When talking about youth work in Serbia, people mostly associate it with projects and activities done by youth associations and associations for youth, while open youth work is starting to develop only in the previous few years. Youth clubs or youth centres exist in some municipalities, mostly supported by local government, or with the help of Ministry of youth and sports and some foreign donors. When it comes to quality assurance and professionalism in youth work, the biggest advocacy force are associations who are practicing youth work, united under the National Association of Youth Workers (NAPOR).
Historically speaking, Serbia has a tradition in youth work from the period of socialism (1945 until late 80s), but little of that tradition is saved until today. Youth work under socialism used a lot of similar methods as the ones we use today, but was strongly based on ideology. Since the 90s civil society started to strengthen and with it also youth work, mostly supported by foreign donors, thus influenced by youth work traditions present in those countries. This was the way to bring Serbian youth closer to European values, but it also resulted in people, as well as the state, forgetting or even denying the previous tradition in youth work, hence not using the resources available, especially spaces for young people, youth houses, youth cultural centres, etc, that almost every community had.
In the last 10 years, since the establishment of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, some steps were done in the direction of recognition, quality assurance and professionalization of youth work in general. NAPOR started working on these issues in 2009, setting recommendations for quality youth work, defining typology of youth work, creating a competence framework for youth workers and path ways to certification. Still, the term ‘open youth work’ isn’t well known in the youth sector, although a lot of discussion is going around about tackling young people, who aren’t active in NGOs or even are hard to reach. At the same time, associations and youth workers are advocating on local level for opening youth centres, youth clubs or other spaces for youth work activities, which would be run by professional youth workers, thus ensuring quality of services for young people on a regular basis.
Few examples of successful youth centres and youth clubs exist in the country, with different status (public, private), different ways of funding and organizing activities. There are examples of youth clubs and centres established by youth offices in some municipalities. They usually started as a project, supported by the Ministry, regional government or foreign donors, and now are running as part of the municipality.
Nevertheless some examples of working youth centres are in place.
City Youth Centre in Subotica is one of those examples – it started as a project but continuing to organize activities for and with young people. The coordinator of the youth office in Subotica is a professional youth worker, who is at the same time head of the Youth Centre. The team of 2 youth workers are creating and implementing activities that are open for all young people in the city. Still, the centre can’t afford to be open full time because of lack of funding, especially for paying regularly employed professional youth workers.
Another example is Youth Club OPENS, established in Novi Sad in the framework of the initiative for the city to become European Youth Capital in 2019. It was established last year thanks to an initiative of several youth organizations and organizations for youth, who also advocated for employing professional youth workers for running the club. Now, the club has 2 youth workers employed half-time and the space is also open to different local NGOs, student and youth groups and their activities. The club is funded by the local municipality, who also provided the space for it, but operating costs (activity costs, salaries, equipment, etc) are provided to the association of youth organizations, who runs the centre, through an open call for projects on annual basis.
Youth workers employed in youth clubs and youth centres mostly face the challenge of attracting people to their activities, which is in part due to the lack of recognition of youth work in the society in general. Lack of sustainable funding is another problem that leads to difficulties in having continuous programs for young people and also in working with specific groups of hard to reach youth. This is why sometimes it seems that open youth work in Serbia tackles the same groups of young people as the associations – active youth, interested in spending quality free time, improving their competences, etc, usually leaving groups at risk of marginalization much less included in youth work.
As mentioned before, strong advocacy on national and local level is done by youth associations, who practice youth work, for opening more spaces for open youth work, as well as for funding of continuous programs for young people. At the same time, there are initiatives of several organizations for introducing different types of street-based youth work, as well as improving capacities of youth workers to implement it.
Through its regular program of capacity building of youth workers and its member organizations, NAPOR is also working a lot on assuring involvement of hard to reach young people in youth work programs. Hopefully, all these efforts will soon result in better recognition of the importance of youth work and also understanding the importance of opening youth work to much greater number of young people.
by Ivana Volf (2017)
Programme Coordinator for Professionalization of Youth Workers in National Association of Youth Workers (NAPOR) .
Photos: Cover © Alexandra Beweis, other © by OPENS and Youth Office of Subotica