A lobby for youth centres and open child and youth work in Europe?

by Nikola

This article was originally published in “Corax Magazin” for social work (issue 3/19). Authors were Michaela Gloger, social worker from “Roter Baum” Dresden and Martin Kleinfelder, coordinator of “Roter Baum” Berlin and coordinator of this project.

In recent years, the Roter Baum Berlin team has been intensively involved in youth work in Europe, especially in European youth centres within the framework of international projects. This is an exciting undertaking, not only with regard to the lobby of open child and youth work in Europe. It is interesting, for example, that there is no uniform understanding of open child and youth work and youth centres as a place of design either on the professional or on the scientific level. The reality is as follows: the idea or understanding of what constitutes a youth centre, how it is organised, but also how and which young people find access, is very different in the European countries[1].

There are areas in Europe, mainly southern and south-western Europe, where youth centres exist predominantly or entirely without state support. This is an aspect that is often linked to the legal foundations of open child and youth work.  Therefore, is open child and youth work at all legally anchored and who has the right and the possibility to demand corresponding services?

In Germany, the legal anchoring and the often closely associated formulation of professional standards is by no means uniform. For example, only some federal states have implementation laws for the SGB VIII[2] or also KJHG[3]. If people widen their view of Europe again, it can be seen that not all European countries, not even all EU ones, have their own codes of law for child and youth welfare. With regard to the lobby of open child and youth work and youth centres, this is a first challenge.

The legal connection is often connected with the formulation of goals, contents and professional standards. Experiences from studies in various European countries, but also from research and international projects that have overlapped countries, show that open child and youth work in European youth centres is based on very differentiated standards and that in some places they exist even without specified professional ones.

There are also major differences regarding the content of the youth centres. In South-eastern Europe (Balkan countries, Romania, etc.), youth centres tend to be state-owned houses in which specific courses are offered, mostly by independent associations. Open areas and space for self-realisation are rather rare.

On the other hand, especially in Central and Northern Europe, there are concepts based on an open and participatory approach. Although the clubs and people working in the youth centres pursue identical or similar goals, primarily to support the positive personality development of young people, the action concepts and methods are at least as diverse as the qualifications of the employees. While in Germany relevant qualifications are usually required in order to be active in youth work, in Romania, for example, it is not unusual for teams to be multi-professional. Different professional backgrounds not only require different approaches to and views of the field of action, but also different approaches and principles guiding action.

While volunteering, participation and discursivity are central principles for youth centres and open child and youth work in Germany, commitment plays significant role in youth centres in southern and south-eastern Europe (including Romania and Italy). In youth centres in these countries, non-formal educational offers and activities are generally provided, whereas work in Germany tends to follow the idea of creating and using informal educational opportunities, among other things by providing young people with spaces and materials for self-determined discussion and appropriation.

With regard to a lobby for youth centres and open child and youth work, it becomes clear how difficult it is to establish and expand a joint lobby for youth work in Europe, because many of the aspects mentioned are in a constant discourse.  In order to establish and expand a lobby for open child and youth work in Europe, a comprehensive definition is helpful. The Expert Group on Quality(s) in Youth Work in the Member States of the EU made a contribution. From the Council Conclusions 2010 and 2013, they derive two aspects that apply to all youth centres and open child and youth work in general, irrespective of funding, sponsorship and methodological design; focusing on the overarching objective and the education and learning space that makes it possible[4]. These Conclusions result in the following definition of youth work:

“Youth Work is understood as actions directed to young people regarding activities, where they take part voluntarily, designed for supporting their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning[5].

Moreover, the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe, in its attempt to award a uniform European quality label, established the “Quality Label for Youth Centres”[6]. This is oriented more towards overarching criteria that apply more to institutions that we would rather classify as youth education institutions. Consequently, the only German institution to have been awarded this label is the wannseeFORUM Foundation. However, this also means that the term “Youth Centre” is or will be “occupied” by a type of institution that has little in common with the general German (and Central European) understanding of the word “Jugendzentrum“.

On the other hand, the EU has emphasised in its youth strategy the demand for more own spaces and more self-determination and participation. The EU Council presidencies of Romania, Finland and Croatia have also committed themselves to this topic under the heading “Creating opportunities for all” and especially in the second half of 2019, meanwhile Finland takes over the Council Presidency, the topic “Quality Youth Work for all” will be discussed.

Youth centres with an informal approach, known as well as open youth work, are places where young people can try out, develop and realise themselves. They are able to reduce injustice and disadvantage. If young people are given the opportunity to realise their own interests, this improves their chances of development and encourages them to become more involved in their living environment. In this respect, it is not only helpful but also necessary to find for open youth work their fixed and secure place in European society.

We as Roter Baum Berlin, and together with partners from five countries, have dedicated ourselves to this goal and have developed a project that wants to provide support for the lobby of open child and youth work in Europe. We want to compile the rare studies, prove the sense of open youth work, compile experience reports and concrete examples of successful youth work and provide explanations of what youth work can achieve under good conditions. All this will be put together on a website in different languages to support local campaigns. We have opted for this form because one of the aims of open youth work is to be participative. Those who take this seriously must also develop the demand for a lobby for open child and youth work in Europe -together with addressees and actors- from “below”.

We want to support young people precisely in this and help them through a strong lobby to direct their demand for their own rooms and support offers to the ‘right’ places and people through open youth centres, creatively, soundly and convincingly.


Homepage of the European Commission:
https://ec.europa.eu/youth/policy/implementation/work_en (last update: July 5th 2019).
European Commission: «Quality Youth Work – a common framework for the further development of youth work» 2015. Download at:
http://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/youth/library/reports/quality-youth-work_en.pdf (last access: July 4th 2019).
Database for International Youth Work in Germany (DIJA):
http://www.dija.de/laenderinfos/  (last access: July 5th 2019).
Council of Europe – Youth. “Quality Label for Youth Centres”:
https://www.coe.int/en/web/youth/quality-label-for-youth-centres (last access: July 5th 2019).

[1] See also «Quality Youth Work – a common framework for the further development of Youth Work». European Commission, 2015: 11. Download file:
Online at: https://ec.europa.eu/youth/policy/implementation/work_en (last access: July 4th 2019).

[2] The Achte Buch Sozialgesetzbuch (The Eighth Book of the Social Code) is a law passed by the German Bundestag and comprises the federal regulations in Germany concerning child and youth welfare.

[3] The Gesetz zur Neuordnung des Kinder- und Jugendhilferechts (The Child and Youth Welfare Act) is the name for the entirety of the legal regulations in the Federal Republic of Germany concerning child and youth welfare.

[4] See #1, p.11.

[5] See #1, p.12.

[6] More information at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/youth/quality-label-for-youth-centres (last access: July 4th 2019).

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