ICEHEARTS -More than a sports club

Icehearts – preventive child welfare work through team sports at school and during leisure time. Icehearts is more than a sports club. Icehearts is an operating model which has been developed to prevent social exclusion and promote well-being. Icehearts is a tool and co-operation partner for municipal basic services. Icehearts is a team sport operating model promoting the well-being of children and supporting social work, school and leisure time. The aim of Icehearts is to prevent social exclusion, promote social skills and create a long-term and safe environment for children. Icehearts’ philosophy supports a child’s growth into a self-reliant member of a team, who takes others into account. The operating model is based on values that give every child a chance. Icehearts is a cross-administration model which co-operates with social and education department professionals. The model has received numerous awards and is widely recognised.


As men, we have built an excellent tool for men to do social work with children, and boys in particular. The majority of boys are interested in sports and gladly participate in guided sports activities as a hobby. The educators use the hobby in which they have engaged since childhood as their tool and transfers their own passion for sport to the children.

The educator provides a connection with the specifics of his gender to the children in a natural way. Many of the participating children come from families where no real male role model exists. Growing up to be a man is difficult for boys of single mums. In the Icehearts operating model, the children meet men almost daily. The educator’s commitment plays an essential role in the operating model. In order to be able to support a child’s growth, the child must come to realise that the educator is not going anywhere. Growing up together is important in the activities, both from the perspective of the adult and the child.

A normal relationship with the children and the group is an essential tool for the educator. A genuine interest towards the children’s development and growth is also helpful. From the point of view of the children, it is important to receive a message from the educator that they are welcomed in the activities. The educator should continuously ask himself what kind of person a child wants to see again and again. Understanding this basic idea produces the best possible result in building relationships.

Beginning activities (pre-school)

On the basis of their statistics, the municipal social department points out the area where the number of children with difficulties is higher compared to other areas. In this area, the local day-care centres and schools are contacted and visits to introduce the activities are made to them. The day-care centre personnel select the children who could benefit from support offered by the operating model. After this, an Icehearts educator will send a letter to the personnel, which will be further delivered to the homes of the children selected. The parent(s) decide on their willingness to offer the child an opportunity to participate. In the letter, the educator will give information about the time and place of the first meeting, where he will meet the children with their guardians. The core group of the team has now been selected and the activities may begin.

During the first year, the children attend pre-school. Meetings are organised once or twice a week with the aim of eliciting commitment from the children and their families. The first year focuses on physical exercise and not much emphasis is put on the specific sport. During the first year, the educator receives training organised by Icehearts during his work. The training will support the educator in dealing with problems he may encounter in his work. An educator must be able to recognise the support they require on the basis of a child’s behaviour. He must be able to find something else other than unruliness and maliciousness behind problematic behaviour. He must have adequate knowledge of social problems and their causes. He must understand problems and know how to find the services from municipal services which each family and child need and guide or take the family or child to these services. Various municipal departments will select a contact person with whom the educator is regularly in contact (regional rector, rector, representative of youth department, social worker, etc.).

Continuation of the activities (lower stage school)

After pre-school, the children move with the educator to the local school. The first important moment of the educator’s presence is to walk the children from the daycare centre to the first grade of the school. At the school, the educator begins focused small group instruction. Children for whom the school may present difficulties already in the first grade are asked to join. From the perspective of the school, children who have difficulties with social interaction, self-guidance, with the teachers and/or other children or learning, can be included in the activities. The educator will cooperate with the teachers and the school’s student welfare team and tailors with them the school day and afternoon after it to suit the purpose and support the child. The educator gets to know the other adults working with the family, child and with himself.

Organisation of supervised afternoon activities for the players in the team will continue for at least three years. During this time, the educator will continue to strengthen his knowledge with all cooperation bodies and build cooperation networks. In summer, the educator will organise day camps for the children and later on entire summer camps in suitable locations. The school and the social department achieve the best possible result if activities with a new group are launched annually at the same school. The necessity for a focused small group will decrease as the children grow. After the children of his own group have grown beyond this need, the educator will support new educators and groups. If needed, the educator can provide home-schooling for children belonging to a group with shortened schooldays.

Towards the end of the seventh year of activities, the educator prepares, in cooperation with the school and the home, to escort the children to the next educational level. When transferring to the upper level, the role of the educator is to function as a link between the personnel of the new school and the families and children. The sports activities continue while the children are growing. Competitions organised by sports federations are played every year. The activities are focused increasingly on evenings and weekends, since that is when the practice sessions and games are arranged.

Deepening the activities (upper stage school)

At the upper stage, great changes take place in supporting the children. Children or young people grow and develop at an amazing rate. New things appear in their lives that need to be processed with the children both privately and collectively. Children’s movement increases and the living environment expands during the upper stage in shorter period of time than ever before during their lives. This period of time brings with it challenges which need to be tackled. Study requirements increase and children create the preconditions for their future opportunities in life, which they are as yet incapable of perceiving. Issues possibly interfering with the studies are intoxicants, gender roles, relationships and the beginning of growing independent. Changes in children’s bodies can be confusing and create great problems for those who do not know about them. The educator continues to be important at this stage of development. His duty is to monitor his group and help them to seek information together and separately. A lot of extra education is needed and dealing with even difficult issues is easier with children and young people who are familiar. The educator’s confidential relationship with the children has been built over the years, so he is a naturally well-suited to support the children, even in these difficult challenges.

During the upper stage, the educator of the team will continue supporting the children’s school activities. He supports the family in discussion events taking place at the school and social department, which discuss problems in life and seek to find suitable support activities. As a final actual effort, the educator participates, when required, in planning the children’s future studies together with the children and their families. The educator’s experiences of the young people may help in choosing the suitable field of education in which the characteristics and talents of each child, with their own special skills, could flourish. With this guidance, the young person may be saved from unnecessary trial and error when looking for a suitable field for his future career.

The model can be said to excel especially in that the educator can quickly tackle problems occurring in the lives of the participating children and their families. This means that it is not easy for participating children to end up as socially excluded.

  • The annual budget of a team is approximately €50,000

  • Administrative costs are funded by STEA, Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations

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Icehearts in a nutshell

Icehearts’ operating model was established in 1996 in Vantaa, Finland. The Icehearts operating model is an innovative early intervention operating model focusing on boys. It provides long-term professional support for children who are particularly at risk. Each team selected by experts functions for 12 years. The team is supervised by an educator with professional qualification.

Children who have been recognised as being at risk of social exclusion early on and who require special support in their growth are selected for the team. In addition, children who, for some reason, would not have the opportunity to otherwise participate in leisure activities are chosen for the team. A typical Icehearts child is a boy from an immigrant, single parent or large family, and whose resources for providing leisure activities are limited. Long-term activities provide comprehensive assistance for children needing special support, which makes the rehabilitation prognosis good.

Icehearts in a nutshell

Management team and board

Management and board

Icehearts of Finland, management team:

Teemu Vartiamäki, Managing Director
Ville Turkka, Founder, Leading Expert
Miika Niemelä
, Head of Training
Vellu Kilpala, Team coordinator (Lear)
Erika Turunen, Head of the Organisation

Icehearts of Finland, the board:

Aki Riihilahti, chairman
Mikko Mäkelä, vice-chairman
Pirta Karlsson
Heikki Turkka
Jukka Marttala
Sirpa Tuomi
Sari Paljakka
Niina Hyvärinen