Trying to catch a youth worker during summer leads to hearing this: “When do you need it? I’m in the camp in the forest”.
Youth workers learn: “I’m starting to understand why most of the youth workers in Lithuania are women. Only women are capable of multitasking: work directly with youth, take care of the documentation and make sure the organization doesn’t die (write applications, implement projects, make reports). Also generate income from extra activities. AMAZING.”
Despite legal documents describing what open youth work is, one can still find organizations claiming they do open youth work, while the real work is neither open, nor with youth.
The second thing the youth workers will tell you about open youth work is the lack of funding. First one is how amazing their work is.
Young people trust the youth workers and have mentioned that the youth workers know a lot of things about them. An open youth centre is a safe space to be ones self.
Most youngsters get involved via their friends. Some young people got to know about open youth centres during visits to schools by youth workers.
Young people who come to the open youth centre, are enjoying not only being in the centre and interacting with other youngsters and youth workers, but also extra activities – trips, camps, sports, etc.
Young people agreed that the most important thing is that they found new people to hang out with and new friends and now have a place to go, communicate and enjoy.
Young people are generally satisfied with what the youth centre is offering and it is often their only activity.
In 2008 open youth work was described as „form of youth works that is the least known and least practised in Lithuania“ (Kučikas, Malinauskas, 2008). The situation had a lot to do with the fact that an independent youth policy is “the youngest” branch of policy in Lithuania and started to be developed only after regaining of Independence in 1990. While in the USSR youth work in the form that is practised now was not existent, it took time for the organizations and institutions to get a grip on the European practices and to start similar activities in Lithuania. The first “organisations had strong ideas, but relatively poor pedagogical concepts, a lack of youth leaders, and youth workers almost did not exist.” (Deltuva, 2014) Even though youth work was organized by (mainly) youth organizations, a targeted support for open youth work started in 2006.
Before 2006 the main focus in youth policy was on the active young people who are usually members of youth NGOs. While in 2006 the discussion about involving less active and non-organized youth started. It was acknowledged that youth organizations are usually focusing on the development of leaders while other groups of young people are out of the scope. As a result of a few studies that showed lack of participation of young people, programmes supporting development of open youth work started.
This attention was followed by legislature and manuals on open youth work:
The department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour is currently in charge of youth work. The Division of Youth at the same ministry also has to do with youth work as well. The line between the responsibilities is blurry. Nevertheless the main and real decisions are made on the municipal level as local municipalities are coordinating the implementation of open youth work. Each municipality has a youth affairs coordinator who is a public servant. This specialist in responsible for development, coordination and implementation of youth policy at the local level. Though the responsibilities and full description of this job exists, in the smaller municipalities the coordinator of youth affairs sometimes gets to do the job of a youth worker too.
Open youth work is funded partly by the municipality, partly by the Department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (open youth centres need to apply for funding every year). As the funding is not always sufficient, youth workers are also preparing project applications for different funds (Erasmus+, EEA Norway Grants, Lithuanian-Polish youth exchange foundation, etc.).
Even though open youth work is the most developed form of youth work in Lithuania, youth worker is not a recognized profession (the Description of youth workers’ activities isn’t sufficient). The understanding that youth work is done by youth organizations and volunteers is still standing. Debates among institutions, organizations and youth workers are on-going, but yet it did not lead to common agreement. Youth worker is not a part of the national professional qualifications system and lately the difference between a youth worker and a social worker is questioned.
Even though open youth work is the most developed form of youth work in Lithuania, youth worker is not a recognized profession
Let‘s face it, open youth work in Lithuania is a rather new phenomenon which is developing quite fast, yet quite unpredictably. According to the recent developments and the political discourse, the main question remains the education and professionalization of youth workers. Currently the certification system is stopped and the future of it is blurry. So is the future of a university degree in youth work. Some universities now have extra subjects on youth work (overview of open youth work, work with groups, etc.) in the programmes of social work, but the popularity of these programmes is decreasing
Also since there is no legal recognition of youth worker as a profession, no university will agree to launching a programme that aims to prepare something that does not exist. Also bearing in mind that the universities see the study programmes as more theoretical and not practical while youth work is a really hands on job, aiming for the youth workers to be prepared in the universities is also questionable. Regarding this issue, a common agreement needs to be made on what the vision is (restart the certification programme that is based on non-formal education, start a university degree or combine the two).
In the next 10 years open youth work should remain valued as an important means to involve young people who do not get involved in alternative activities and by that contribute to solving the future issues of societies. Today has shown that open youth work is a powerful tool in working with NEET youth; we can foresee that in the future it should also play a major role in integration work with refugee youth.
It can only be presumed that open youth work will change together with the changing society, remain flexible and responsive to the needs of young people.
by Justina Garbauskaitė-Jakimovska (2016)
Justina Garbauskaitė-Jakimovska is a certified youth worker, member of Youth workers association in Lithuania, currently more involved in research than in actual work.
Photos: © Vilnius open youth centre “MES”
Videos: © Justina Garbauskaitė-Jakimovska & poywe/Alexandra Beweis