Leena Suurpää: Every young person has the right to gain independence safely
“I have been given advice and gained self-confidence in dealing with matters independently, and have also learned about housekeeping. I know I am not alone in these matters and can ask for help if I need it.”
These are the words of a young person who has received support in gaining independence from the Red Cross Youth Shelter in Espoo. This is just one of the young people whose path from childhood home to independent life is filled with complications. A young person can just as easily start their independent life by decorating their own home as they can by being homeless and in a downward spiral of payday loans.
In Finland, there is an unyielding belief that young people must gain independence early on. Young people are required to make education choices that affect their whole lives very early on. At the same time, we know that families’ financial and social resources to support young people's choices vary widely.
All doors open – or closed?
A family’s lack of finances can limit a young person's ability to live their youth fully – to study what they want, engage in inspiring pastimes, and spend meaningful free time with friends. Studies show that almost one in five young people has to narrow down their study options due to lack of money. Reaching the age of 17 is a distinct turning point. This is when child benefits stop, when free basic education ends and upper secondary education starts and students are required to purchase most of their study materials themselves.
On an international scale, young people in Finland move out of their childhood home at an early age, at about 22, irrespective of how ready they are to do this. The family’s support strongly influences how the young person experiences this gaining of independence.
Making dreams come true
Being able to dream should be considered a fundamental human right. Dreams are particularly important fuel in the lives of young people on the brink of adulthood. For them, independence is, at its best, a time of liberating self-analysis and adventure.
However, in the youth shelters we encounter a lot of people who simply can’t afford to dream. When the challenge of surviving everyday life takes away the chance to dream, it's easier to get stuck in the moment than to look to the future. The current social subsidies and income transfers fail to ensure all young people an equal right to become independent safely and at their own pace.
The right to feel safe and the ability to sit back and dream always go hand in hand. In the midst of poverty, it is difficult to feel safe and trusting. As a young person gains a sense of trust and security they will also gain the courage to dream, free of shortages and fear – both in the current moment and in the future.
The Hyvä Joulumieli Christmas fundraising campaign for impoverished families with children, organised by the Finnish Red Cross and the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, will continue until Christmas Eve.
Director of Youth Shelters
Finnish Red Cross