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How can you prevent school dropouts and social marginalization?

Icehearts is a 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.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

Finland 100

Web presence






March 2017
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.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Youth marginalization is a multifaceted phenomenon and a serious problem, the effects of which ripple through many areas of society.

In addition to the life and psychological wellbeing of children and youth, social marginalization affects their communities, for example, their school and their classroom.

The threat of social marginalization can often be seen at a very early stage. In schools these problems can appear as behavioral problems, absences, and underperformance. Challenges with studies will also often affect the students’ chances of pursuing further education.

Icehearts was developed to prevent social marginalization and school dropouts among children and youth.

Children and youth who have difficulties at school often experience difficulties elsewhere, as well. The Icehearts program brings together a group of children that have either raised concerns or children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in hobbies due to, for example, the financial situation of their family. 

The group will form a sports team. Every child in the team will have their own Icehearts mentor committed to support the child for 12 years.

These children and youth gain a sense of belonging and get a reliable adult to support their growth. Team sports as well as professional support and education aid the child comprehensively at home, school and during their free time.

At school, the Icehearts mentor helps children with their school work and therefore help teachers with their work too. The mentors help the school and homes collaborate, working closely with the families. They will also work as ‘interpreters’ in challenging situations between home and school. 

These five steps describe how you can start your Icehearts program. 

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Icehearts is an exceptional model for preventing social marginalization and school dropouts among children and youth.


The children and youth participating in Icehearts are happier and perform better at school. Teachers have a lighter workload and the entire school community benefits from the program.


The model can be used in all kinds of environments, but requires a long-term financial commitment from the municipality, for example.


Implementation steps

Get to know the Icehearts organization
Icehearts is an organization that aims to prevent social marginalization, support the development of social skills in children and youth and create a long term and safe adult presence through the transitional phases in a child’s life.

Icehearts was founded in 1995 and soon grew into a national organization in Finland. At the moment there are 31 Icehearts teams in ten different localities around Finland. The teams are tools for social work. Icehearts mentors support children and youth in need at practice as well as in and outside the school.

The model is based on cross-sectional administrative work between the social and educational departments.

Find out more about the Icehearts organization and its activities here.

Getting started with a local Icehearts team
If you are interested in Icehearts and feel like your school or area could use Icehearts mentors, suggest starting your own local Icehearts team.

Contact your local school’s principal, local decision makers and Icehearts.

Contact information at Icehearts:

Teemu Vartiamäki
+358 40 59 26 122

Ville Turkka
+358 40 55 81 095

You can find the contact information of local decision makers – in the schools and administration – on your municipality’s or city’s home page.


You can start an Icehearts team as soon as the local officials and Icehearts have signed an agreement. Contact your local representatives about starting Icehearts activities, so they know that there is a demand.

A team’s yearly budget is about €50,000 and the team operates for 12 years. Therefore the team will be founded after the local officials commit to funding it.

Choosing the sport for the team is the mentor’s decision and can be any team sports. The municipality makes the ultimate decision to found the team together with Icehearts.

Bringing Icehearts to the attention of decision makers
Express your concerns to others, and together share them with decision makers.

Does your school have a demand for committed mentors who can help students during lessons and support special-needs children and their families during basic education? Icehearts can answer this need.

Once decision makers hear from teachers, special-needs assistants and principals about the need for this kind of support, it is more likely that the decision makers will take action. 

Founding an Icehearts team
Once your local officials give the green light, the Icehearts organization starts working on founding the team.

Early childhood education and the municipal department of social services will work together to identify local children in need of support who will form the Icehearts sports team. The children can attend different schools. 

The Icehearts mentors often focus on one main school and visit the other schools if necessary. The schools are chosen based on the children in the Icehearts team – the mentors attend the same schools as the children. 

Starting the work with a Icehearts mentor
You should start your work in the classroom with the Icehearts mentor by discussing the practical arrangements, the forms of support, and other guidelines of the work.

The Icehearts mentor supports children with learning difficulties or behavioral issues in the classroom, just like a special-needs assistant would. The mentor discusses the best ways to support the child with the teacher. During recess, the Icehearts mentor helps out the student with challenging social situations and even conflict resolution. During school trips, the Icehearts educator provides additional support. After the school day, the Icehearts mentor can also help with homework and studying for exams, for example.

If a student is having a challenging period in their life, the Icehearts mentor supports both the student and their family. This way, the mentor can make the child’s school life easier, simply by being there for the student. Outside school, the Icehearts mentor can provide activities and sports to balance out the schoolwork. 


The mentor works in the classroom with the permission of the teacher and the aim is to help the Icehearts kids and their teacher. The Iceheart mentor is not there to tell the teacher how to teach or critique the teacher’s work. Instead, the Icehearts mentor is there to work with the teacher to support the children in need. 

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