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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

Youth work in Estonia has a history of more than 100 years, it's roots going back to the 19th century with the creation of forerunners of youth work. The first act regarding youth work was accepted in 1936 (Youth Organization Act), which included the age group of young people (all students and other citizens under the age of 20 years old), tasks for the Ministry of Education regarding youth, the definition of youth organizations, and funding of youth work. During the first Estonian Republic, 1918-1940, speficic structures were created in order to support socializisation young people, e.g., pupil’s leisure time activities as organized by schools, associations created by young people, etc.

After the first independent republic, starting from 1940, Estonia was under the occupation of different countries. During World War II, Estonia was under the occupation of Germany, and young people were engaged in helping with agricultural work. During the occupation of the Soviet Union, only one youth organization called Comsomol was allowed, with all the activities targeted to youth being ideological, followed by the idea ofraising a good Soviet person with the correct ideology. However, it has to be noted that a wide range of activities were available for youth, for example, there were hobby activities, hobby schools, sports, summer camps, working camps, etc. In addition, the first steps were made in order to create youth policy and national programs, there was also international co-operation of youth programmes within the Soviet Union republics.

In 1990, in the Ministry of Education, a department called Youth Service was created, which aimed to create the basis of youth policy and national programmes that would ensure young people had more possibilities to develop themselves. The process of figuring out the structures and system of youth work as well as  the creation of laws, documents and programmes needed for implementing the policy was started.

Estonia restored its independence in 1991 and after that, lots of youth organizations were created or re-created based on the experiences of the times of the first republic of Estonia. The national system was re-organized and a new foundation for youth work was set. In 1991, the Estonian Students Association was created, being one of the oldest youth organizations in the history of second independent Estonia. In 1992, the Child Protection Act was accepted (put in force in 1993), which was the first step in child protection. In 1993, the Local Government Organization Act was accepted, which put the responsibility of the organization of hobby schools and hobby activities to the local municipalities. In 1999, when the first Youth Work Act was accepted, the local municipalities got the responsibility for organizing youth work in their areas. The same year, the first Youth Work Forum was held, aimed at discussing youth work organization with young people, youth organizations and people working with youth, and the Estonian Youth Work Centre (EYWC) was founded. EYWC was a legal successor of numerous forerunners, e.g. the ESSR Children’s Excursion and Tourism Centre (1965-1980), ESSR House of Young Tourists (1980-1990), Estonian Youth Tourism House (1990-1994), and Estonian Youth Initiative Centre (1994-1999). The Youth Policy Council was established in 1999 and its aim was to consult the minister of education in issues concerning youth work. Since 1 august 2020, the Estonian Youth Work Centre, along with other organizations under the Ministry of Education and Research that were reorganized into a state level institution called the Education and Youth Board.

National definition or understanding of Youth Work 

In Estonia, the youth work is defined in the Youth Work Act as follows:

“Youth work is the creation of conditions to promote the diverse development of young persons, which enable them to be active outside their families, formal education and work, on the basis of their free will.”

This means that youth work is done outside the family, work and formal education, is based on free will and promotes the development and self-realisation of a young person. Youth work is targeted at young people at the age of 7-26 years.