10.5 Youth workers
Status in national legislation
The youth worker as a specific professional figure is not still recognized by the law in Italy, although a draft law is currently under discussion on the matter.
Professional figures in the field of animation
In the absence of specific legislation at a national level, most of the Regions recognize and define a series of professional figures working in out-of-school education. These figures have taken on different names, including community counselor, social counselor, socio-educational counselor, and socio-educational instructor. A research carried out in a degree thesis at the University of Trento (Amanda Milan, 2018, supervisor Prof. Davide Galesi) shows how these figures are present in most of the regional repertoires of professional figures. They are mainly in the socio-healthcare and social-assistance fields, as well as focusing more on work with adolescents (policies and services for minors). As indicated in the annual activity report of the Italian Youth Agency, there are currently 18 Regions that recognize these professional figures involved in different degrees and forms of youth work (they are missing only in Valle d'Aosta and in the Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano). These professional figures, however, are not normally specialized at a training level in youth work, as they can also work with social categories of different ages (children, adults, elderly, etc.).
Training of youth workers in the Regions
Although not explicitly linked to EU policies on youth work, some Regions have already formally recognized the training of professional or volunteer workers involved in non-formal education in the youth sector. For example, the regional law on youth policy in the Emilia Romagna Region includes actions for the "training of public and private operators" working with youth (art. 3, c. 1, letter c, R.L. 14/2008). Similarly, the Autonomous Province of Trento also includes the training of "youth workers and operators working, on a voluntary or professional basis, with youth groups and associations" (art. 2, light i, R.L. 5/2007).
With the growth of interest in the theme of youth work from a European perspective, the Regions of Campania, Piemonte and Puglia have recognized at a legislative level the need to launch specific training actions for youth workers. The use of the word "youth worker" in the Italian text of these regional laws denotes a specific interest in starting to frame this figure in the policy framework built up until now at a European level. In particular, the Campania regional youth policy law considers the training of youth workers (in the law also translated into "socio-educational operators") as a means to improve the quality of the services and projects in the field of youth policy (L. R. 26/2016, art. 3, c. 1, letter c). The Piemonte regional youth policy law also commits the Region to "recognize the good practices of youth workers" (R.L. 6/2016, art. 1, letter p), dedicating a specific article of the law to the "figure of the youth worker" (art. 15). In the legislative text, youth work practices are recognized both in terms of promoting the autonomy and skills of young people (human and social capital, participation, inclusion) and in terms of preventing discomfort ("changing possible risk behaviors"), areas in which the Region undertakes to support the training of youth workers. More recently, the Puglia Region has also begun to frame the figure of youth workers in socio-educational work adolescents at a legislative level (L. R. 14/2020). Art. 6, c. 1 of the law entrusts youth workers with the task of "guaranteeing a close relationship with adolescents, in order to ensure personal improvement and, consequently, the future society". Moreover, the Region undertakes to support the training of youth workers through training courses aimed at "acquiring the necessary and useful skills and abilities to increase youth participation, increase the autonomy and inclusion of young people in society and strengthen youth organizations" (art. 6, c. 2).
Education, training and skills recognition
At the moment, Universities do not offer specific training courses for youth workers. However, some Regions have taken the first steps towards the launch of professional training paths for youth workers. For example, the program “A new generation of Youth workers” (“Youth worker di nuova generazione”) in 2017 aimed at creating a space for comparison, exchange, reflection and planning on the figure of the youth worker in the Toscana Region. The course focused on the youth work competences, the emerging professions in the field of youth work (e.g. social innovators, makers, etc.), the specific role of the youth worker for the personal development of young people.
A specific training project for youth workers has been included in the 2018-2020 Three-Year Plan in the field of youth policies of the Campania Region. Specifically, the project “Development of services in the field of policies affecting young people also through the training of Youth workers" is divided into three lines of intervention: identification and inclusion of the figure of the youth worker in the regional repertoire of professional qualifications; definition of a system of validation and certification of the competences of youth workers; activation of tools and training courses. As far as training is concerned, in addition to the provision of widespread micro-interventions (seminars, study visits, open days, bar camp, etc.), a Master's course is expected to be launched for "the acquisition and consolidation of specific and specialist knowledge and skills of youth working" (p. 85).
Finally, the Italian Youth Agency promoted a university master's degree specifically dedicated to youth workers offered by the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples. The selection for the First Level Master's degree for Youth Worker was launched in November 2020 and it finished on December 13th 2021. The Master was conducted by professors, researchers and a coordinator from University Suor Orsola Benincasa, from researchers of University Federico II of Napoli, responsible and experts from the Italian Youth Agency and other Administrations and bodies, it included a learning course of 1500 hours with the recognition of 60 CFU. It happened in e-learning with 28 participants.
