With this interview we inaugurate the cycle of publications “Pearls of Youth Work”, a series of video interviews, with related transcripts, carried out within the project DialogIn Youth Work, Erasmus Plus – KA347 – Youth Dialogue Projects. A panel of representatives of the Italian Youth Work world will answer fundamental questions to start a scientific and constructive discussion on the topic.Federica Demicheli is the vice-president of Ninfea, which is an association for the recognition of Youth Work and the professional figure of Youth workers in Italy.
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Giosef Italy: What do you do in the field of Youth Work?
Federica Demicheli : At the moment I’m mainly involved in the development of the national association Ninfea, which is an association for the recognition of Youth Work in Italy. We are also working to create a network of Youth Work organisations in Europe. It’s something that is being born, a newborn, with the aim of working precisely on the recognition, but also on the support and support of small organizations of Youth work. I also deal with training, always in the field of Youth work for operators at national level but especially at European level in the Euromed dimension. And of course I’m a Youth worker, I work with children, especially in non-formal education projects in vocational schools, especially with intersectionality projects, so with migrant children with disabilities.
Giosef Italy: How to apply the international narrative to the local context to facilitate recognition processes?
Federica Demicheli : Youth work at national level in Italy is a bit of a cinderella, it does not exist officially, it is not everywhere. Only in some regions there is a regulation, a recognition that goes from Youth work to socio-cultural and socio-educational animation. So we can say that talking about Youth work at a national level, as we realize more and more also with the work we are doing inside Ninfea, reveals the multiplicity of aspects, the difference of recognition and also sometimes the lack of tools that can support this recognition at a national level. I say this because this fragmentation does not help Youth work, because there are different profiles, recognitions or economic allocations from region to region, and this means that we cannot talk about quality at national level, but rather at regional level. In Europe there have been several reforms in recent years, we have had a series of documents that allow us to have a European framework on Youth work. There have also been some important events like the Youth Work Conventions, which have given guidelines and tools for the National Youth Agencies, but also for the various departments of youth policy, as well as for organisations, talking about a bottom-up activation also for Youth Work. The last convention on youth work hoped, for example, for the creation of communities of practices at national level that can create networks between youth workers and organisations so that youth work is recognised in countries where there is a need, but also where we can talk about quality, sharing, professional growth. In my opinion this is important. If we go back to the final document of the 2015 Youth Workers Convention, there are some interesting elements because it talks about Youth work and its role in the community. We read in the very first pages that Youth work is about creating spaces for young people, but also creating bridges, that is, supporting their personal development but also creating and strengthening their involvement in decision-making processes at national and European level. In my opinion, this is one of the most important points: to emphasise strongly that Youth work is not about managing the free time of young people, it is not just doing summer camps, but it is about youth politics, it is about supporting the personal development of young people in social and political terms, meaning by politics the active participation in their local communities with awareness.I come back to the example of the summer centre, which in my opinion is one of the greatest occasions in which we do Youth work because we are recognised with projects that last three months, where we have the availability to work with many young people. The summer centre is however a place where you can work on awareness and active participation of young people, in my opinion the intentionality that there is in this statement of the Convention, is the intentionality of Youth work, not so much the activities but the method and the necessary approach.
Giosef Italy: How can grassroots youth work influence the European agenda on youth work in terms of recognition?
Federica Demicheli : In order to influence a European agenda, grassroots Youth Work must first of all do a deep internal work of recognition at national level, because Europe offers us a frame, but this European frame must then be strongly and adequately implemented at national level. What I find interesting about grassroots youth work is the competence, acquiring the competences and strategies to work, acquiring clearly the needs and the processes to be present at European level. But this also means creating a coordination between organisations that deal with Youth work at national level, so that these needs become somehow structured, digestible at European policy level. I find this somewhat political level of transformation of thinking, important. As Youth workers, we have to learn to do research, but research that is about us and that talks about us and not about the general public: research that talks about the difficulties and the potential in a professional and scientific way. This is important, in the sense that scientificity lies in creating literature and not being detached from this type of thinking. Therefore, trying to build virtuous links with universities and researchers, in which we are not just the object of research, as is often the case, but we are the protagonists of the research, who always take possession of the tools to do research, and in some way be able to filter information and make it available to institutions. This does not mean distorting youth work, because sometimes this is a bit of a criticism. If a few years ago “I can’t explain to my grandmother what I do” was a joke, according to today, it is no longer a joke, after 20 years, it must be a source of frustration.
If we are not able after 20 years to say what we do is a source of frustration, we have to do a job. And doing a job doesn’t mean losing the political intentionality of our work, it means having it. I think that this work, if someone has had experience of working in the UK and with some British Youth workers, has been done. It’s a process in which many senior Youth workers straddle the line between practice and university in some way, and I don’t see a debasement of one in place of the other at all, but rather an increasing recognition. I think this is important if we are serious about recognition of the professional framework, that is, who we are, and therefore to enter fully into calls for applications, to be recognised by the various municipal bodies. An economic recognition, which is no longer just discretionary, but which is structural and therefore brings us quality. For example, at this time of pandemic, we have seen how some very good colleagues have had to leave their jobs because there is no professional recognition to protect them and they have had to go and look for, as someone said, “a normal job”, a job that could give them the guarantee of being able to support their families. So I think that in this respect Youth work has a lot of information, a lot of experiences, a lot of practices, but they are difficult to embrace. I think it is a work that has to contribute to a wider thought in which, at European level, there is not only the idea of Anglo-Saxon or German Youth Work, where this work has been done. We need more consolidated instances and research so that we can embrace the diversity of the path.