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Youth work in Flanders has a long tradition with its origins in the 1850s with the emergence of the first Flemish youth movements (e.g. the Roman Catholic youth groups in 1850, the Socialist Young guards in 1886 and the Flemish Student Movement in 1875). These initiatives provided working-class youngsters with healthy recreation and development activities and were often led by citizens and parish priests. Also youth work activities around political topics were common and youth self-organisations were established by working class people who fought for better living conditions and opportunities.
Youth movements further emerged and developed in the beginning of the 20th century, after the First World War. The movements’ focus however shifted from countering social and material inequalities to playful outdoor activities taking place in the participants’ leisure time. Over time youth work gradually became a place to socialise, in addition to the family and the school or factory. The latter could partly be explained by the fact that the scouting initiative reached Flanders in 1910. Scouting was seen as a “new” and “innovative” outdoor recreational method for lower-class young people.
In the last decades youth work remained important in Flanders; young people have a strong need to organise themselves but also the government and society recognises the important role of youth work. Additionally, local administration started to organise youth work themselves. Flanders’ youth work history, and particularly youth movements, made its mark on the contemporary Flemish youth work resulting in a strong focus on leisure and recreation. From a historical point of view, Flanders always focused on positive youth work as an emancipatory and empowerment instrument for young people rather than an instrument for prevention. It provides many opportunities for a more democratic and improved governance of policy implementation.
The Flemish Parliament defines Youth Work states that Youth work is the collective name for youth movements and playground activities in which young people take part in leisure time. The government provides a framework for the animators. Youth rooms, youth accommodations and bivouac areas also fall under this authority.
https://pjp-eu.coe.int/en/web/youth-partnership/the-history-of-youth-work-volume-7 (and the other 6 volumes)