Connecting youth with society: sharing innovative approaches to youth inclusion Antwerp 8 and 9 december 2011 Brief summary Kris De Visscher, Demos vzw The connection of young people to society touches upon the very heart of every community because its future depends on the mutual recognition and solidarity between generations. In the media nowadays, it’s fashionable to state that is the responsibility of the young people themselves to achieve recognition as a full member of society. Youngsters who fail to get this recognition are labelled as ‘troublemakers’ rather than as victims of a system that marginalizes them and frustrates their sense of self-‐worth. To break this cycle of stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion, a diverse group of marginalised youth needs to be engaged and supported to express their views in their own way. Having a voice is the first step to feeling included and listened to. But it’s not only young people who need to be encouraged to take up dialogue. Local and national government, youth workers and other stakeholders who deal with youth often show their goodwill but need to adapt and learn new skills and take the necessary measures in order to interact constructively with the diverse community of young people. If the inclusion of young people is to be meaningful, it cannot just be the young people who attempt to build bridges. Those who are responsible for representing their interests, protecting them and serving them, also need to be engaged if discrimination and social exclusion are to be tackled. During this conference we explored the concept of ‘meaningful youth inclusion’ in relation to building bridges between marginalised youth and authorities. We considered this issue from a diverse range of perspectives and listened to different stakeholders in this process. Together we exchanged innovative approaches to youth inclusion. We started with several keynotes and debates. Keynote speaker Bruno Vanobbergen reminded us how the UN declaration for the Rights of the Child can serve as a valuable framework. Filip Coussée invited us to remain critical about the methods we use to avoid the silent reproduction of an unfair and injust society towards young people and certainly to those who find themselves marginalised and criminalized. This became very clear when we learned how police policy isn’t only a trigger but also an underlying cause of discrimination-‐related violence. Especially the humiliating -‐ and actually very inefficient -‐ start and stop searches hurt young people and make them angry.
Yet, the experience in Gouda points out that once you get police and youngsters together in a well coached conversation, it’s seemingly easy to make them discuss the tensions that arise in the use of public space. Is remarkable to see how relieved and proud both groups are once they have crossed that bridge. Everybody wants a good policeforce, so do young people. This stresses the importance of bringing young people and adults together and creating dialogue. We learned that the we should involve young people in every action we take. Most of all, the conference offered lots of workshops with positive, hands-‐on methods and techniques. From games, roleplays, peer education, flash mobs, debate, film, photography, theater, music,… to just a good old fashioned honest and open talk. These methods are used to bring out the voice and the capacities of young people and to bridge the gap between vulnerable youth and their neighbourhood, the school and the authorities. In her final conclusions, Isabel Deviendt of the Flemish Youth Council strongly recommends a bottom-‐up approach. Start at the local level from the dreams and interests of young people themselves. Recognize that young people have the necessary competence and skills to form and express their opinion. Acknowledge that young people participate in different ways and use different communication channels such as music, theatre, dance, etc. Don’t regard adults and young people as enemies. Adults are able to create good conditions for young people to express their point of view. In return, they can learn from the perspective of youngsters. Young people have their own point of view because they are young, adults should respect that. If we do so, young people will feel needed and see themselves as actors for positive social change. Of course, not every youngster has to be a forerunner and certainly not on every issue. Especially schools and youth work initiatives can function as a micro-‐society where young people can gain positive experience in participation. And last but not least, police and young people sitting together, guided by some good coaching, works far better than other more repressive measures. Even though the conclusions didn’t come as a quite a shock, it’s putting these principles into practice that is the biggest chalenge for all of us. It’s up to us to consequently involve young people in every action we take, to adjust our language, to create optimal conditions for participation and to take young people serious in our day to day practice. Certainly young people who had negative encounters with society and its institutions in the past, won’t believe us straight away. For everyone who genuinely wants to make a connection with every young person, this conference offered lots of inspiration. Use it. Kris De Visscher Dēmos vzw email@example.com t. +32 (0)2 204 07 00Sainctelettesquare 19 - 1000 Brussel www.demos.be f. +32 (0)2 204 07 09