Chasing Youth Policy Objectives, Structures and Resources

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A critical and reflective study on the history of youth work and youth policy has emerged in Europe. Most recently, Council of Europe publications “History of youth work in Europe” (volumes 1 and 2; 2009, 2010) have gathered scholars around Europe to ponder “how the future was created yesterday”. The basic idea has been to reflect and renew current youth work and policies through analyses of their roots in history. Are we prisoners of historically determined practices, concepts and discourses? In order to understand how we could develop and change today’s youth policy thinking, structures and services we need to ‘step outside them’ - looking at them in a historical perspective. Another way of ‘stepping outside’ is a comparative cultural approach. This study of US and European (largely Finnish) youth work, youth policies and cultural practices represents such an effort, taking the outsiders view on their weaknesses and strengths: How are we prisoners of our political and cultural frameworks in our efforts to develop youth and cultural policies and practices? European youth work and youth policies are characterized by their value basis in International and national policy documents and often by a large public responsibility to fund, co-ordinate and deliver services for youth. The study calls this a value-based service model. The strength is public support to youth facilities, youth organizations and services. The weakness is the lack of flexibility and dependency on a single funding source. The North American approach is called the issue based programs model, typically a conglomeration of fixed term ad hoc youth projects and programs created to tackle pertinent youth problems. The strength of such programs is that they often are well targeted, planned, managed and evaluated, carried out in broad partnerships, they attract funding and tend to produce good practices. The weaknesses include lack of continuity, youth work becoming problem focused instead of opportunity oriented. The study examines the elements of these models and through a comparative look at their advantages and disadvantages suggests a third model. The responsive youth policy model combines ‘a minimum package of opportunities and experiences’ to which young people should have access with a capacity to establish programs on emergent youth needs.


Beth Dierke, Lasse Siurala, Laura Mäkelä

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