Many different parties cooperate on youth work on the streets of Helsinki.

Youth work is cooperation that creates long-term safety

Alongside traditional youth work, there are now new approaches, which have been structured to better meet the needs of young people and connect with them openly on their territory. When young people manage to establish a safe connection with an adult, it creates safety for them and the entire city.

Street youth work has been implemented in Finland since the 1960s, but the outreach youth work model came to the country from Norway 15 years ago.

"One of our ways of operating is to be present where young people spend time and aim to actively find individuals in danger of social exclusion. We support them if they need it and are willing to receive help," tells Timo Kontio, the executive director of Outreach Youth Work.

Timo Kontio, the executive director of Outreach Youth Work.
Timo Kontio, the executive director of Outreach Youth Work, emphasises how important the presence of safe adults for young people is.

"Our aim is to be there for young people and discuss things that the individual considers important. When we succeed in that, we know we have been in the right place.”

According to Kontio, issues that currently worry young people, in addition to school and free-time related questions, are loneliness, anxiety, homelessness and mild mental health problems. Just seeing outreach youth work in urban spaces increases the feeling of safety among the youth and can help break problems before they escalate.

“When we are visibly and publicly out there on the streets, a young person may think that since I recognise that adult, I can go and talk to them about my problems. This is the kind of trust we aim to gain," Kontio explains.

Presence of safe adults is important

Cooperation with the other parties carrying out youth work, such as the police and the social services, brings the best results for outreach youth work as well. It provides a way to find missing young people, steer those lost on the right track and find the necessary help and support for them. In the city as well, at the centre of events, the cooperation of all parties is important. For instance, when the police break a mass gathering of young people, outreach youth work is there to defuse the situation by talking to the youngsters straight after the events.

Meeting safe adults on young people’s own turf creates safety for the youths but also for the other residents of the city.
“We solve problems with young people, so they would not have to face their issues alone. In some ways, we turn the atmosphere a bit duller, creating a culture in which extreme situations are rarer," Kontio says.

According to Kontio, today's youth culture is fragmented, and that has increased diversity and acceptance.
"Young people from different backgrounds are used to spending time together and get along. In that, young people are ahead of adults. They are open-minded and look after one another. If we want to improve the conditions for young people, we need to allocate more spaces for them. That is what they need."

Creating trust in that things will work out

Ohjaamo, located in Kamppi

When young people need support in becoming independent and finding their own way, help is easily available in Ohjaamo. Ohjaamo, located in Kamppi, Helsinki, offers guidance in matters concerning education, employment and day-to-day life for young people under the age of 30. Visitors to Ohjaamo can remain anonymous, and the idea is to provide a service with a low threshold for requesting help. Advice is always available without an appointment.

"Not all young people have a safety net that would support them in independent life, so there is a real need for this service. Of course, some youngsters stop by having been urged by their parents. The most important thing is that after the visit, they feel pleased that they came. Young people must be able to trust that things will be sorted out," Paula Salmi explains the objectives of Ohjaamo.

There are experts from different sectors present, and at best, young people can work out many issues on just one visit.

"As an example, we once had a young English-speaking individual walk in who wanted to book an appointment with a social worker and attend high school. The person who received the visitor discussed his situation, and an appointment with a social worker was quickly arranged. When the young person talked about his dreams about becoming a civil engineer and they looked over his certificates, it turned out he had already studied quite a lot. As our special needs teacher chatted with him, it became evident that he also spoke quite a bit of Finnish as well. He had initially just been shy in the new situation. In the end, we managed to sort out his things, and he could apply directly to a vocational school. In just one hour, the young person was helped by an employment expert, a special needs teacher and an advisor, and we managed to also get in touch with the social services. This is how well things go here at their best," Salmi tells about their successes.

Paula Salmi, the development coordinator at Ohjaamo.
Paula Salmi, the development coordinator at Ohjaamo meets with young people to discuss questions about their future.

Young people want to succeed

Ohjaamo's work is based on tight cooperation between many different operators, and it provides, for example, debt counselling, youth services, housing services and social services. It employs approximately 30 people. Finding experts from various different fields under one roof allows young people to process matters at a faster pace and instils confidence in that the future will not bring new major hurdles.

"Sometimes bureaucracy can feel an insurmountable obstacle for young people, because no matter what they try to do to succeed, a wall may come up in surprising places. For example, if a young person manages to find their first job on a zero-hours contract, the financial consequences may be exorbitant. Young people's situations change quickly, and the system does not take that into consideration. Suddenly you may be treading water, although just a moment a go everything seemed to finally be under control," Salmi describes the situations young people face.

Ohjaamo also provides a place for various groups to meet, such as entrance exam gatherings and a group led by a psychologist which supports those suffering from social anxiety. According to Salmi, the voluntary nature of the activities promotes success.

"Coming to us is always voluntary, and that is why people are on a good mood and pleased to be here to sort out their issues. Young people are determined. Even after several setbacks, failing to get in to study a dream subject or when red tape has stopped them on their tracks, young people have a huge will to succeed. It is a joy to witness.”

The article is part of the Nordic Safe Cities alliance's Safe City Tour. Nordic Safe Cities (NSC), established by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2016, is a non-profit network focusing on safety in the Nordic countries. The NSC activities aim to have a positive impact on safety in cities and to stand against polarisation and violent extremism. Helsinki has participated in the network's activities from the start.

Text: Vilja Roihu / Stooritaivas Oy
Images: Aki Rahikka / Stooritaivas Oy