When a young person starts to become independent, their family is faced with a new situation and needs support – digital family work can help a greater number of families

Joonas Brandt
Digitaalisten menetelmien avulla apua voidaan antaa helpommin ja useammille perheille.
Image: Joonas Brandt

Supporting families and parenting is often seen as part of working with children. But is there any more need for family work when a young person starts to transition to adulthood or become independent? The Red Cross youth shelters know that the family of a young person growing up towards adulthood is faced with many new things and needs support.

We may think that when they become independent, a young person breaks away from their childhood family and therefore the need for family support would naturally end. However, becoming independent does not mean being able to cope alone but rather defining childhood relationships in a new way. Becoming independent changes the whole family; family relationships and structure, dynamics, housing and financial matters change as a young person moves into their own home. This does not always go smoothly.

- ‘Changes can create conflicts. At the shelter, we have come across how becoming independent is too often used as an alternative to resolving matters. This does not provide a good starting point for the young person’s independent life. It would be important to learn to do things in your own way without losing your support network,’ says Isto Onali, Family Therapist, Director of Espoo Youth Shelter.

Thus, there is no need to disconnect the young person from their community in the youth shelters’ aid work either. The family has been an essential starting point and partner in providing help throughout the 30-year journey of the shelters. When the whole family is involved in the work, the change is more long-term. Through joint meetings and discussions at the shelters, the family’s existing resources are sought out. The family is supported in finding their own way of living together apart.

- ‘We believe that everyone has the capacity to change and the resources to improve things. The process takes shape individually, as the young person and the family are the experts of their own lives. We explore together what kind of change would be important to them,’ Onali says.

The number of family meetings at the shelter is not determined in advance. Instead, the work ends when the goals defined together have been met.

Digital methods enable easier help to a greater number of families

The tools for help at the shelters are also shaped by the situation. The coronavirus crisis made shelters look at their aid operations in a new light. It had to be considered how to guarantee equal help to young people and their families regardless of physical distance. The answer was digital family work. Actually, the solution had already been developed well before the coronavirus. Kati Kyyrö, the project manager of the digital family work project that started in August 2020, was developing digital family work at the shelters as early as the autumn before the pandemic.

- ‘Online family work is the same help that can be received physically at the shelters; its implementation methods have just been digitalised. In our experiment a year ago, families felt that receiving support digitally was effortless and that the process together with the employees was effective,’ says Kyyrö.

The transfer of services online makes it possible to provide support to families nationwide as well as help to those who, for whatever reason, cannot come to the shelters physically. Digital services are part of everyday life and increasingly easily found.

The digital family work project that is now being launched is aimed at helping young people and their families who have become vulnerable due to the coronavirus situation. The target group is young people in need of special support and their families in youth shelter municipalities and nationwide.

- ‘We are piloting a digital support service for young people’s families that is as approachable and has as extensive opening hours as possible. The project will develop an online environment where online volunteers and professionals work together to help young people in need of special support in their local communities.’

The project will begin in the autumn of 2020 and end in May 2021. The family work at youth shelters is carried out with the help of municipal and STEA funding. The digital family work project is funded by donations from LähiTapiola and Lilly.