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Even though the term youth work is not widely used in Denmark, the tradition of youth work in Denmark is more than 170 years old. Youth work is being carried out by an active third sector as well as public sector bodies.
Youth work has its roots in the development of Danish democracy. The Danish constitution of 1849 (Grundloven) established freedom of association and freedom of assembly for Danish citizens. From then on, citizens were able to form associations for any lawful purpose without the approval of the monarch. Associations grew rapidly in number and were seen in almost every sphere of society, which also included children and youth associations such as scout associations, political youth associations, sports associations, and youth clubs.
In the third sector youth work, two types of organisation are important:
- Youth associations based on/driven by ideas, convictions, and interest (e.g. political associations, scout associations, environment associations, disability associations). The Danish Youth Council (DUF), which was established in 1940, organises 75 such children and youth organisations.
- Local sports associations that organise a large range of sports activities (e.g. gymnastics, football, handball). A number of national federations organise these local clubs.
The activities in the two types of associations are largely run by volunteers and are aimed at young people. In Denmark, it is a common practice to support the framework conditions of the large variety of Danish associations, for instance to provide facilities, financial support to the operating of the association, etc. The public authorities do not define the objectives or target groups. Instead, the associations must establish and define their objective and framework. The historical development and funding of these activities are described in section 2.1 and will not be repeated in this section.
In the public sector, youth work takes place in municipal youth clubs, municipal youth schools, and municipal music schools. For more information on municipal music schools, see section 8.5
The history of these initiatives began in 1814, when a royal decree by King Frederik VI established the right to 7 years of education for all children. The decree also established evening schools twice a week for confirmed young people above 14 years of age who wished to improve their skills or to participate in ‘useful learning’. The evening schools were voluntary, the parish should provide facilities for the evening school, and it was free for the young people to participate.
Since then, a variety of private voluntary evening schools, Sunday schools, and continuation schools have developed. In the 1920s, private youth and leisure clubs were established with the objective of keeping young people away from the streets and the cities’ temptations. The two initiatives, youth schools and youth clubs, have existed since.
In 1930, the Act on Support from the State to Youth Schools and Evening Schools established a legal framework for the support of evening schools and youth schools.
Since then, public authorities have taken more and more responsibility of the running of the two initiatives: Today, youth schools are a municipal responsibility, and since 1976 (Bistandsloven) the municipalities are responsible for providing the necessary number of youth clubs. Youth clubs may be run according to different acts:
- Act on Day Care
- Act on Youth Schools
- Act on General Adult Non-Formal Learning
- Act on Social Services
Because youth clubs can be established and regulated by different legal frameworks, the objective and content of the youth clubs differ. For the different types of youth clubs, see section 10.3.
The activities in the youth schools and youth clubs have increased and broadened in scope, for instance with special needs education, leisure activities, municipal councils, and participation in the crime preventive SSP-cooperation between schools, social authorities, and the police.
Today, there is self-payment in both private and public youth work in the form of membership fees.
There is no formal definition of youth work in Denmark. The term youth work is not widely used, and, when translated into Danish, the term causes initial confusion. In Denmark, it is more common to refer to ‘working with young people’.