10.1 General context
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“Youth Work” has a long and moving history which reflects both developments in how young people are seen, and changes in policy towards young people. Although there is no “official” definition of youth work, its history is linked to that of non-formal education.
Non-formal education is itself difficult to define and date precisely. It has its roots in schools of thought dating back to the Revolution of 1789, which promoted the collective experience of citizenship, the empowerment of individuals through education, the development of critical thinking and the democratisation of culture. In the 19th century, these ideals led to the creation of secular associations that promoted adult education in the form of the first evening classes and public libraries.
The years 1940-1950 marked a new turning point for non-formal education; it was institutionalised by the State and became an area in which action was devoted to young people in particular. This included the setting up of summer camps (colonies de vacances) and sports and leisure activities. In 1943, the Ministry for Youth created “Youth and Popular Education Accreditation” (“l’agrément jeunesse et éducation populaire”) for the youth and non-formal education associations and movements that were developing rapidly during this period; this showed that (gradually) public services for young people were being developed. From the 1950s up until today, social and educational work with children and young people, known as “socio-cultural (or socio-educational) activities” (“animation socio-culturelle (ou socioéducative”)) have become increasingly important within non-formal education, particularly as a result of its institutionalisation.
National definition or understanding of Youth Work
In France, there is no clear or “official” definition of youth work. It refers to various working practices and realities involving young people. However, it is very often limited to the field of “socio-cultural/educational activities” (“animation socio-culturelle/éducative”), which itself partly results from “non-formal education”. In fact this movement partly defined the principles and values of socio-cultural activities: the principles of empowerment, citizenship, self-development and the building of social connections.
There is also no agreed definition of socio-cultural activities. On the one hand, according to the INSEE (the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) list of occupations, sociocultural and leisure activities (l’animation socioculturelle et de loisirs) “develop and introduce projects for activities, often within institutions […] organise or help to organise activities designed around: either the social inclusion of certain population groups and the improvement of social relationships between their members; or, more generally, promoting cultural life within communities.”
Providing socio-cultural activities, which is currently known as “facilitation”, genuinely supports individual and collective development and social inclusion. Through non-formal activities and educational, cultural, leisure as well as preventive practices, facilitation fosters social connections and provides training for other types of learning, particularly of a non-formal nature.
Since the 1950s, the facilitation sector has gradually become professionalised until, in the 1980s, it became an occupational sector with its own system of certifications and qualifications. Its role as a sector that serves social, cultural, educational and leisure interests was then clear.
Facilitation relates to a number of fields (health, culture, leisure, social inclusion, etc.) and applies to the whole population: adults, the elderly, children and young people. However, the children and youth sector is one of the main areas where facilitation takes place.
Youth workers known as “facilitators” work with children and young people, for whom they develop and carry out activities. They work within associations and organisations in the field of (informal) “youth and non-formal education”, and also within the State-regulated ACMs “Community Centres for Minors” (“accueils collectifs de mineurs”) which operate outside school hours (during holidays and in leisure time), and are provided by the public authorities.