Reaction of the POYWE member NETZ (Sud Tirol)

The reaction of the POYWE member NETZ to connect grass-root level youth work to the results of the RAY Research

“Covid braucht Begleitung” (Covid needs support)

A claim for orientation and a political stand of South Tyrol’s Open Youth Work

The core of Open Youth Work is trusting, stable voluntary relationships between young people and youth workers. This is precisely what is now more necessary than ever – especially in times of this pandemic.

In South Tyrol (Italy), the provincial ordinance of December 7th, 2020 did not take Open Youth Work and its duty towards young people into account. The pedagogical field of work was therefore floating and not able to fulfil its educational mandate. The professional youth workers and voluntaries in more than 50 youth centers saw contact-based and relational work with young people, at risk. Together with the umbrella organization netz I Offene Jugendarbeit, the youth organizations drew attention to this matter with the “Covid needs support” online campaign. As part of the #covidbrauchtbegleitung campaign, youth workers all over South Tyrol in short videos showed that they “cannot” properly fulfill their duty towards young people due to the situation at that time, even if it was precisely at that time, that Open Youth Work could be of great support (the video statements are Italian and German and can be found on our social media accounts Facebook & Instagram).

During the first wave of the pandemic, the numerous youth facilities proved to be versatile and creative: the youth workers quickly relocated their work to digital spaces, in South Tyrol through the #virtOJAl project. Even though digital media enables young people and youth workers to stay in contact, it is difficult to maintain the relationship in the long term and even more to start one. This requires time and space for direct contact in order to also perceive non-verbal information. Furthermore, young people live in different realities and not all young people have access to digital media which makes the principle of Open Youth Work of low threshold offers, difficult to maintain. After the legal regulations were loosened up, some youth workers sought out young people outdoors and in public places until that too fell back into stricter restrictions.

So Open Youth Work decided to take the matter into its own hands by demanding clarity from politics through the provincial regulation. Clarity is needed for planning purposes and sustainable prospects. Stated as a key finding in the “Youth Work and the Corona Pandemic in Europe” study of the RAY-Network the published videos under the Hashtag #covidbrauchtbegleitung show how Open Youth Work cannot properly support young people to navigate the crisis. Youth workers give young people space, time, and continuity and guarantee adolescents the support and relationship they need and are entitled to, for their health, their development, and a conscious lifestyle.

The claims for orientation of the youth workers and Netz I Offene Jugendarbeit were heard and adopted by the regional government in a joint meeting. Translated from the current provincial ordinance: “Places of Open Youth Work can offer support and consultation for young people in special need” (23. Orte der Offenen Jugendarbeit können Jugendlichen mit besonderem Begleitbedarf, Betreuung anbieten.). When the whole region was classified as a red zone and restaurants, bars, and even schools were closed, Open Youth work could keep the youth centers open to offer young people support in their everyday situations and give youth space and attentiveness.

This is the added value that has emerged from this joint action – the online campaign. Young people have a place where they can turn to questions, uncertainties, needs, and concerns, feel heard, participate, and even just have a chat.
Therefore, at least part of the purpose of Open Youth Work can continue to be pursued, even if in a new format.