Poor funding, ignorance sees youth work go ‘from bad to catastrophic’
Youth worker Ádám Nagy is an impressive figure based on appearance alone: tall, broad-shouldered and a determined face. Right at the beginning of our conversation it becomes clear that it is the conviction radiating from Nagy that really distinguishes him. He has just the characteristics that one would wish for in a youth worker.
Ádám Nagy says youth work is primarily about fostering independence.
Nagy has written two standard works on sociology and social pedagogy, he lectures at a university and is director of a research institute as well as a foundation that deals with youth work. “The problem with the youth work of the state is that it simply doesn’t happen,” Nagy says. Contrary to what many people may suppose, he believes youth work is a separate field rather than being included in family or education policy.
More than emergencies
It should not be understood as only involving emergency care: “Of course our task as youth workers is to support young people in difficult situations. That could be a planned coming out of the closet or seeking help for an addiction. But our work is broader than this. The meaningful use of leisure time is at least as important. Youth work is primarily about fostering independence.” Youth work is the third layer of socialisation, after the family and school, Nagy says.
Camps not what they used to be
Youth camps used to be a popular way for young people to spend the summer away from their parents but today they prefer to go to festivals, he notes. “However, the educational value of such festivals tends to be negligible compared to that of a youth camp.”
Nagy refers to a summer camp last summer where the chief organiser was one of the main characters on the reality television show Valóvilág. “Of course it can be presumed that there were a few professionals in the background, but if the main focus of the summer camp is on getting together with somebody who has taken part in such a show, then the pedagogical value is questionable,” he says, not disguising his annoyance. The marketing was great but the professional competence was highly doubtful.
Budget falling between the cracks
According to Nagy, the situation was bad even before but now it is becoming catastrophic. “We are running out of steam. The situation of youth work has kept on worsening in the past 20 years. None of the governments has taken any steps in the right direction.” Each government had a plan to reform youth work but those plans were never realised because of imminent elections, says the social scientist.
In economically better times, the annual budget for youth work was around HUF 2-3 billion (EUR 6.77-10.15 million), Nagy says. “The budget passed now for the coming year provides HUF 530 million (EUR 1.79 million). The core target group is those aged between roughly 11 and 30. With a target group of around 2.5 million people the money is not even sufficient for a hamburger per person per year. It is impossible to finance meaningful work like that.”
A network of youth bureaus would be extremely important, he says. “In such bureaus young people can access help on diverse topics. Help given in such bureaus is always 100 per cent anonymous. That kind of help is described as low-threshold because there are no demands. We help where we can. We don’t ask for names or addresses or anything else from our clients. It’s a mixture of pastoral care and an organisation bureau.”
If it was only financial resources that were lacking, then the problems would be easier to overcome. “What gives us the greatest difficulties is complete ignorance towards our work,” says Nagy. The little that did function in this system has been destroyed, he believes. “All support, including non-financial support for information centres and professional conferences, has been taken away from us.”
What is it?
That is hardly surprising given that according to Nagy there is no strong lobby group for the interests of youth work. “We also have to deal sometimes with officials in important positions who have absolutely no professional knowledge.” He refers to a professional conference at which a government official sought to stifle debate by remarking: “Let’s not talk about socialisation. I don’t like the word.”
“In almost all European countries there are child and youth councils, which send a delegation to the European Youth Forum,” Nagy says. “We cannot participate because there are no such councils.” Children and teenagers are not just missing out on international contact. “The councils are a good opportunity for young people to learn elements of democracy.”
Nagy is evidently deeply committed to youth work. He finds it particularly difficult that many, including MPs, associate it with corruption and misappropriation of funds because of the Zuschlag affair (an infamous Socialist government scheme involving misappropriated funds for youth organisations). “It would be best if the past ten years could be simply wiped out and we could start completely anew.”