Other training initiatives and initiatives promoting the recognition of youth work carried out by the Italian Youth Agency are:
- The working group on Youth Work, that had its first reunion on the 31st of January 2022. It has been established by the Italian Youth Agency to support the recognition of Youth Workers, also to follow the conclusions coming from the “Final Declaration of Bonn”. The group aims to in depth analysis, study and research of the figure of the Youth Worker, with special attention to the national context, in order to elaborate action plans and strategies to share in the right European premises.
- training events, e.g. the international conference Recognise-it in Naples in April 2019, the event Stra-ordinarie storie di educazione non formale held in October 2017 in Palermo, the course Replay:Take a step back to take a step forward on the European youth work competences framework held in Bari between May and June 2019
- training exchange workshops among youth workers, for example the Italian Toolfair an annual peer-learning meeting open to educators, trainers and youth workers in which methods, tools and practices of non-formal education are exchanged.
- projects in partnership with the National Youth Agencies of other EU countries involving youth workers, e.g. the European Youth Work Academy (EAYW) and the Europe Goes Local project in which the agency participated in the mapping of youth work at a local level and coordinated the participatory process for the elaboration of the European Youth Work Charter at a local level (8 events and about 200 participants).
Youth sector organizations in Italy have also organized training events to support the development of youth work skills thanks to the EU programs Youth in Action and Erasmus+. Since 2010, in the SALTO training events database, there are 199 training courses and seminars implemented by Italian organizations.
Although still not framed in the EU debate and strategies on youth work, the Universal Civic Service program has started a potential path of recognition of youth work with young volunteers. The object of attention, in particular, is the Local Project Operator (LPO), i.e., the figure in charge of accompanying the young person's volunteering experience. Specifically, a series of regulations and guidelines issued in 2017 requires the hosting organizations to give more detailed information on the operators "with whom the volunteers will relate" and how the learning experience of young volunteers will be supported (Circular of 17 June 2009). These guidelines recall the need to ensure that the LPO possesses the skills to activate an educational and training relationship with the volunteers, for example by providing training modules on group management, communication, and conflict management. The LPO is expected to contribute to the overall aims of the Civic Service, i.e., to "contribute to the civic, social, cultural training" of young volunteers, thus also affecting attitudes, value orientations and competences concerning social solidarity and active citizenship. Training courses for LPOs are organized throughout Italy by bodies accredited by the competent national Department. Since 2006, following Legislative Decree 77/2002, the Regions and Autonomous Provinces are also allowed to provide training courses for LPOs.
Before the first initiatives on youth work training (see above), the only opportunity to specialize in youth work was field work. In some cases, the training of educators was carried out independently by the organizations to which they belonged. For example, among the autonomous training systems, that of the Catholic Church is among the most consolidated and widespread in the country. In this case, the educational action, called Youth Ministry, is strictly integrated with the teaching of a specific religion (catechesis) and with the adherence to its creed (faith). The educational figures involved in youth ministry play a role in various spaces managed directly or indirectly by Catholic religious organizations, such as parish oratories, educational associations (e.g., Azione Cattolica Ragazzi, “Youth of the Catholic Action”), sports centres (e.g. Salesian sport facilities, the Italian Sport Centre). For example, in addition to training in various sports, the CSI organizes summer projects dedicated to religious training (youth sports pastoral ministry) and the training of operators (instructors, technicians, animators, educators). The National Service for Youth Pastoral Care of the Italian Bishops' Conference plays a role in guiding the youth educational activities carried out at a local level by the individual Dioceses. Catholic Action, one of the main educational associations of the Catholic Church, has set up a National Training Workshop to support the training of educators involved with groups of adolescents and young people.
The training and role of youth workers and educators is also important in other religious denominations. For example, in the Waldensian and Methodist Churches, youth work aims to "observe the reality of young people in the territory and within the churches, grasping the needs and requirements of young people", taking care of religious education activities, spaces for intercultural and intergenerational exchange, and community services.
Moreover, like the oratories in the Catholic Church, in the Waldensian Methodist Churches there are also Youth Centres with a social and educational function aimed at children, adolescents and young people, among those:
- Agape Ecumenical Centre (Prali, Turin),
- Ecumene Youth Centre (Velletri, Rome),
- Baptist Evangelical Centre of Rocca di Papa (Rome),
- Adelfia Evangelical Youth Centre (Scoglitti, Ragusa).
The Jewish Communities also carry out specific activities to support the training of youth educators. For example, the Jewish Community of Rome has set up an Education Department Youth Office, which defines itself as "a non-formal education agency" to support young people and those involved in educational work. The Agency organizes training courses for young counselors and educators, training them as agents of "transmission of a Jewish identity and education". Moreover, the office supports the creation and management of play and educational services for children and adolescents.
Finally, the training of educators is a key function in Scout organizations. The training of AGESCI and CNGEI leaders, the two main scout associations in Italy, is promoted by local groups in accordance with a uniform training process at a national level (see the section on Training of Agesci and Cngei leaders in the ScoutWiki platform).
Mobility of youth workers
The only meeting, exchange and networking initiatives between youth workers carried out or financed by public authorities at a national level are those indicated in paragraph 10.5.2.