Participation and Empowerment? Health Promotion for Youth at the Community Level
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During the past few decades there has been a renewed awareness of the need for health promotion internationally. The World Health Organisations’ strategies for health promotion have also influenced the Norwegian policy. Seeing health not only as the absence of disease, but as a state of physical and mental well-being, calls for a collective health-responsibility beyond the reach of any health-sector. Socio-economic and environmental factors beyond individual control are given much attention. The creation of supportive environments conducive to health is central. The strengthening of community action through participation and empowerment are important both as methods and goals in this work. The Governmental White Paper 37, 1992/93, “Challenges in Health Promotion” is one of the main documents for health promotion in Norway. Here the main principles and methods of health promotion are adapted to the Norwegian situation. It is stated that health promotion is an important responsibility for the municipalities, which are seen as natural centres of attention for health promotion work. The focus of this study is one Norwegian municipality. Through an investigation of the youth work in this community, municipality initiatives are seen in relation to two core concepts of health promotion; namely participation and empowerment. The Governmental White Paper 37 represents state ideals for health promotion. In this study these are compared to local interpretations of health promotion ideals and the practice thereof. Interviews with municipality employees and the youth in the community are the main sources of information. These data is compared to written material, such as municipality plans and budgets. By using a qualitative approach, the goal has been to reach a thorough understanding of a variety of factors influencing the matters in focus. The study shows that municipality effort for the youth are mediated mainly through organised leisure time activity. These are run in co-operation with local NGOs.Community participation is an important resource in the provision of leisure time youth activities. The interviewees divide into two groups: those who attend organised activities and those that do not. The importance of this distinction can be due in part to municipality priorities that contribute to the given possibilities for youth socialisation in the community. There is extensive concern among the interviewees that the youth have too little influence in shaping youth work. They call for increased youth participation in the decision making- and implementation processes. The child and youth council is one step in this direction. Members of the council are open to the creation of new social arenas, and a less organised and achievement-oriented leisure time offer. This is believed to include the non-attendees and decrease stress among the active youth. A process that increases youth control over factors they themselves define as important in their lives is the empowerment of the young. Many of the interviewees would like a change in this direction. However, traditional perceptions of the youth and ways of working for their well-being make empowerment of the young difficult.