Spreading the Nordic agenda on involving children and youth
22 Jun 2022
Around 150 people, public authorities, professionals, and care providers from all over Europe signed up for our event in Hamburg in the beginning of June to discuss how to promote well-being of children by emphasizing the right to inclusion and participation. The starting point was lessons learned from the pandemic.
The Nordic Day was a pre-conference event to the 30th European Social Services Conference. Since the Nordic region has a strong tradition of promoting the well-being for children, the interest was high.
– The event was arranged like a “speed date” on how the participation and social inclusion was affected during the crisis. Our aim was to share knowledge and insight to tools and measures for reshaping and becoming better at working in the best interest of children and youth, says Merethe Løberg, senior adviser at Nordic Welfare Centre.
Merethe Løberg leads a four-year Nordic cooperation project that compiles and disseminates knowledge and experiences about the Nordic countries’ COVID-19 measures. The project aims to gather knowledge about how the measures have affected conditions for children and young people to be heard.
– School closures have been considered important measures in curbing the spread of infection. Whether these containment measures have been effective and therefore needed, is now debated heavily. What were the costs? This needs to be investigated in the wake of the pandemic, says Merethe Løberg.
“Platform to have a say”
The perspective of children’s and young people’s rights forms basis for the project. During the event films were shown where young people from the Nordic countries shared their thoughts on what could have been done differently, if they have had a say.
Julia, who is 17 and lives in Stockholm is one of the interviewees. When Julia started upper secondary school, she could only go there for a short period before the school closed, and all tuition was conducted online. In the film she says that she relied a lot on games and online activities to get to know new her classmates. Her takeaway is that school could have given students a platform to have a say and they could have sponsored mobile data to allow for a minimum of social interaction.
Unique examples of extensive youth participation in policy making
The Nordic Committee on Children and Young People (NORDBUK) is an advisory and coordinating body on all issues relating to children and young people in the Nordic Council of Ministers for social and health policy, and for the project.
During the event Annika Lyytikäinen, youth delegate from NORDBUK and Vice President of Nordic Youth Council presented the work of both organisations.
– The Nordic decision making processes are globally unique examples of extensive youth participation in policy making. But even the best can fail! The youth were many times forgotten in the Cross-Nordic policies during the pandemic. As the borders closed, high efforts were put on allowing for work commuting and avoiding double taxation. However, until today we have not seen solutions for students studying or doing internships in other Nordic countries. So, in the most dramatic decisions affecting every youth, they were left out, says Annika Lyytikäinen.
What was her main takeaway for the international audience gathered in Hamburg?
– Think about having a youth representative with a mandate in every party group, committee, and plenary of your national parliament. Nota bene, that is in fact not utopia, that is a normal day in the Nordic Council, says Annika Lyytikäinen.
The BRIDGE – a new way to provide service
The European Social Services Conference is the largest annual forum for public social services professionals in Europe. This year’s theme was how to improve social services and transform them into modern and resilient services that work for all and leave no-one behind.
Hulda Björk Finnsdóttir from Hafnarfjörður, a municipality not far from Reykjavík, shared how professionals within the social care sector and parents of children with mental and behavioral challenges all expressed a need for a clearer division of responsibilities between the various service providers. In this context, the Bridge in Hafnarfjörður was established.
– The roles of the Bridge’s teams are to map out the child’s status and seek cooperative solutions in support of the child and its family. Discussions on education, behavior, development, and the well-being of a child are conducted in teams. And with the parents’ approval the appropriate remedies are activated. The parents and the child, given the age and maturity of the child are always involved in the discussion, explains Hulda Björk Finnsdóttir.
Has this proven to be successful?
– Yes, in many ways the staff members are positive for the change and there have been a lot of purposeful collaboration between divisions and institutions. Reports of concern to the Child protection service has not increased in 2020, due to early intervention, better collaboration and service for children and families, says Hulda Björk Finnsdóttir.
The feeling of belonging and social inclusion
Linus Wellander from the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society shared his experience from the NABO-project. NABO is a pan-Nordic project about the social inclusion of young persons in their respective societies.
– The project focuses on how youths talk about themselves and others in relation to five aspects of social inclusion: experiences of belonging, opportunities to influence, opportunities to participate, access to society’s resources and services and support from family and social networks, says Linus Wellander.
Based on qualitative data collected from focus group interviews, eight reports were published which shed light on how youth describe aspects of social inclusion in the Nordic countries and in Greenland, the Faroe Island and Åland.
– The project revealed that youth that live in rural areas and more vulnerable areas in larger cities often feel excluded and do not feel that they are heard or that they can have an impact on their environment, says Linus Wellander.
The reports also reveals that the most vital issues for youth in the Nordics are work and education, access to public transport, questions mental health, and last but not least: housing. Most of the youth find that it is next to impossible to find a place to live that they can afford.
– This shows that for involving youth, one does not need to find special ”youth topics”. Young people are interested in the very same topics as anyone else. Having said that it is important to keep in mind the youth perspective in all these topics. And that is why it is important that young people are heard and that we are willing to listen, says Linus Wellander.
Ensure that children with migrant background are not left behind
In the second part of the Nordic Day, the focus was on children and youth from foreign backgrounds. Kaisa Kepsu, is senior adviser at Nordic Welfare Centre for a project initiated by the Nordic council of ministers that aim to promote cooperation between the Nordic countries on integration issues.
– The Nordic countries have become increasingly diverse in recent decades. The number and proportion of foreign-born population has reached historically high levels. Naturally, managing the large influx of newcomers is a challenge for the Nordic countries and is high on the political agenda, says Kaisa Kepsu.
Since the welfare systems in the Nordics depend on high levels of employment, they are built on the idea of two incomes i.e., high female participation in the labour market. This is one reason why preschool is so important – to allow mothers to work.
– Immigrant children have lower rates of participation in preschool than their native counterparts. Preschool is often the most important arena for inclusion, both for children and families and is often the first encounter with the new society and the new language, says Kaisa Kepsu.
In a Nordic report, different strategies for inclusion of the families, the parents, and the child such as early introduction to open access ECEC- and family programs, are presented. Attending preschool has also proven to be critical when it comes to educational performance.
– Boys in particular benefit from language training in preschool and different measures have been taken to increase participation for all young children in preschools. Attempts to make preschool mandatory from an early age, removal of child-care allowances, are two examples, says Kaisa Kepsu.
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