Other common terms for this field are street social work / streetwork. A key feature of this work is that the social workers visit young people in public places and are virtually guests in squares, park benches, bus stops, but also in self-managed areas where youth cliques hang out. Outreach youth work is oriented on the living environment and social space and combines group work with caseworker and community work. The work involves the voluntary participation of young people and, at first, especially with low-threshold services; however, the working relationship is intense. The work attempts to compensate for the lack of offers in each social area according to need, to moderate existing conflict situations and to give individual adolescents support in special life circumstances. Gender roles and gender-related forms of interaction are visible in the social field and can be directly seen by the colleagues locally. Therefore, later talks in confidence can much better return in close detail to the specific gender-related dynamics of the clique and reflect on these in a realistic way.
Outreach youth work has the possibility to directly address actual youth groups in public spaces – especially those groups which attract attention by making statements of group-focussed hate and have right-wing extremist or Islamist implications. This work has many requirements and must be approached very sensitively and can be effective only under certain conditions. This includes employing experienced professionals who work in at least two-person teams; financing for staff should be ensured long term. In addition to the direct work with young people, it is also necessary to have sufficient time available for reflection and follow-up. Without supervision, case consultation and financial resources – which make it possible to introduce targeted interventions and possibly gender-focussed offers – it will hardly be possible to make an impact.
Very good opportunities for intervention exist primarily among younger adolescents (13 to 16). With this group, the continuous support of social workers, who always offer themselves as alternative role models, can achieve a lot, especially when the youth are otherwise exposed to a very difficult family and social area environment.
An example process and steps for outreach work with young women and men vulnerable to right-wing extremism of Islamism will be described below.
1. Starting the work
The team of social workers is mostly summoned by housing associations, the youth welfare office, the police or schools. This occurs when a group of adolescents who loiter at specific locations such as courtyards, park benches and playgrounds, and are repeatedly perceived in the surroundings as conspicuous or possibly even threatening.
The work begins with an analysis of the social space, the one who made the call and the group itself. This is done initially on the basis of outside information. Institutions which work in a larger social space can work with different teams and focus on various aspects. If a youth group is observed in which extreme right-wing orientations (could) play a role, then the team uses its relevant experience and makes initial contact.
2. Initial contact
The social workers approach the group, introduce themselves, start the conversation and try to establish a feeling of trust with the young people. “We’re social workers.” “We are there for young people in the neighbourhood.” “You can trust us.” “We can think together if there is anything you would like to do here or how we can help you.” If there has ever been a history of conflict in the neighbourhood, then it will soon be mentioned that “there is always stress here all the time” and what is this all about. Access to young people is always based on personal sincerity / authenticity, attentiveness, interest and a position which is measured and clear.
3. Building trust and analysing the social and ideological difficulties
The following step are about determining the problems, needs and desires of individual young people so that the needs can be dealt with as much as possible and active initiatives can be mobilised for what is desired. It is not uncommon for targeted support in social issues to be necessary such as visiting debt counselling together, developing solutions for conflicts with parents, helping find housing and assisted living communities and looking for a job or training position, going along to difficult administrative proceedings and caveat (police, court, tax) or providing advice for special situations, such as drug addiction or pregnancy. All of these issues can often be influenced by gender-related motifs such as family conflicts, early pregnancy and violence in relationships. These have a lot to do with how the affected person experiences and implements their respective gender identity.
In the particular field of work with extremist youth, social workers explore how strong the ideology is anchored in the young people, what role they have in the clique, to what extent each individual is connected to the organised militant scene and whether they are already registered by the police; this is done through discussions and observations. The team will also pay attention to whether and how gender roles typical of the scene are lived out in this group – and what connecting factors result from the common working relationship.
In what form one can connect to the interests and resources of young people through leisure time offers is also explored. These include youth cultural or creative workshops, day trips or several-day trips. Often from disadvantaged circumstances, the young people can thus expand their horizons in a new and important way. New situations and encounters, also with other groups, strengthen social skills and encourage personal development. These activities will be particularly effective when they vary between specific activities for girls and boys and co-educational and cross-gender offers.
4. Targeted confrontation of ideology and hate speech
Social workers have an attitude which faces criticism in working with the target group. This means who the young person/people is/are is always accepted and respected. As a person, they experience the social worker’s unconditional care, provided it has happened out of sincere contact from working together. However, what street social workers must critically question are the attitudes and behaviours of their clients. In the early stages, some basic rules of exchanges that determine what is acceptable and unacceptable in the interaction between youth and social workers are also agreed upon; there must also be clarity about cases in which colleagues are obliged to report the behaviour.
However, it is important to still highlight one’s own position in the case of group enmity and right-wing extremist or militant Islamist attitudes from the start. If a targeted process of distancing work is to be started later, the client must take the streetworker seriously as their professional partner and contact and must perceive them as honest, authentic and consistent.
In practice, this means that you only start with targeted questioning of racist, nationalist, anti -Semitic and sexist / homophobic attitudes when a fundamental trust between the social worker and client has already been established – and if the parties have already “gone down the path a ways together”. In further work, it then very much depends on the continuity in the relationship and how reachable they are in emergency situations both day and night (work mobile phone, Facebook).
Outreach work colleagues increasingly use social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) to keep in regular contact with young people (or make appointments). The youth worker also deliberately takes part in exchanges there which have to do with inhuman ideologies, so-called hate forums or extremist forums (e.g. “Death Penalty for Child Molesters” or militant jihadist websites) and therefore bring their moderating and critical attitude into the discussion. Furthermore, experience has shown that it often exactly guarded or reserved youth who use written dialogue with social workers on the Internet. It is easier for them to express themselves personally or to address specific issues than it would be in a group. This also sometimes makes it possible to find easier access to girls in the group and to gender-related topics.
