
As per the Universities Act and Polytechnics Act, there is a student union in every higher education institute, both in universities and universities of applied sciences. Membership is voluntary in the latter, but because of the benefits receive with the student card, it is very popular among students. Student unions serve as statutory supervisors of interests of students when it comes to decision-making, both at institutional and local levels, for example, in electing representatives for decision-making bodies of the universities.
In addition to their statutory duties, higher education student unions also organise leisure time activities and provide information regarding topical matters. All members of a student union are eligible to elect members to the parliament or representatives that hold the highest decision-making power at institutional level. For example, they select the executive board for managing day-to-day affairs. Additionally, there are staff that are hired to support the elected officials. The financing of the unions is based on membership fees and allocations from the institution.
The individual student unions are members of national student unions: National Union of University Students - SYL or University of Applied Sciences Students – SAMOK. They both are registered organisations. SYL represents the interests of approximately 132 000 students from its member student unions in 14 universities. SAMOK on the other hand, has unions in 26 universities of applied sciences and has approximately 65 500 students as members.
The highest decision-making body of the national student unions is the general assembly. They are usually held once a year. Their main duty is to elect the president and the board members for a one year period. They also have responsibility for deciding about the content of the work plan, the budget and the membership fee for the coming year. Decision-making power is held by representatives mandated by the student unions. Each member organisation may send one representative with voting rights per 1 000 (SYL) or 500 (SAMOK) members.
The main duty of the national student unions SYL and SAMOK is to oversee the rights of students and advocate and support equal access for all. Often that means improving the educational, financial and social benefits of students. Both organisations have widely recognised expertise on matters of higher education. They are heard in various official organs dealing with education, general housing, social welfare and student health. Additionally, they are both represented in diverse national bodies, involving those dealing with higher education policies, for example the Council for Higher Education and its sub-committees, and various committees and working groups of the Ministry of Education. Both organisations are members of the European Students’ Union (ESU).
Both national unions arrange various meetings and seminars, organise campaigns, and publish leaflets and publications. They also benefit the member student organisations by offering services. The students themselves also directly benefit from the discounts the national unions offer in the form of student cards delivered by the Student benefit and identification service provider Frank which is owned by several student organisations.
According to the Act on General Upper Secondary Education and Act on Vocational Education, each educational institution must have a student body organised by students who select a board by voting. The student unions serve as the statutory supervisor of students' interests when it comes to decision-making, both at institutional and local levels. There are, for example, often student members in the organs of the institution. The student unions are registered organisations.
Anyone studying in a Finnish upper secondary school can become a member of the Union of Upper Secondary School Students by paying a membership fee. For students pursuing a vocational degree in upper secondary education there are several student unions to choose from: the National Union of Vocational Students in Finland - SAKKI and the Finnish Student Alliance - OSKU. For Swedish speaking students in lower and upper secondary level there is the Swedish-speaking School Student Union of Finland.
In all national school unions, membership is voluntary for students and is based on paying a membership fee. The Union of Upper Secondary School Students has 50 000 members,the National Union of Vocational Students in Finland 100 000, the Finnish Student Alliance - OSKU 25 000 and the Swedish-speaking School Student Union of Finland some 5 000 members. In some, a community membership is possible. For example, the National Union of Vocational Students in Finland has approximately 200 community members, most of them student councils. In some of the unions there is also a network structure, meaning that members are divided into sub-organisations based on, for example, geographical region.
The highest decision-making body of the national student unions in secondary education is the general assembly. It is held once a year. The assembly elects the chair and other board members, as well as deciding upon the work plan and budget of the union and the membership fee for the coming year.
Like the higher education national student organisations, school student unions also defend the rights of the students at local and national levels, including those who are not members. They supervise the interests of students in educational, social policy and other matters that concern secondary level education. They support student council activity and help student councils build dialog with educational institutions. At national level, the unions are represented in various committees and working groups of the Ministry of Education and Culture, for example in the working group intended to improve the study grant system.
Besides the promotion of interests, the unions also organise recreational and training events, publish magazines and offer their members different kinds of benefits. They also offer guidance for their members.
The unions also offer their members an official student card, which entitles the holder to various discounts. The student card for the members of the Union of Upper Secondary School Students andthe National Union of Vocational Students in Finland – SAKKI is delivered by the Student benefit and identification service provider Frank, which they have established together with several other student organisations.
The unions finance their operations primarily through membership fees and state financial aid from the Ministry of Education and Culture based on their status as youth organization, as per the Youth Act.
The national student unions at secondary level cooperative with each other at national level and they are, with the exception theFinnish Student Alliance –OSKU, also members of OBESSU – the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions.
A nationwide registered Child Welfare Association Pesäpuu promotes the rights of young people in substitute care. Youth participation work started with Survivors - Young Child Welfare Developers -team that was active from 2008 to 2018. Now youth participation and expertise by experience -teamcontinues that work. The team consists of child welfare professionals and “experts by experience”. The youth participation team creates well-established methods with a network of committed partners. The team outs together tools and practices for working with youth in care. The team also arranges national and local youth forums for young people in care, and the messages young people have for the authorities are conveyed to adults and decision- makers.
- To advocate for the voice of the youth who live or have lived in child welfare to be heard in national decision-making processes.
- To show that these young people are capable and willing to learn despite their backgrounds in child welfare.
- To empower young people by getting their voices heard in matters that directly affect their lives.
- To benefit other young people in similar circumstances.
The purpose of the work is to improve the participation amongst children and young people in child protection on three levels:
- To promote children’s and youth’s knowledge of their rights, so that they are able to be active participants in their own lives.
- To use the knowledge and experience of youth in order to benefit other children and youth living in similar circumstances in child protection.
- To coordinate a national network of children and adults, who work together to promote the rights of children and youth in Finland.
To reach these goals, the team has developed a peer support model called YOUTH FORUMS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE - by young people for young people. The forums are organized both locally and nationwide. The basic structure of the forums has permanent features to ensure a sense of safety and stability, while the themes and working methods change, depending on the people attending. The forums are well documented and the messages from young people are conveyed to adults and decision-makers.
Through advocating for experts by experience in child welfare in Finland, the team has been mentoring now over twenty focus groups around Finland. Thanks to these focus groups the POWER TO INFLUENCE! - network for young experts by experience was founded in 2015. The network consists of 20 youth focus groups, with an estimated 120 youth currently in care or having recently left care. The network enables activities on different levels: community, regional and national. It supports and coaches youth in developing groups. POWER TO INFLUENCE! is also a nationwide channel for things that young people bring up regarding substitute care and child protection.
Pesäpuu has currently piloted a peer review model to promote social inclusion and effectiveness of substitute care in child protection services in counties in Finland. The aim is to strengthen young peoples' participation in their own living environment, to create new ways to develop substitute care, and to prevent maltreatment. In peer reviews, young people are met and heard by their grown-up peers who have first-hand experience of life in substitute care. Peer reviewers are trained for their task in the co-creation groups, and they are bound by a confidentiality agreement. Being a peer lowers the threshold when it comes to sharing experiences, as a peer reviewer is not in a superior position in relation to the young people they meet.
Peer reviews provide opportunities for young people to assess everyday life in substitute care, to give feedback on their well-being and, consequently, to exercise influence on their own living environment. Peer reviews also increase transparency between different actors in substitute care and produce important qualitative information about substitute care.