On November 13th, COMANITY project partners organised an EU Round Table on the very timely topic of ‘Skills for the Future of Youth work‘ in Brussels (agenda). It was the project’s final conference. The event was therefore also a celebration of two years of fruitful collaborative work between the nine organisations that composed the partnership. Over 60 participants from across the EU attended and actively contributed to the discussions.
See the photos of the event here
Joe Cullen, COMANITY project coordinator and founder of the COMANITY idea, presented the project results (PPT presentation): a competence framework for youth workers, a training programme and the successful implementation of the pilots in four EU countries (UK, Greece, Spain and Italy). The added value of the ‘community animateur’ in comparison with a youth worker is the capacity to enhance the sense of community belonging in young people and engaging them actively in their community.
The first panel of the Round Table, ‘From Research to Policy’, gathered policy-makers from the European Commission, the EU Council of Europe – Youth partnerships, a Member of the European Parliament, as well as a civil society representative from the European Youth Forum. They agreed that the availability of funding and support to youth workers is very unbalanced between EU countries and generally insufficient. Research, such as the ‘action-research’ performed in COMANITY has long been proved successful and useful, including to inform policy-makers on policy design. It was also said that youth is listened to and taken into consideration by policy-makers at EU level, but to which extent are those suggestions and recommendations adopted and implemented? This needs to be monitored.
In a session called ‘The Voice of Youth‘, 8 youth workers from Greece, UK, Italy and Spain who participated in the COMANITY programme, went on the stage to share their heartwarming experience with the audience. Fields of experiences from the COMANITY programme pilot implementation were very diverse and ranged from young people with at-risk behaviours, others dealing with former drug addictions, mental health issues, or disabilities. See the presentation from Spain (PPT).
In the interactive session called ‘The stakeholders’ perspective‘, participants were invited to split into four groups, each of which tasked to discuss a specific theme on social inclusion of marginalised young people. The four themes discussed were ‘engagement in the community’, ‘community work and young people’, ‘vulnerable groups and social inclusion’ and ‘education’.
Engagement in the community
For marginalised and vulnerable young people to become engaged as volunteers, activists and Animators in their local communities, they need to be given trust, love and respect. The formulation of – and subscription to – ‘Group Values’ is a paramount factor in the success of initiatives like COMANITY. Community Animators – and youth workers in general – need to understand what these group values are before trying to engage with young people. Early intervention is key, even starting from primary education levels. At policy level, the nature of community engagement – and the role of the Community Animateur – means that youth policy cannot be fragmented.
‘A holistic approach to youth work is critical‘
Community work and young people
The second group talked about the tension between a professional development building on education standards and the inherent flexibility of youth work. Indeed, sometimes, training and competence framework can be seen as imposing formalisation. It was suggested that local authorities could be instrumental in supporting initiatives like COMANITY – on the one hand by providing access to the COMANITY training programme for young people with few or no qualifications – and on the other by acting as certification and accreditation bodies to recognise their engagement.
Vulnerable groups and social inclusion
One of the major problems highlighted by this group was that evidence suggests that policy-makers and other key stakeholders in the youth and social inclusion fields are not sufficiently aware of the dynamics that drive marginalisation and social exclusion. The situation of young people – particularly those who are ‘on the margins’ – is complex and challenging. Policy-making tends to be preoccupied with easy-to-categorise ‘target groups’ – like NEETs, young immigrants and educational drop-outs. The reality is that these target groups are blurred – and excluded and marginalised young people are faced with multiple, and mutually-reinforcing issues (like poverty, limited opportunities, health issues). There is therefore a need for policy-making to become more aware of these dynamics, more reflective and more evidence-based.
The key issue highlighted by this group was the ‘meaning’ of education – and a key question posed was ‘what should be the connection between formal and non-formal learning in the youth and community environment. It was argued that there is a pressing need in general to bring down the barriers between ‘society’ and the formalised world of educational systems and practices. A radical idea proposed was to open up formal education and take students out of the school and into civil society. Although active citizenship is to some extent on the formal educational curriculum, most students, it was argued, have no idea of what active citizenship means in practice and what are the key issues and problems that need to be addressed through active citizenship.
Closing words and Reception in Music
Finally, the youth Attaché of the Bulgarian Permanent Representation, Yasen Gyurov, closed the conference by saying encouraging words on the Council conclusions that were just approved by the Permanent Representations of the EU. He recommended that COMANITY results should get into the ears of national policy-makers as they are committed to improving quality and professionalisation of youth work in the EU. COMANITY partners will make sure to follow-up!
Last but not least, members of the Strofi band from Greece, invited by MEP Arvanitis and KETHEA, partner in COMANITY, play rock covers for the participants at the reception.