5. End of the process
The length of the process can vary, between around 1-5 years. With some of the young people, there is longer contact. Relationships to the the individual group members also have very different degrees of intensity. Sometimes this process is changed by the fact that young people are transferred to other youth welfare systems or are no longer present in the group in the same way which may be due, for example, to exit help or pregnancy. However, in order to follow the recommended continuity of care relationships, street social workers also try to keep in touch and possibly to be involved in the follow-up assistance. The end of the working relationship with the young people is so designed that it is not experienced as an abrupt ending of the relationship.
Groups with right-wing extremist implications
Particularly in cities one can find several types of right-wing oriented girls / women:
- Reenees/Skingirls, aggressive and militant, assume equal positions to men
- the girlfriends of a comrade, who only see themselves as a companion and silent supporter
- nationally autonomous women who belong to a right-wing autonomous group
- women with a manner which is shaped by matriarchal / feminine habits, which have a specifically feminine expression of scene affiliation and claim to power
- right-wing women from socially disintegrated environments who seeking social connection to a powerful group
The girls / women are ideologically motivated to different degrees and have become involved in a right-wing environment for a variety of reasons (and gender aspects). Sometimes individual groups adopt to an almost matriarchal character. A number of young women are there who emphasise their physical appearance and dress provocatively. In these groups, there is always a leading figure who exercises authority within the group. These women often come from socially disintegrated conditions which are characterised by several generations of unemployment, family conflict, alcohol and drug problems, as well as through the consumption of and activities on pornographic websites (e.g. “You porn”). Often partnerships with men from NPD circles and organised fellowships are received or connections sought which, in addition to filling the need for a relationship, are also characterised by political ambition and the quest for developing power.
Other groups are mixed-gender and consist of women who belong to the different type categories and are ideologically motivated to different degrees. Socio-educational access to the women often arises because of early parenthood or as a result of domestic violence – sometimes because of a fatal combination of both aspects. Gender issues and gender / conflict in the partnership, family and parenting – these aspects take on an important significance in the respective working relationship.
Groups with Islamist implications
Experience with the social and exit work of girls / women having links with militant jihadist environments is only just beginning in Germany. Reports and research made by colleagues in British cities have shown that the gender-specific utilisation of girls / women by extremist organisations has reached an advanced stage (e.g. Hizb ut Tahrir, Al Muhadjiroun, Women4Shariah, Muslims Against Crusaders). However, the practitioners of youth and social work intervention are also trying to accordingly adjust and become more professional. This applies similarly in terms of girls / women in organised crime gangs.
The distinction between the various types of female participation in jihadist environments is, in some aspects, quite comparable with the extreme right milieu; these aspects include the follower of a movement / organisation, the family supporter (including sexually), the active organiser, the one who who believes in the ideology, who creates propaganda and the perpetrator. Some motives for turning to an extremist milieu also overlap; these include the desire to belong and be respected, as compensation for experiences of humiliation / discrimination, coping with life and emotional crises, the need for social and societal self-efficacy, a variety of moral and political indignation or religious / existential awakenings, as well as the urge to act out aggressive impulses.
Streetwork should fundamentally be undertaken by mixed-gender teams who are used for activities designed for both mixed and single-gender. In the initial mixed-gender contact, the young people will have the choice which gender they want to turn to first. In practice, it is found that girls often seek first contact with male colleagues and take some time before they open up to female social workers. Some activities such as playing football, where girls often stand on the sidelines, can be used specifically by the social worker for a gender-separate talk with girls. Later, cross-gender activities can also be planned for street work, where, for example, girls and female youth worker play football, and the boys and men do something in girl domains.
Basic principles for gender-reflective youth work (corresponding to open youth work):
- non-discriminatory behaviour with all forms of sexual orientation and gender-identity in the youth centre
- pay constant attention to and process sexist and homophobic statements in the centre
- partisan youth work with a focus on co-educational objectives
- active reflection on existing gender relations as a cross-cutting issue
- promote awareness of alternative gender roles
- Strengthen ambiguity tolerance in reference to sexual orientation and gender as well as the general expansion of binary oppositions existing in society
Gender perspective in youth work
- mixed-gender teams
- reflect on one’s own idea of gender roles in the team
- professional exchange of expertise on possibilities for gender-oriented work with young people belonging to different groups
- further education on the importance of gender in right-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism and movements hostile to human rights
In terms of the facilities at youth work institutions (youth clubs), what can / should apply, is that they are created in a different way than social spaces and public places and are in those life-world places where young people actually want to spend time.
- create girls / boys rooms
- create common rules particularly in terms of sexist language and dealing with each other ….
- Make offers gender-sensitive: for example, if dancing is available for girls and street soccer for boys, the possibilities for a co-educational opening / extension should be created and discussions led on the effects of social gender roles
- partisan and boy and girl work that shakes up gender: create new co-educational experiential spaces (dance for boys and street soccer for girls)
- gender-reflective offers: for example, adventure education projects with discussion afterward about the way boys and girls acted and behaved in certain situations
- conscious experience of self-determination in conflict situations (empowerment), e.g., through didactic work with relevant case histories
- cross-work: female workers work with boys groups, male workers work with girls groups, e.g. adventure camps for boys under female supervision
Vaja e.V., Gangway e.V.