The mission of the Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI) is to create human dignity for everyone. Concrete measures towards this goal are implemented through HDI’s Vamos youth service that reduces the social exclusion of 12–29 year-olds by helping them towards school and employment. Vamos has grown over the course of a decade from a pilot project into a community of almost 100 youth workers.
Some 60,000 young people have dropped out of school and working life. Often the reason is that they lack the ability, knowledge or skills to manage school, college or working life. The everyday routines of a young person might be disrupted by a challenging life situation, and without outside help a young person may then be unable to pick up the reins again.
To help young people in this situation, the Helsinki Deaconess Institute established the free Vamos service. Started in 2008 as a small-scale youth work activity, within ten years the service grew into an operation with almost one-hundred workers in eight localities.
The first step in locating young people in need of help was the detective youth work project in Helsinki, which at the time employed a handful of workers. The project sought to identify vulnerable young people who were often excluded from other services.
“The core idea of Vamos is meeting a young person and working to meet the needs of that person. In the early years, we also thought about what else could and would support young people. As a result, we phased in activities to assist a young person in managing life and in coping from day to day. That’s how Vamos support and guidance coaching for individuals and groups developed,” explains Terhi Laine, HDI’s Director, Vamos Services.
A personal coach to help with the everyday
Young people at Vamos are allocated their own individual youth workers, or coaches, who have the time to get to know them and their needs. The coach and the young person can, for instance, together fill in social welfare application forms or attend previously unused but necessary psychiatric services.
“The things done together can be routines or everyday activities, such as taking the rubbish out, opening letters containing bills, paying the bills, food shopping or getting other stuff needed in the home,” says Laine.
Many young people in the programme have psychosocial challenges or difficulties managing everyday problems. Gradually a young person can transfer to a Vamos group activity that sets a rhythm for everyday living. Vamos also offers an opportunity to complete comprehensive school, if attendance was interrupted for some reason. In addition, Vamos provides career guidance to assist in applying for work and acquiring work experience.
“A young person will use Vamos services on average for eight months. Some are only involved for three months, but others will need support for a number of years. Over 50 per cent of Vamos participants go on to school or working life. Many leavers also attach themselves to other care providers.”
Work for young people has long-lasting results
Systematic measurement of the social impact of Vamos services was started in 2015. Results have proven to be better than expected.
“Our work is target-oriented, with a goal of young people becoming independent. We measure its impact on society and we also calculate the social benefits,” explains Laine.
Statistically, around one-half of Vamos participants progress to a work or study path during the programme. It is estimated that one young person rehabilitated into working life produces savings of about one million euros over his or her 40-year working career.
“We meet over 2,000 young people aged 16–29 from all over Finland every year. Over 80 per cent of young people who have been through Vamos felt their life has changed for the better. In the coaching we offer, young people can develop self-confidence and build their trust in society.”
Trust and hope prevent mental problems
Positive changes in trust and hope as well as in identity and self-confidence correlate with changes in other aspects of life, in particular mental health. A change for the better is important because there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of mental health problems in young people in recent years: no fewer than one on five 21-year-olds have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.
“The work we do in Vamos is of great social consequence because recent studies show a rise in cross-generational exclusion and in the impact family background has on a young person’s life. Despite the economic upswing, some young people are unemployed.”
It is also obvious that Finland’s economy cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of young people dropping out of education and employment. A uniquely important latent workforce lies in young people who are stumbling on their career path.
Vamos supports youth to education and employment
The goal for Vamos is that young people who are not in education or employment find their place in society and are assimilated into school, training or a job. The primary goal is to prevent a single Finnish youth from being socially excluded. The programme aims to transform NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) youths into YEET (Yes in Education, Employment or Training) youths.
A young person emboldened through Vamos may still be poorly educated or trained, or may lack work experience. He or she still possesses hidden potential, though, to grow into a sturdy professional if given the chance to show his or her talents.
“Youths leaving Vamos are motivated and willing to show what they are capable of. A young person can also be employed on a trial basis. Vamos coaches can be invited to a company to explain how employing a young person can be facilitated.”
It is also worth asking a youth seeking employment what he or she wants and expects from the job. Sometimes a soft landing, such as working part-time, is a wise course to follow.
“We’re very happy to collaborate with companies. Feel free to come and tell us about your own profession or business. Another programme we run is the Amigo mentor service. Amigo mentors are trained adult volunteers, who meet with and support their young mentees over the course of a year,” adds Laine.
What it is: A voluntary and free-of-charge service for 12-29 year-olds that is offered by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. The service offers young people guidance and advice, support towards employment, career guidance, ’detective’ youth work, individual coaching for 12-15 year-olds, and employment rehabilitation.
Established: In 2008 in Helsinki as the detective youth work project.
Employees: Employs 90 people. In addition, the network has adult volunteers.
Operations: Services are arranged nationwide in Finland. Operational centres are located in Helsinki, Espoo, Lahti, Turku, Kuopio, Oulu, Rovaniemi and Vantaa. Activities are financed through project subsidies and donations.
Mission: To reduce the exclusion of 12-29 year-old Finns, and to support and guide them to education and employment.
Who: Vamos Service Area Director since September 2018. Supervises Vamos activities and is responsible for their development nationwide.
Where: Alppikatu, Helsinki.
Education: Doctor of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.
Earlier work experience: Diaconia University of Applied Sciences: development director, research manager, senior teacher and lecturer. Lecturer at the University of Helsinki.
Also known for: Wrote her doctoral dissertation on expertise and practices in shelter homes. Broad experience of social development work.