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Central government does not supply a fixed definition of youth work. For this chapter the following definition is used as point of departure:
Youth work is a social work profession within the educational framework, in which workers aim to counsel young people who need support in reaching adulthood in society. (Metz, 2017, p. 235).
Most important in youth work is its ambition to enable all young people to develop their talents and to offer them tools to participate fully in society. In principle youth work is a basic provision for all young people. The target group of youth work consists primarily of young persons between the ages of ten and twenty-three, with a lower socio-economic background. The need of young people for support is leading. In addition there is a specific offer for girls and young people in vulnerable situations (such as for instance young people with a disability or who are showing maladjusted behaviour). This offer aims to prevent young people growing up in multiple risk situations from being confronted with problems at home, in school or in their leisure time, by giving them more attention and an offer of inviting activities. If a youth worker considers that he or she is not able to help the young person due to the seriousness of their situation, they are authorized to refer the young person to the right authority.
Changes in youth work
In 2009 an inventory of the use of youth work in the Netherlands took place. Since then the decentralisations in the social domain caused multiple changes. Therefore ten years after new research was conducted to show how Dutch municipalities design their youth work nowadays: ‘Náást de jongeren De Staat van Professioneel Jongerenwerk in Nederland’ [Standing by young people. The state of professional youth work in the Netherlands] (2019) by Verwey-Jonker Institute.
Approximately half of current youth work providers have been addressed through a questionnaire. Youth work nowadays seems to have more objectives than in 2009, aimed at supporting young people in becoming adults. Ten years earlier there was a stronger focus on recreation and leisure. Current youth work is characterised by a mix of ambulatory and individual work and work related to groups and accommodations. There was hardly any individual youth work in 2009, while in 2019 half of the municipalities provide separate girls work. On average more young people are being reached than in 2009, more through social media than through individual attention. In 2009 it was observed that youth work had considerably increased compared to the year 2000. This does not seem to have been the case in the previous ten years, although it was expected that municipalities would organise more preventive and ambulatory youth care after the decentralisations.
The research respondents find that there are opportunities for a future increase in the visibility of the profession. Youth work can become much more meaningful if municipalities invest in:
- A (personal) approach of young people in order to allow for early signalling and care provision;
- Youth work in schools, youth work through social media, girls work and specific individual care. These are emergent methods;
- Further elaboration of the youth participation theme.
What is youth work? A developmental approach
Youth work is an accessible basic provision in the leisure time of all young people, which guides them on their way to adulthood and active citizenship. Young people have the opportunity to participate in group activities. In addition youth work offers young people individual support, information and advice when needed. Youth work differs from youth care in its developmental approach. The youth work target group consists of young people in vulnerable situations. They have initial, light or serious problems. They may be growing up in poverty, be bullied or discriminated against, have limited social networks, may not be doing well in school or may be growing up in families with parents who are overburdened or not available.
Youth work and children’s work Youth work is for young people from 10 to approximately 23 years old. In cities this concerns primarily, though not exclusively, young people in vulnerable positions. In rural areas youth work generally aims at all young people. It shows an overlap with children’s work that aims at children between 4 and 12 years old. There is a tendency for youth work to focus increasingly on children from 10 onwards who have outgrown children’s work. This supports the transfer to secondary education.
Especially for girls There is separate girls work for girls, because girls are often not reached by youth work, and because there are parents who do not allow their daughters to participate in mixed-gender youth work. Girls work defines its results and aims in terms of specific girls’ issues such as resilience, sexuality, lover boys, teenage motherhood. The work can be organised in activities for girls only and by paying attention to girls in mixed activities.
Source: De Waarde(n) van het jongerenwerk, Dr. Judith Metz [‘The value(s) of youth work’, Dr. Judith Metz. Inaugural lecture on Tuesday 8 October 2013 by Dr. Judith Metz, lector Youth Spot - Youth work in big cities, at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Dept. of Society and Rights.]