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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Historical developments
  2. National definition or undertanding of Youth Work

Historical developments

This section builds on the report ‘The voluntary sector in Denmark – 150 years’ historical development’ (Den frivillige sektor i Danmark – 150 års historisk udvikling) by Habermann and Ibsen.

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 associations for children and young people such as scout associations, political youth associations, sports associations and youth clubs.

Even though the term youth work is not widely used in Denmark, the tradition of youth work in Denmark, which is non-formal education in a voluntary setting, is more than 170 years old. Youth work is carried out by an active third sector and by the municipalities.

Two types of organisations are important for voluntary youth work in the third sector:

Youth associations based on/driven by ideas, convictions and interests (e.g., political associations, scout associations, environment associations and religious organisations). The Danish Youth Council (DUF), which was established in 1940, organises 80 organisations working with children and youth, driven by ideas/convictions.

Local sports associations that organise a large range of sports activities (e.g., gymnastics, football, handball, etc.). A number of national federations organise these local clubs. Young people volunteer as trainers or assistant coaches in local sports clubs, for instance, for their peers and junior teams.

The activities in the two types of associations are largely run by volunteers and are aimed at young people. Public authorities support the large variety of Danish associations, for instance, by providing facilities and financial support for operating costs, etc. The public authorities do not define the objectives, target groups, learning outcomes, etc. Instead, the Danish approach is a bottom-up approach, which means that associations have the freedom to establish and define their objectives, target groups and framework themselves. Section 2.1 describes the historical development and funding of these activities. 

In the public sector, the majority of 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 the youth schools and youth clubs 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 young people above the age of 14 confirmed by the Church who wished to improve their skills. The evening schools were voluntary. The parish would provide facilities for the evening schools, and it was free for the young people to participate.

From then on, a variety of private voluntary evening schools, Sunday schools, and continuation schools have developed.  In the 1920s, the first private youth and leisure clubs were established to prevent social problems and keep young people away from the streets. Since then, public authorities have taken greater responsibility for running youth clubs and youth schools. Today, municipalities are responsible for youth schools and youth clubs.

Youth schools are municipal institutions that offer a broad range of formal and non-formal education as well as leisure time activities. The activities in the youth schools have increased and broadened in scope, for instance, with special needs education, formal education (leaver examination), leisure activities (e.g., photography, painting, drama, foreign languages such as Spanish or Japanese, cooking, etc.), open youth clubs, municipal youth councils, travel and youth exchanges and participation in the crime preventive SSP-cooperation between Schools, Social authorities and the Police.

The target group for youth schools is young people from 14-18 years of age.

Youth clubs may be run according to different acts:

  1. Act on Day Care
  2. Act on Youth Schools
  3. Act on General Adult Non-Formal Learning
  4. 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.

Most public youth work is free of charge, for example, youth clubs and some leisure time activities in the youth schools. However, some activities have some form of participant fees, for instance, towards travel and moped licences.

In private youth work, there is a membership fee.


National definition or understanding of ‘youth work’

There is no formal definition of youth work in Denmark. Youth work translates primarily into either leisure time activities (fritidsaktiviteter) that include everything from membership-based activities such as sports, scouts and other hobbies or leisure time pedagogy (fritidspædagogik) that include everything from municipal after-school care and out-of-school clubs to open youth centres/meeting points for young people and youth clubs.

Youth schools are a main actor in public youth work. Youth schools offer both formal and non-formal learning, and though they are called schools they are a key provider of youth work, out-of-school activities and non-formal learning. One can translate youth schools as youth centres.