Relational Welfare in Education and Employment Initiatives for Vulnerable Youth in Esbjerg
In Esbjerg Municipality, small and medium-sized businesses are facing a shortage of qualified labor. Simultaneously, a group of young people in the municipality is on the edge concerning jobs and education. Esbjerg Municipality, The Social Capital Fund, SUS, and Lauritzen Foundation have joined forces for a targeted development program – ‘Energi til Hinanden’ (‘Energy for Each Other’).
‘Energi til Hinanden’ is a development program involving three key players: Local youth aged 16-27 affected by vulnerability, local businesses, and Esbjerg Job Center. The overarching idea is to upgrade and prepare both the youth and the businesses. The sooner the match between the business and the youth occurs in the development process, the higher the success rate.
SUS participates with the aim of contributing to the development of a new approach in youth initiatives at ‘Vindmøllen’. An approach that combines a targeted education and employment-focused effort with the mindset and guiding principles of relational welfare. SUS provides training and guidance to ‘Vindmøllen’ staff, assistance in concept development, and contributes to the ongoing data collection and evaluation of the initiative.
Relationships are the key to change
Imagine being young, not in employment or education, perhaps not entirely sure about what you want to do in the coming years or what education you might be interested in pursuing. It might be challenging to figure out where you stand in life right now. Maybe it’s also difficult to find someone to talk to and get support from.
This is the situation for many young people in Denmark who struggle to find their way after completing basic education. In Esbjerg, there has over the last three years, been an attempt to do something entirely new to address the challenges faced by young people. A completely new approach to help those aged 16–27 in Esbjerg Center and East, who are in socially vulnerable positions.
New Spaces for Change
This particular group of young people is unique. Despite Esbjerg having an ambitious youth initiative, it has not suited these young individuals, as experiences from the municipality and job center show. The offers typically provided by the job center did not benefit this group of young people, and they had lost trust that the system could help them. So, what was needed to support them?
That was the question when a unique partnership between the municipality, local businesses, Lauritzen Foundation, The Social Capital Fund, and SUS came together to create an experiment. An experiment in the literal sense: Could a space for change be created by establishing an entirely new physical space? And, at the same time, a completely new mental space where the approach to the youth was not the traditional municipal one but focused on the youths’ relationships, resources, and self-motivation?
The idea was to take 200 of these young people out of the job center’s regular offerings and instead invite them into a specially designed environment with more freedom, different architecture, and additional resources.
Focus on Life Skills
The idea became a reality. ‘Vindmøllen’, as the place is now called, resides in a newly renovated cultural and community house which, in addition to ‘Vindmøllen’, also provides inviting spaces for entrepreneurial activities, a music studio, community activities, an open kitchen, events, etc. The place is located in the youths’ local area and radiates normalcy and community – due to its design and the many initiatives and activities in the house, it doesn’t resemble anything ‘municipal.’
And just as important: to meet the young people with a new approach. No more focusing on traditional interventions. Instead, strengthening life skills by working based on the principles of relational welfare. This means being comprehensive, community-based, involving, and hands-on.
At SUS, we believe that relationships are the key to change – and that relational welfare is the answer to many of the systemic challenges we see in the social sector. The connection between a targeted education and employment-focused effort and the principles of relational welfare, as seen in ‘Vindmøllen’, is powerful. That’s why we were involved in designing the idea, developing it, and educating staff on what relational welfare really is.
And what do the young people think about an initiative like the Windmill House? Has it made a difference? We have investigated, and the young people have their say – here’s what they believe has mattered:
- Security in being in a place with good energy – with adults and young people who are open and curious.
It has made a difference that we feel safe with the staff and other young people at ‘Vindmøllen’ who are open and welcoming. The adults have treated us differently than we are used to: with acceptance and understanding. The inviting physical environment at ‘Vindmøllen’ has also contributed to creating a sense of security.
- Relationship with and assistance from a youth advisor.
Having a consistent youth advisor who could support us, follow up on agreements, and support our ideas has had a positive impact. Depending on our needs, we have received help with various things, such as managing finances or dealing with contact with case managers, psychiatrists, doctors, etc.
- Concurrent substance abuse and psychiatric treatment with ‘Vindmøllen’.
It has helped those of us who needed it to start substance abuse treatment and/or receive psychiatric treatment, including medical treatment. ‘Vindmøllen’ staff have assisted us along the way, including addressing how the treatment affected our participation at ‘Vindmøllen’ and the job-related activities we engaged in.
- Changes at our own pace – without coercion and sanctions.
It has been essential that changes have occurred at our own pace – without the staff pressuring us too much. We have been met with understanding and without condemnation or mistrust. The staff has been patient enough for us to find peace, work on ourselves, and take small steps at a time. We are not used to this approach.
- We are responsible for and involved in planning.
We are involved in deciding which activities we want to participate in and planning our own process. This means that we now take more responsibility for our own lives and actively strive for the changes we want – both independently and with professional help inside and outside the ‘Vindmøllen’.
‘Energi til Hinanden’ Wins the Crown Prince Couple's Social Stardust Prize
‘Energi til Hinanden’ received the 2023 prize for addressing the needs and wishes of young people and employing new methods in guiding them toward jobs and education. Thus, the initiative demonstrates an inspiring approach to one of society’s significant challenges.
By working in an entirely new way with young people in vulnerable positions, Esbjerg Municipality has, in a few years, succeeded in getting many more young people into jobs or education than expected. The radically new approach is to start with each young person’s desires and resources – and work patiently and comprehensively to strengthen the young people’s relationships and life skills. It might seem like a detour to the labor market, but the results show that for many of these young people, it is a shortcut to being self-sufficient.
“We are very pleased that the significant work at ‘Vindmøllen’ is now being recognized with the Crown Prince Couple’s Stardust Prize,” says Mathias Bruhn Lohmann, development manager at SUS.
“The initiative shows the way to a new and more vibrant, youth-driven, and comprehensive effort for young people in our society who need extra support and a good youth community to develop in. And I would like to express my gratitude for a strong and trusting collaboration with The Social Capital Fund, Lauritzen Foundation, and Esbjerg Municipality’s job center, who have truly shown courage and determination to make this succeed.”
The Crown Prince Couple’s Prizes were established by the Bikuben Foundation in 2004 as a wedding gift to the Crown Prince Couple. The purpose is to highlight and recognize Danish, Greenlandic, and Faroese culture and social work.
The prizes are honorary awards and cannot be applied for. The award recipients are appointed by the Crown Prince Couple based on recommendations from two advisory committees with expertise in art and culture and social work.