In the recent years Croatian youth policy has started to have conjures of contemporary European youth policy. The youth sector is becoming visibly more consolidated and various legal acts are becoming less declaratory and more based on actual need of young people. Despite this evolution, lots remains to be done. One of the least developed aspects of youth policy is youth work. As in many other countries, the area of youth work in Croatia is heavily undefined and underexplored. In reality there is a substantial amount of youth organizations working with young people, however there are no real data on the quality of work they are doing neither if what they are doing is indeed youth work. Since youth work, as a concept, is not recognized in the public discourse, the general opinion is that everything involving young people is youth work. In addition, neither of legal nor other acts regarding young people define the scope and boundaries of youth work leaving the concept of youth work vague and subject to different interpretations.
It is necessary to conceptualize this profession
Only several months ago relevant stakeholders, chiefly the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth decided to establish a national working expert group which would analyze the situation regarding youth work and propose recommendations for its professionalization. Since this was one of the policy objectives stipulated in the current National Youth Program, relevant policy actors were gathered to start to work on this issue. Very soon it became obvious that this task is more than comprehensive and too ambitious for one working group to deal with, so it has been decided that the Ministry is going to apply for the funds from the European Social Fund in order to conduct quality and comprehensive analysis which would serve for effective policy solutions. Meanwhile, some other actors such as research institutes and universities started developing a curriculum in youth studies which would be complementary to the goal of professionalization of youth work in Croatia.
The other part of the story is certainly developing standards for validation of previous experience of people working with young people and focusing on assuring sustainable financing mechanism for youth clubs and youth centres. Parallel with this process, the Ministry of Labour and Pension System started the procedure for developing the standard of qualification of youth workers. Obviously, this comprehensive and challenging task should be rooted in the Croatian context and should be evidence-based, thus research (both qualitative and quantitative) on youth work is needed. It is necessary to conceptualize this profession by seeing what relevant stakeholders think youth work is and later, building on those insights, continue with the creation of youth work policy.
As seen, there are a lot of things currently going on in Croatia regarding youth work. There is the inception of professionalization, however the road we are taking is not easy. There are numerous aspects that stakeholders involved in this process should be aware of. Youth work professionalization thus comprehends communication with the academic institutions, entities of the labour market, youth and other civil society organizations and – young people. This process, due to its complexity should not be done superficially but should rely on evidence and community needs. Furthermore, extensive communication among stakeholders is needed, not only among them, but also with practitioners and other actors beyond the Croatian borders. There is general consensus among working group members, which turned out to be a coordinative body for the professionalization of youth work, that good and not-so-good practice examples from Europe should be studied in order to apply them or avoid mistakes our colleagues did.
In total, the situation with youth work in Croatia can be described as – dynamic, interesting, turbulent and complex. Even though we are at the beginning of the professionalization path, we understand this process as an outstanding opportunity to learn how to get along with one another and to expand our perception on youth work.
by Marko Kovačić (2016)
Marko Kovačić is a youth researcher and his main focus is youth political participation, their civic competences and youth work in general.
Video © Udruga Zamisli