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Strengthen youth work, make it more visible and develop it further: Resolution European Youth Work Agenda

In its meeting on 30.11.2020, the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council took note of a Resolution for a framework to establish a European Youth Work Agenda. The German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth had prepared the Resolution on the European Youth Work Agenda within the framework of Germany’s EU Council Presidency. The German Government, which currently also chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, refers to both the EU Youth Strategy (2019-2027) and the Council of Europe's Youth Strategy 2030 - both call for the development of a European Youth Work Agenda.

Diverse, but with common characteristics

The Council precedes a description of youth work, which is likely to cover the whole spectrum of practice. It starts by stating that ‘youth work is a broad term covering a wide variety of activities […] by, with and for young people, in groups or individually’. There are many different definitions and descriptions, practices, stakeholders, traditions and perceptions in the EU Member States.

Nevertheless, fundamental characteristics combine this diversity into a perceptible field of practice and policy, ‘a field in its own right’ and ‘an important non-formal and informal socialisation environment’ for young people. In it, formal and informal learning processes take place based on voluntary participation and in various forms and settings. Typical places are youth centres, youth projects, voluntary, free youth work, informal youth groups, youth camps, youth information, youth organisations or youth movements. Youth work is aimed at all young people and ‘plays an important role in the personal and social development’. To this end, it creates ‘safe, accessible, open and free spaces, as well as supportive and experiential learning environments’, the Resolution states. Youth work contributes directly and indirectly to social development ‘at all levels’, not least because it involves young people ‘on a voluntary basis, in an organised or self-organised manner’, and on the basis of shared values: ‘Youth work enables young people […] to learn about and experience universal values such as human rights, gender equality, democracy, peace, pluralism, diversity, inclusion, solidarity, tolerance and justice’.

Meeting challenges

EU Youth Ministers recognise that youth work is a well-established area in some Member States. In particular, the youth work community of practice (as defined in the paper) has made a lot of progress. ‘However, in order to fully exploit its potential, capacities need to be further developed’, the Resolution states. Five challenges are particularly highlighted:

(a) conceptual framework: Youth work needs to respond to changes in society and in the realities of young people's lives, to new knowledge and to policy contexts. It requires a common basic understanding and principles, safe, accessible, open and free spaces, continuous reflection on methods and innovative practices, and analysis and adaptation to new developments. This also means taking into account global trends such as demographic challenges, climate change and digitisation and developing innovative solutions, smart and digital youth work.

(b) competence: Youth work needs sufficient resources to develop continuously in terms of quality. This includes quality training and further training opportunities, practical support for professionals, recognition of their diverse skills and more knowledge and exchange.

c) credibility: The role and importance of youth work needs to be promoted and recognised in society, and its quality needs to meet the expectations and requirements of both the field and society. To meet these requirements, the quality of youth work also needs to be evaluated and improved, and there needs to be research on youth work.

(d) connections: In order to ensure that the youth work community of practice is geared to the needs of young people, co-operation among themselves, between providers and policy makers, and with other fields of practice and policy areas should be encouraged. In addition, recognition in society, involvement in youth policy, appropriate legal frameworks, financial resources, institutional frameworks and adequate and sustainable structures are important.

e) crises and opportunities: The existence and sustainability of many youth associations and youth work organisations as well as youth welfare offices are threatened by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions have serious consequences for youth work and thus for young people. However, it has shown that it is able to respond quickly and ensure that young people's perspectives are taken into account in the process of planning for the future of Europe after the crisis.

Strengthening youth work

The Member States agree in the present Resolution that

- the European Youth Work Agenda is a strategic framework for strengthening and developing quality and innovation in youth work, as well as its recognition. The Agenda is characterised by co-ordinated co-operation between stakeholders at different levels and in different areas of youth work and serves to strengthen it as an autonomous field of work that can act as an equal partner with other policy areas.

- the Agenda includes the following elements: a) a policy basis in line with the EU Youth Strategy (2019-2027) and taking into account the Council of Europe Recommendation on youth work and the Youth Sector Strategy 2030 (both documents call for synergies and close co-operation between the Council of Europe and the institutions of the European Union and its Member States), b) the co-operation of the community of practice among themselves and at European level, c) the ‘Bonn Process’, which aims to develop implementation strategies, measures and priorities at all levels (the starting point will be the 3rd European Youth Work Convention, broadcast digitally from Bonn), d) EU funding programmes in the youth field (Erasmus+ Youth and European Solidarity Corps), which can provide support and funding to facilitate the implementation process of the Agenda.

All this aims to

- fully integrate the Agenda as part of the EU Youth Strategy and youth work, where possible, into all levels of youth policy and related national, regional and local strategies in the Member States

- ensure sustainable structures and appropriate resources for quality youth work, especially at local level and in remote and rural areas

- strengthen and broaden the common principles of youth work through regular co-operation, exchanges and common practices

- develop a competence-based framework for formal and non-formal education and training for youth work and provide appropriate support to the different actors

- regularly monitor and evaluate the status, developments and challenges, analyse young people's needs and trends relevant to youth work, involve young people in the development of strategies and encourage the community of practice to respond to these developments and develop its working methods accordingly

- further develop, where appropriate, strategies and measures to enable the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning in the field of youth work

- support youth work in empowering young people to contribute to the development of inclusive, sustainable, democratic, pluralistic and peaceful societies

- strengthen opportunities for cross-border exchanges between young people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and for intercultural exchanges within the Member States

- in light of the experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and with a view to possible future crises, ensure the existence and operation of youth work institutions and structures through crisis-proof mechanisms and resources as well as adaptation possibilities

- strengthen co-operation both between the Member States and the Council of Europe and between the respective institution.

Member States are pulling the lever…

To achieve this, Member States should, among other things, promote the European dimension of youth work, implement the Agenda through existing and, where appropriate, future support structures, instruments, partnerships and co-operation at different levels and ensure that it is shaped by the community of practice, including young people. Member States are also invited to promote active, critical citizenship and democratic awareness and appreciation of diversity among all young people as permanent and fundamental parts of youth work. Furthermore, it is recommended to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Agenda by including in the EU Youth Report a specific chapter on the development of youth work structures, support tools and co-operation in the Member States and at European level. A ‘network for youth work development in Europe’ should also be established at European level and a European Youth Work Convention should be organised every five years to serve as a forum for the further development of the Agenda.

... and the European Commission also

The European Commission is invited to ensure that the Agenda is anchored in the implementation of the EU Youth Strategy, including the European Youth Goals, ensure synergies with other international organisations and strengthen the existing partnership with the Council of Europe. In practical terms, building on the experience of the European Youth Portal, there should be ‘an open and multilingual dedicated European digital youth work community of practice’. This network could, among other things, provide information, knowledge and good practice, stimulate co-operation and peer learning, and carry out publicity work in close co-operation with the ‘network for youth work development in Europe’. A group of experts will accompany and advise the development and implementation process. Finally yet importantly, scientific and practice-oriented research is needed for a knowledge-building and evidence-based further development.

Overall, the Resolution offers the framework for more co-operation and further synergies within Europe in order to strengthen, make more visible and further develop youth work.

Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council on the framework for establishing a European Youth Work Agenda