Working With Youth At Risk Of Social Exclusion
Young people who are at risk of social exclusion as a consequence (among other things) of a poor experience of schooling, has been a central concern across Europe and the developed world. Such young men and women frequently find themselves no longer in education usually as a result of reaching the school leaving age or dropping out beforehand or through exclusion. Moreover, it is difficult for them to find or sustain appropriate post-school college placements, training courses or even work, hence the tendency to refer to them as Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET). Grouping large numbers of young people in this fashion is suggestive of homogeneity and stereotyping. Open the Doors prefers to think that the choices and chances experienced by the young people with whom we work were inadequate or inappropriate for their advancement in society. Consequently, in our various roles of supporting them, we are driven to offer them more choices and chances to complement and enhance the talents, skills and abilities they already possess.
The signatories to the Timisoara Declaration (Education organisations) argued that currently, education and schooling are unattractive to young people and that this is contributing to disaffection and drop-out. In turn, young people are finding it increasingly difficult to enter the labour market, resulting in increasing social exclusion. Open the Doors aimed to engage with disadvantaged young people in ways that they find relevant, meaningful and inspiring in order to eradicate the ‘inevitability of social exclusion’.
Give responsibility to the young people
Success in each of the missions entailed nurturing autonomy in the young people and creating the opportunities for them to exercise it. This can take the form of the group accepting responsibility for a mission in their own right (See Annex A1) or in conjunction with other members of the community (See Annex A2 & Annex A4) or, indeed as individuals (See Annex A5). Giving young people responsibility and opportunities, offers them experiences that will challenge negative perceptions of themselves through the generation of a different identity related to ability and capability.
Seek support from others
In the introduction to this section, we indicated that although different, the partner organisations are not unique. Neither are they alone, and neither are the young people with whom they work. Work with young people benefited from the support of local groups (See Annex A2) and influential individuals within the community (See Annex A1). In other cases, seeking support also included linking with the European second chance schools network E2C (See Annex A5). Indeed, ‘support’ was a feature of the overall Open the Doors experience as the partners learned from each other. Learning with and through others not only increases the adults’ repertoire of skills and strategies, but also enhances feelings of belonging to a wider support community. The resultant feeling of belonging and contributing, transfer from adult to young person (see next learning point).
First work with adults
In each of the missions, there was considerable shift in the mindset of the adults. In some this was something that developed over the course of Open the Doors (See Annex A1 & Annex A2) whilst in others, it was a prerequisite to working with the young people (See Annex A5 & Annex A4). Working with the adults in reconceptualising their perceptions of young people and their roles and relationships in working with them is essential preparation for working with missions that take both adults and young people into unfamiliar territory. The better prepared are the adults, the richer the experience will be for the young people.
To summarise, successful engagement with young people at risk of social exclusion entailed the following features:
- A change in how the school operates, including moving out of the school
- Ideas were generated by the young people
- The young people took responsibility for and ran the missions
- A different mindset emerged in teachers
- A different mindset emerged from youngsters.
- Commonalities were autonomy, opportunity, choice, responsibility, support