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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 12 March 2024
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  1. Historical developments
  2. National definition or understanding of Youth Work


Historical development

Youth work in Croatia has a long-standing history dating back to the former Yugoslavia, and its youth work actions, activities, and organisations under the wing of the Communist Party. The youth work of the era had a straightforward ideological goal to propagate the communist regime. It also conceptualised young people as a resource in (re)building state infrastructure (such as roads, dams, bridges, etc.) and society at large in the decades following World War II. At the same time, it promoted youth engagement in various hobbies, cultural, sports, and leisure activities, as well as technical organisations. This benefited young people by fostering both socialisation and skills-building. 

In 1991, Croatia declared its independence and a five-year civil war ensued. During and immediately after the war, civil society organisations and initiatives launched an extensive anti-war campaign promoting peace building in despite the armed conflict. The anti-war campaign was initiated and carried out by thousands of young peace activists from Croatia and abroad. In war-affected areas and divided communities, they (mainly volunteers) organised a myriad of bottom-up actions related to direct peacebuilding, the protection of human rights, and media activism. 

This can be seen as the point of inception of contemporary youth work in Croatia. The main paradigmatic shift in youth work in the early 1990s in Croatia was premised upon a very different approach towards young people – they were seen as recipients in need of various social services, while previously youth people had been treated as subjects delivering services in line with the Party’s agenda to build and support the regime.

Youth work in the 1990s was exclusively situated within civil society. Although it was subversive in relation to the socio-political context of the time, it was not perceived as having any substantial societal influence. Supported by international donors and driven by its peacebuilding character, youth work developed distinctive principles, leading it to evolve strongly in the direction of non-formal (youth) education.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, youth organisations continued to deliver various youth work programmes and activities, mostly focusing on non-formal education, but still with a strong emphasis on non-violent communication and conflict resolution. Such activities were often designed to support and encourage young people to engage in community-building actions and develop their leadership skills. During that time, there was a surge in youth organisations and initiatives in the field of arts, culture, environmental protection, social integration, etc. This eventually led to the establishment of the Croatian Youth Network in 2002, serving as a platform for exchange and advocacy, bringing together the most relevant youth organisations in the country. 

Youth organisations and various civil society organisations working with youth have since expanded their programmes and activities for young people. In the same time, they have also strengthened their role, becoming watchdogs, advocates, and partners in policy-making processes. As a result, youth work is gaining a more prominent place in the contemporary youth policy framework of Croatia. The current state of youth work development in Croatia is marked by a strong focus on advocating for the professionalisation of youth work.


National definition or understanding of Youth Work

There is no official definition of youth work in Croatia. For the first time, in 2014, youth work found its place in an official national document. The National Youth Programme 2014-2017 emphasised the importance of youth work as ‘…a set of activities which contribute to the personal and social development of young people. Participation in youth work activities is voluntary and complementary to formal education. Youth work activities contribute to the development of self-confidence and self-respect in young people, as well as the competences necessary for the creation and maintenance of quality personal and social relations. Youth work offers young people opportunities to learn and develop competencies across various fields. It also enables young people to actively participate in society and decision-making processes.’ This provisional definition heavily relied on European best practice and did not result from a broader national debate or research. Therefore, one of the measures in the National Youth Programme 2014-2017 stipulated the completion of an analysis and definition of youth work in Croatia by the end of 2017. Analysis of the Current State of Work with Young People in the Republic of Croatia and Preparation of Recommendations and Guidelines for its Development, a research and analysis completed in 2020, did not offer a different definition of youth work compared to the previous National Youth Programme.

A glimpse into a common understanding of youth work can be obtained from the 2016 survey on the youth work profession conducted by the Croatian Employment Service. The survey shows that youth professionals understand youth work as a variety of tasks typically undertaken by professionals such as teachers, social workers, or psychologists, among others. It is obvious that the term ‘youth work’ in Croatia is rather vague and can be seen as a stretched concept.

This, in turn, is also a result of linguistic ambiguities concerning the term ‘youth work’ in Croatian. Although there is no official consensus, ‘youth work’ in Croatian is commonly referred to as ‘rad s mladima’, which literally translates into English as ‘working with youth’. As such, it is not a coherent concept but rather a descriptive category without specific meaning, as many professionals across many different disciplines ‘work with youth’. As a consequence, youth work is generally poorly understood, except by a very limited circle of experts.