State of Play of the European Youth Work Agenda & Bonn Process in Flanders (Belgium)

What is the state of play of the national Bonn Process in Flanders? An introduction to the youth work field in Flanders by Rilke Mahieu (JINT), Lisa Franken (De Ambrassade) and Timmy Boutsen (De Ambrassade).

A first point to be explained as regards our regional scope: why do we only address Flanders, the northern part in the country, and not Belgium in its entirety?

To answer this question briefly: in the federal state of Belgium, youth and youth work issues are under the authority of the language communities. Hence, youth and youth work policies are developed independently in the three language communities (Flemish, French- and German-speaking).

While in the capital region of Brussels the French- and Flemish-speaking communities intersect, in most parts of the country the youth work fields of practice have developed rather separately and differently along the boundaries of the language communities.

Active youth work community with a large outreach

Even though Flanders has a population of only around 6.6 million, it boasts a lively, active, well-developed youth work scene. It is estimated that around one million out of a total population of 2.6 million young people participate in youth work.

Flanders has a a lively, active, well-developed youth work scene. It is estimated that around one million out of a total population of 2.6 million young people participate in youth work.

There is broad consensus that the beating heart of the youth work community in Flanders consists of young volunteers and volunteer-driven youth initiatives, many of which have historical roots. It has been estimated that around 78 000 volunteers are involved in the youth field (2019 data for all of Belgium). Beside volunteers, there is also a smaller group of paid youth workers.

Youth work in Flanders has access to recognition and public funding at the local and national level. For instance, over 100 youth work associations receive structural funding from the national level (in accordance with a Youth Work Decree). At the municipal level, an estimated 6 000 local youth work initiatives are recognised and receive some level of support, however the autonomy of local governments means there is a wide variety in the nature of this support.

Beside more direct financial support for youth work, there are also five so-called “superstructure institutions” for the youth work field. These are specialised resource centres that fostering capacity- and knowledge-building in the youth work field, including a national youth work support centre (De Ambrassade), a international youth work support centre (JINT, also a National Agency for the European youth programmes), a support centre for local youth policy (Bataljong), a knowledge centre on children’s rights (Keki) and a children’s rights watchdog (Kinderrechtencoalitie).

Overall, the Flemish youth work community of practice is characterised by diversity in terms of target groups, youth work approaches, organisational structures, etc. Despite this variety, there is a shared vision and DNA that is expressed via the hashtag #youthworkworks.

An English leaflet about the DNA, mission and challenges of youth work in Flanders can be found here:

The Bonn Process in Flanders

From process to picture

The Bonn Process in Flanders started with the participation of our delegation in the 3rd European Youth Work Convention, which, after two previous editions in Belgium, took place (online) in Bonn in December 2020. In fact it even started before that with the preparation process that is described here:

Rilke Mathieu
For me, the Bonn Process is an opportunity to enrich youth work development processes in my country, by bringing in european perspectives. 
Rilke Mahieu, Belgium-Flanders JINT - National Agency Erasmus+ Youth and European Solidarity Corps

The core message of the Convention was a call to action: to take the Bonn Process in our own hands and implement it in our specific context. The main question for us, the national coordinators in Flanders, was this: considering the dynamic and well-developed youth work field that exists in Flanders, how can we turn this European Youth Work Agenda and the related processes into an added value? How can we connect it with and let it feed into ongoing youth work development processes in our national context?

To answer this question, we decided to take a step back and turn the EYWA, in particular the Final Declaration of the 3rd Convention, into an mapping and reflection instrument: a lens through which to create a clear, comprehensive picture of the state of youth work development in Flanders.

“Scan” of national youth work development

The central activity in our national Bonn Process so far has been a mapping exercise, which we performed together with a number of youth work experts and practitioners for each of the eight thematic pillars of the European Youth Work Agenda (youth work activities, quality, cooperation, innovation, etc.). We wanted to answer the following questions: What initiatives keep our youth work strong today, and what new, sector-wide initiatives are taken to further strengthen/develop/let youth work grow so it can become future-proof?

This exercise was mainly done by De Ambrassade and JINT, supported by the Reflection Group on International and European Youth & Children’s Rights Policies, which is an communication platform for governmental and non-governmental youth field actors involved in international/European affairs (Youth Department, National Agency, National Support Centre, Youth Council, and others).

The result is a 40+-page “scan” of youth work development in Flanders. This snapshot confirms the dynamic nature of youth work in Flanders and its strengths, but also highlights some weak or even blind spots in terms of youth work development. While it is by no means a 100% complete overview, it provides a sound basis for further future-oriented dialogue in the youth work community in Flanders.

For instance, the document is one of the guiding documents of the upcoming National Youth Work Congress 2023 and feeds into an analysis by a preparatory working group that is drawing up an overview of the main challenges for youth work today. To be continued!

Rilke Mahieu (JINT), Lisa Franken (De Ambrassade) and Timmy Boutsen (De Ambrassade)