Youth work in Flanders is defined by decree as non-commercial, voluntary socio-cultural work organised in the leisure sphere for or by young people between the age of three and thirty years old and under educational guidance. It promotes the advancement of the full development of young people.
The abovementioned definition applies to formal and non-formal youth work as both types of youth work are run by organisations with non-commercial purposes. Generally speaking, there exist two sectors in Flemish youth work: universal youth work provision and targeted youth work provision. The universal youth work sector is much larger than the targeted youth work sector.
Universal youth work provision refers to those activities that do not distinguish among the target groups – they are accessible and targeted at all young people. This includes youth movements (e.g. Scouts and Chiro) and a large number of other types of youth work (e.g. playground associations, political youth associations, youth centers or clubs, youth amateur art associations, youth workshops). The youth movements are usually youth organisations (with regular activities for specific age groups) and young people themselves, above the age of 16, run the local groups. This form of youth work is generally volunteered with very limited involvement of professional youth workers.
Targeted youth work includes activities aimed at hard-to-reach groups such as young people with disabilities, young people with a migration or ethnic minority background and socially vulnerable young people. The activities are in general developed through self-organisation and volunteering, often supported by professional youth workers. Some of the initiatives organised as part of targeted youth work are referred to as “open initiatives” as they do not require regular or timely attendance and do not demand participation in prescheduled group activities.