Norwegian youth work – in a nutshell
In order to understand the current situation of Norwegian youth work, it is necessary to know the basics of the youth work structures of the country.
Norway has about 650 youth clubs spread around the country. These are commonly run or financially supported by municipalities.
This means that the public sector has a strong binding and responsibility to the youth work sector, as it also has to other services in the Norwegian society.
Youth clubs in Norway are based on the principles of professional open youth work – meaning it is the arena (house) that functions as a platform for doing youth work. Young people participate in the activities on a voluntary basis, and the youth workers are professionally trained.
Consequences and possibilities
For young people, a year is a very long time, even seven weeks is a long time. This crisis has affected a whole generation of young people. The public focus on children, layoffs, companies and economy has, to some extend put young people in the shadow of the surrounding society. Not seeing their friends, not attending the school prom, not getting the first kiss or not get their free space outside the house is intruding for a young person, and their effort to uphold the restrictions should be applauded.
Youth Work Norway as a national umbrella organization for youth work, experiences that most youth clubs have established digital or online youth work. Most of them have established virtual youth clubs on Discord servers. They have created rooms and environments to communicate and interact with young people, despite the physical distancing. They experience that they meet with other young people than they usually do. At the same time, they report a concern about the effects of socio-economic differences in society. Young people growing up in low-income families do not have the same equipment or possibility to adjust their living to a digital one. The result is that young people, especially in the larger cities, have met up in closed soccer fields or parks to seek free spaces and social interaction. Youth workers have met this with increased effort on outreach youth work.
Youth workers are also involving young people in the set-up and development of digital platforms, such as Discord. But we also need to be aware that young people are not a homogeneous group with the same digital skillset. The idea of young people being digital natives, is an idea that can fool us to believe that we can work with all young people if we`re online. Young people still need open youth work to be exactly that, open. To do so there need to be youth workers available to take the lead, include all young people and create safe environments
In total, I would say that Norwegian youth work has done well during the crisis. But there is a premise behind this success. In order to achieve this, we`re dependent on a minimum of trust in and from the authorities. A state that clearly supports youth work creates a better platform for crisis management, also in youth work. For Norwegian youth work, this was done by trusting Youth Work Norway with a grant for digital equipment in youth clubs. This helped us reducing the initial barriers this crisis caused. We can focus our work on creating new solutions, not only saving the remnants of our work. Additionally, the vast majority of young people stay at home, because they trust the authorities to be truthful.
This was done by trusting Youth Work Norway with a grant for digital equipment in youth clubs. This helped us reducing the initial barriers this crisis caused.
The corona-crisis is not only a health crisis, it is also a financial crisis and a crisis of professionalism, as professionals in all sectors need to rethink their way of doing what they normally do. The real question of this text might then be: what happens when the youth club as an arena is closed and youth workers must change their way of conceptualizing and doing youth work? First, Norwegian youth workers have done an amazing job shifting towards digital and online platforms.
At the same time the difference in digital and technical competence shows more clearly as a result of closed arenas. Digital competence seems to be divided unequal in the society and among youth workers. It is divided a long axis such as age, money, available working hours and political support. For example, there is a difference between those who have the capacity, both financially and politically, to provide competence building activities for their youth workers such as conferences and seminars, and those who work three hours a week with small budgets.
The crisis, as I see it, has contributed to a division of youth workers, coming together in two different groups of youth workers – those who abstain from the implementation of online youth work, and those who willingly implement it. Both groups argue according to the principles of open youth work. While the first group argues based on youth work being a relation-based activity and therefore needs the physical contact in order to be fulfilled. The other group argues from a point of view where youth work must adapt in order to become relevant for young people. In many ways the Corona-crisis has expedited a long-suppressed discussion in the youth work sector that we need to approach. Not in order to find a final solution, but in order to come up with the next pathway of Norwegian youth work. As I see it, neither of the groups are completely correct in their approach to the debate.
This question is not only based on the principles we use to describe our work, it is also highly political. The economic and political support for youth work will at some point decide our ability for adaption, competence building and renewal. Without sufficient support, we hold on to what we know to be true and reject conflicting ideas as this will challenge us into a battle which we do not have the strength to win. We need a combination of both approaches in order to improve, develop, and adjust the youth work sector according to the social situation we`re working in and most importantly the need and expectations for youth work among young people.
by Amund Røhr Heggelund (2020)
Amund Røhr Heggelund is responsible for public and international relations in Youth Work Norway.
Title © Matthias Tillen on Unsplash, light sign © Prateek Katyal on Unsplash, youth work © Ungdom og Fritid,