Spot On

Spot On Austria

The Austrian picture of Open Youth Work is very diverse due to the federal structure of the country. Open Youth Work builds on a several decades old history of social practice and networking experience among youth workers. Today Open Youth Work in Austria is also recognized as a main pillar of national youth policy.

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When and where the history of Open Youth Work started in the Austrian context, is quite unclear, but it can be said that professional Open Youth Work developed out of Youth Work led by Associations and the movement of autonomous Youth Houses in the 60ies. In the 70ies a professionalization started, bringing more and more practitioners from the fields of social work and social education into the youth centres.

The biggest organisation offering Open Youth Work in Austria, Verein Wiener Jugendzentren, running about 35 Youth Centres and Mobile Open Youth Work, describes that until 1975 there were five youth centres established in the capital city. They were understood as “houses of the open door” with a socio-educational orientation. Today Austria counts more than 600 Youth Centres and Mobile Open Youth Work throughout the whole country, mainly financed by the local communities.

An important development in the Austrian context was the establishment of the centre of competence for Open Youth Work in Austria, bOJA. The association builds on a tradition of networking of over 30 years. It is the service and networking agency for Open Youth Work as well as the competence centre for the field. It represents Open Youth Work at a national and international level and acts as the mouthpiece for the field of Open Youth Work – with the aim of positioning the topics, perspectives and needs of Open Youth Work and the young people who use its services in the national and international (youth) political debate, e.g. through lobbying in several working groups and on conferences.

Due to these efforts Open Youth Work for instance participates in the development process of the Austrian Youth Strategy. bOJA also organizes big networking events and conferences for youth workers throughout the whole country and supports the definition and development of quality standards. In the bOJA-handbook on Open Youth Work, it is defined as a field of action in the context of education, cultural activities, social work and prevention work. It is open to young people, groups, scenes and cultures, who will find support, regardless of age, sex, religion, education, social class and origin.

In terms of methods and topics of interest there are always smaller changes to observe, even if the main method “relationship building” is a constant youth workers apply when working in a youth centre or out on the streets. Therefore the guarantee of long-term stability and good working conditions are of great importance. E-Youth Work has become more important within the last years and several youth centres have reacted with the creation of special social media guidelines. Also multiculturalism and youth work in the context of the migration society (diversity/inclusion) are important issues that experienced a boost in the context of recent refugee movements.

Austria counts more than 600 Youth Centres and Mobile Open Youth Work

The concept of the multi-professional team is reality on many spots

In terms of education youth workers in Austria obtain not one, but different qualifications and the concept of the multi-professional team is reality on many spots. There is no special university education like a bachelor program in youth work in Austria. Youth workers are often pedagogues or social workers, but can also have totally different qualifications from other fields that may be closer interlinked to the lifeworld (Lebenswelt) of young people. A mechanic for example can serve as an authentic role-model for some young people, but he or she should be backed up by professional and experienced youth workers within the team and take a special training course for youth work.

Other important qualifications, not within the curricula of the mentioned training courses, are language skills. Also team parity is a factor when youth workers are hired, because a diverse team is already a good starting point for diversity education. There is an on-going process of linking the qualifications of youth workers to the National Qualification Framework, as it is happening in several other European countries as well.

Beside diversity several other important working principles exist, like participation, openness, voluntary, continuity of relationship, low threshold, the partial mandate, gender mainstreaming or need orientation.

One of the present and future challenges of Open Youth Work in Austria is the inclusion of girls. Like in many other countries a tendency can be observed that the majority of young people using the offers of Open Youth Work are defined as male. Therefore awareness is required to react on this tendency with adequate offers that may be attractive for girls or that are designed in a participatory process.

Another challenge will be the inclusion of young refugees that face several difficulties in their daily life in Austria. Open Youth Work is per definition also responsible and an advocate for young refugees and further it aims at a good, inclusive living together in general.

Another important topic is public space that is more and more privatized and therefore not usable or free for young people. Who owns the public space and who sets rules there? – Important questions that will accompany Open Youth Work not only in Austria over the next decade.

Spot On_Austria_Author Stephie

by Stephanie Deimel (2016)

Stephanie Deimel is a youth worker in Vienna, workig for the national network of Open Youth Work – bOJA – since 2012. This year she was elected as a board member of POYWE .

Photos: Cover © Alexandra Beweis, OJA © Jugendzentrum Frohnleiten

Video: © poywe/Alexandra Beweis


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