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HundrED Class of 2018: A social exclusion prevention program is spreading across Finland!

24.10.2018 | BY LAUREN WILSON

Icehearts is a Finnish program for preventative child support services through team sports. It provides child-oriented, comprehensive and long-term support for studying, especially for children who are in need of special support.

This unique program has been there for kids in need for 22 years. “We believe in what we do, and that we are needed in those cracks that families and children fall through in the basic public services. This has been our amazing job for over two decades," says Ville Turkka, Leading Expert at Icehearts.

After two decades of supporting young people, the past year has been a period of rapid growth.

Originally designed as a support for boys at risk of exclusion, the organization now has 39 teams in operation across the country, including five teams for girls.

Jani Söderling is an Icehearts mentor in Ulvila, Western Finland. He explains the growing interest in Icehearts in his area, saying "We started Icehearts in Ulvila in 2008. In the core group, we had eight lonely boys each with challenges in one of the different areas of life. Now my team has about 20 young people and adults – many of them have already turned 18."

Icehearts is all about community. The children, identified as being at risk of exclusion or social isolation, stay with the same mentor over the course of 12 years, building strong, trusting bonds. With such a focus on supportive relationships, Icehearts was recognized as Finland's most positive community of the year by Junior chamber international and Positiivarit ltd.

“Icehearts has made a systematic effort to change the image of preventative child protection work in a more positive direction. We want to highlight strengths, successes and joy in the midst of difficult issues. This recognition is a tribute to the whole field”, writes Erika Turunen of Icehearts.


Icehearts was recognized as Finland's Positive Community of the Year 

The National Institute of Health and Welfare are doing a longitudinal study about the work of Icehearts to see how the organization supports both pupils and schools to manage the challenges that lead to marginalization. The diagram above shows some of the initial results, with a report set to be published In November 2018.

The Icehearts model has attracted the attention of foreign visitors too and was visited by Prince William, known for his interest in promoting support for mental health, in November 2017.

"Icehearts offers a good solution to help solve problems that cause more serious mental health issues. Deep and long-lasting relationships between educator and child reduces the possibility for mental health problems to become more serious,” says Ville Turkka.

Elke Büdenbender, Germany’s First Lady, visited in September 2018 and was “delighted to hear how Icehearts work at school helps children with learning and also other with other challenges that they are facing at school,” Turka explains.

Prince William plays ice-hockey with some of the Icehearts team, November 2017

But no matter the awards, the research, or the important visitors, the most striking thing is the relationships between the mentors and the students. Proud Icehearts mentor Jani Söderling remembers a touching moment that shows the importance of their work. One boy was in a language lesson and was given the task to write down the three most important people in his life. "Number one was his mother, number two was his father, and I was third. This boy has been involved in our activities here in Ulvila since the beginning." Söderling recalls. 

"I have been honored during these ten years to participate in almost all the boys' birthdays and I have even received the honor of being godfather to the son of one of the boys. My team received an invitation to carry the coffin at his mothers' funeral." 

It's easy to see the depths of the relationships that are built over the course of this program and the ways in which the lives of young people at risk of exclusion and social isolation can be turned around. 

"I absolutely believe the greatest success is that every boy who is a member of my team is in some way still dealing with me. All my boys in the team have completed elementary school and many are connected with our society through postgraduate studies or other forms of education."

Find out more about the Icehearts Program here