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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.3 Support to youth work

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Policy legal framework
  2. Funding
  3. Cooperation

Policy/legal framework

In Estonia, the youth sector encompasses both youth work and youth policy which determines the direction of legislation as well. The key top-level policies and regulations are the:

The main structures that provide youth work activities are:

  • Youth centre – a youth work establishment that is managed by the local municipalities or non-governmental organizations. A youth centre has the widest range of youth work services and is the main youth work executor on the local level. Youth centres might act in different forms, but most of the centres use the open youth work method. The purpose of open youth work is to provide young people with opportunities for voluntary participation to support the activity of young people and their ability to cope in society. Keywords here are ‘openness’ and the ‘free will’ of young people. The implementation of the open youth work method in youth centres offers all young people a growth-oriented and meaningful activities on a voluntary basis and according to individual capabilities and preferences.

In 2019, there were 281 open youth centres in Estonia, a majority of them situated and accessible in rural areas. The activities organised in youth centres guide young people to acquire and use important life skills and competences, facilitate initiative and entrepreneurship, support the search for one’s identity and socialisation and shape values.

  • Hobby school – provides hobby education by qualified hobby teachers and instructors on the basis of curricula registered in the Estonian Education Information System. Hobby education for young people can be considered to be the most formal part of youth work and is provided in accordance with the Hobby Schools Act. The main goal of hobby education is to offer systematic education in their field of interest and to develop special skills, thereby creating opportunities for diverse development and supporting the growth of young people into successful members of the society. Hobby education in Estonia also supports Estonian culture and sports traditions, technological development, sustainability of the environment as well as the development of local traditions. See in Glossary.

According to the Estonian Education Information System, there were 782 registered hobby schools (that is approximately 2.8 hobby schools per one thousand young people) and 5,777 hobby school teachers offering hobby education for young people on the basis of 3,908 curricula in Estonia in 2019. More than 100,000 learners participate in the work of hobby schools, acquiring hobby education in the fields of sport, music, art, dance, natural and exact sciences and technology and in many other fields.

  • Youth association – a non-profitable organization, in which at least two-thirds of the members are young people and which objectives covers the organization and performance of youth work.
  • Youth work association – non-profit association, a union of non-profit associations or a foundation the objective of which is the integration of youth workers, youth work agencies or other exercisers and organizers of youth work and representation of their interests.
  • Youth council – an advisory participation council consisting of young people. Youth councils enable young people to participate in the decision-making process and to protect their interests in the areas concerning them on local as well as national level.

Youth associations, participation groups and student councils are the main actors through which youth participation is empowered and realised. In 2019, there was an active youth participation group (either a youth council or action group) in 72 local governments. An estimated 10% of young people belong to a youth association. Youth participation and the achievement of the area’s goals is supported by national defence-oriented youth organisations – Home Daughters (Kodutütred) and Young Eagles (Noored Kotkad) who in 2019 offered activities for at least 8,000 young people.

In addition, youth advisory boards have been created at some ministries to provide youth input in policy-development and support youth participation on state level. For example, in 2020 the youth boards were operating in the Ministry of Education and Research and in the Ministry of the Environment. The national youth strategy adopted 12.08.2020, theYouth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035, introduced two new formats for youth couselling bodies stating that youth councils would also be set up at the Prime Ministers Office and the Presidents Office. Student councils operating across Estonia in educational institutions of different levels are also an important participation format.

  • Youth camps – enable young people to participate in healthy and developing activities. The duration of a youth camp is at least six work days, it is generally organised away from the young person’s place of residence and helps the youth to gain experience in independent living, communication, coping etc.

In 2019, there were 27 youth and 65 project camps in Estonia with 30,782 young people participating. The organisation of youth camps and project camps is regulated with the Youth Work Act, a regulation of the Minister of Education and Research and health protection requirements established by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The organisation of a camp requires an activity licence and the presence of a professional youth worker.

  • Work Camps for Young People and employability  - versatile work education methods are implemented according to target group needs in order to prepare young people for their entry into the labour market. The most common are work camps which are mainly held in summertime and which combine youth work and practical work. In 2019, there were 49 work camp organisers in Estonia with 4,224 young people participating.
  • Youth work in schools – youth work that is done in formal education and vocational education schools that supports the school’s curricula’ goals, is based on extracurricular activities and is organized by school youth workers, pupils unions and activity leaders. Each year, more than 70 000 young people participate in formal education hobby activities.

The Youth Work Act defines youth permanent and project camps, youth work associations, youth councils, youth associations, and mentions the financing of hobby education and recreational activities.


There is a specific budget for youth sector - including both youth policy and youth work - development at the national level, see more in Chapter 1.7.

The Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035 states that the funding for the youth sector for the overall implementation period, ie for the years 2021-2035 is 356,29 million euros.

The funding is aimed at covering the achivement of strategic goals as defined in the strategy, to be further specified at operational programme level (tbc). In very general terms, it could be stated that the  funding covers the capacity building of service providers in youth work, including training; implementing of specific measures and provision of the youth work services, analysis and monitoring. 

Since 2019, a new approach to funding of youth organisations was introduced on the state level, through so-called strategic partnerships between organisations and the Ministry of Education and Research, for the period of 3 years. Strategic partnership aimed at targeting the organisations that:

  • have operated at least 3 years (or less in justified cases) and contributes to policy, legislation and strategic development (incl. participation in state level thematic working groups) of the work areas of the Ministry of Education and Research;  
  • or is an umbrella organisation uniting field organisations in the area of work  of the Ministry of Education and Research and contributes to strategic aims of the field;
  • or is an organisation that is actively working on implementation of strategic goals of education, youth, language policy and research policy areas.

Before the new period is about to be launched since 2022, evaluation of the pilot initiative takes place to identify the needs for further changes in such partnership practice.

As local municipalities are the key actors to organize youth work, funding comes mainly from municipal budgets and the amounts and priorities vary diversely. Throughout the years there have been additional funds dedicated to local level from the state budget or EU funds to address certain priority fields like inclusion of young people at risk of exclusion, additional support to hobby education and hobby activities, innovation of youth services etc. Additional funds have also been allocated since 2020 in order to reduce the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic to the youth sector and opportunities of young people consequently.


Cross-sectorial cooperation is an overall approach in policy planning and delivery in Estonia in the field of youth. See more in Chapter 1.5.

For example, the implementation of the Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035 is foreseen to be supported by a steering committee, coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Research and including the representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Finance and the Government Office. Additionally, an important role is taken by youth representatives; strategic partners of the Ministry of Education and Research and experts of relevant areas are also included. See more about the management of the national youth strategy in Chapter 1.3 and the system of strategic partnerships in Chapter 1.7.

Over the years there have been funds dedicated to nudging further partnerships and cooperation, for example funding youth sector stakeholders cooperation groups of several municipalities on local level; also for cooperation actions between the formal and non-formal education; open youth work and partners from the technology sector to empower further development of smart youth work etc.

Furthermore, there have been tools developed to support data-informed solutions and better awareness among stakeholders from different policy fields as basis for cooperation in youth related issues. As an example there is  Youth Monitor (Noorteseire) promoting the cooperation between researchers, policymakers and practitioners in the youth field. Youth monitoring dashboard (Noorteseire juhtimislaud) is another tool in this respect, providing up-to-date data on various issues and target groups related to youth work and youth policy, like youth (un-)employment, entrepreneurship, education attendance, participation etc. See more in Chapter 1.6.