Many ways to hear and involve young people in Finland
7 Jun 2022
In Finland, government agencies and organisations are working in many ways to hear and involve young people in decisions. The expert group in the project entitled Nordic Cooperation on Children and Young People’s Opportunities for Participation and Development During the Covid-19 Pandemic learned about this during a study visit to Helsinki, organised by the Nordic Welfare Centre and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
Elina Pekkarinen, the Ombudsman for Children in Finland, talked about the work on the rights of children in Finland and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in Finland, where it is evident that mental illness is on the increase among young people and that there has been a limited understanding of what is in the best interests of children during the Covid-19 pandemic. The experts also acquired knowledge of the Social Inclusion Scale (ESIS) from Lars Leeman, researcher at THL, who looked at what it is that makes children and young people feel involved in a society. ESIS measures children’s and young people’s experiences of exclusion and inclusion. The goal is to define more clearly and delimit what social inclusion is and to identify social and objective criteria that can be put into practice.
Both card games and volunteer activities are being used in Finland to involve young people more and to pick up their knowledge and opinions on matters.
A new card game, Topaasia, is being tested in Finland to create dialogue with the young people in work to follow up on Finland’s National Child Strategy. The aim is to acquire experience-based knowledge from children and young people.
– The important thing is that we find out about people’s opinions and experiences, and that they themselves also get feedback on what they contribute, says Katja Sankalahti, Development Manager at THL in Finland.
Topaasia, which means the most significant thing, is a card game developed by THL in Finland together with the games company with the same name as the card game. The purpose of the game is to create a model for dialogue in which young people in Finland can recount their experiences of receiving help and support when they need it, what they consider to be preventive and what promotes young people.
Young people in Finland in school years 7 to 9 and several municipalities and organisations have expressed an interest in testing the tool and participating in the workshops that will be arranged to test the card game.
– The card game provides an area for dialogue, as well as an opportunity to listen to groups of young people who may not have been heard as much before, says Katja Sankalahti.
When the card game is played, everything is recorded as their suggestions. The card game can be used in several contexts where young people are present, such as in school, at an association, in volunteer contexts and other decision-making contexts. The young people’s opinions are then processed, and the idea is that they should receive feedback fairly quickly, even if what they suggested cannot be implemented.
– It’s important to collate the information so that feedback can be given quickly. During the initial period, we’ll be analysing whether the card game works to create dialogue and a platform for young people to be able to express their opinions and thoughts, says Katja Sankalahti.
A mentoring programme that follows children
Based in Finland is the non-profit association Icehearts, where children who need it are provided with a mentor, who follows them for twelve years, both at school and in their leisure time.
– Our goal is for young people to feel seen and for them to build a sense of belonging, say Miika and Nelli Niemelä, who both work as mentors.
Icehearts was founded in 1996, with the aim of supporting children and involving them in physical activities to provide a basic context. Icehearts now has a presence in 14 towns and cities throughout Finland, with 64 mentors looking after around 900 children.
The association is already involved when children start school at the age of six, working together with teachers, social workers and parents to identify which children need support. A mentor is then brought in. The mentor follows the child where it is needed, which can be at school, in their leisure time or if there is a need to support parents with government agencies. The fact that the mentor has the full picture concerning the child makes it all much easier.
– Icehearts really is a dream come true, and we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved. We also win the child’s trust in the long term, and can often help the whole family. I’m a friend, while at the same time I have a certain authority, says Miika Niemelä.
But being on hand for children in difficult situations is demanding, and the mentors themselves get support when they need it and can also turn to each other for help.
– Winning a child’s trust is absolutely the best thing about this job. One of my children phoned me recently when they were in a tricky situation, where I was able to help, and that’s the real reward, says Nelli Niemelä.
Icehearts is now formulating plans to find a way of exporting this idea that has become so successful to other Nordic countries, and both Sweden and Norway have been in contact.
– We’ll have to see what the future brings and whether the model can be exported onward, says Miika Niemelä.
The experts also visited several meeting places for children and young people. They visited the city library Oodi, NUVA ry, the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland and learned about the Youth League of the Finnish Norden Association and the Nordic Youth Council through Secretary-General Lena Höglund.
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