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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 3 April 2024
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Historical developments

The history of youth work in Hungary is often described to as a continuous discontinuity. The foundations of modern youth work lie in the Christian youth organisations of the early 20th century, especially in scouting, and do not differ fundamentally from other European countries at that time. As Wootsch (2010) notes, the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. led youth movements down an intensely political path

'because the nationalists and revisionists defined the political and social role of youth work.' (Wootsch, 2010: 106)

The Scouts had strong political support in the right-wing authoritarian regime, and they engaged in direct political activities: mainly in spreading revisionist goals abroad. The most notable youth-related event of this era took place in 1933, when the 4th World Scout Jamboree was held in Gödöllő. While in the beginning of World War II there had been around 60 000 scouts, the communist regime banned the movement in 1948.

After World War II institutionalised youth work was placed under the umbrella of the pioneer movement, similar to the general trend in the socialist bloc. In 1948, the Scouts were incorporated into the Pioneer Movement. Some elements and methods of scouting were retained, but communist ideological socialisation played a key role in the activities (although the ideological function gradually diminished from the 1970s onwards).

In addition to its ideological function, the Pioneer Movement also played a role in cultural education and in sport. Almost all primary school students were pioneers, while some young people of higher age groups were affiliated to the Communist Youth League. During late socialism, the youth work of these institutions focused mainly on community organising, and as such, it was not unsuccessful. When Act 1989 - II on the Right of Association made it possible to establish organisations, many youth organisations were established upon communities of these roots.

The discontinuity mentioned above continues after the democratic transition. In 1995 the European Youth Centre (Európai Ifjúsági Központ) opened in Budapest. Also, the Mobilitás National Youth Service started to operate. Its tasks were, among others, the provision of methodological background to youth work between 1995 and 2013. The European Youth Centre has hosted many youth and human rights related programmes and trainings, and has been working closely together with the youth sector in Hungary. It hosted Mobilitás until 2013, and from 2014 the National Youth Council (Nemzeti Ifjúsági Tanács). Between 2013 and 2022, the tasks related to methodological and institutional support of youth work were coordinated by the project-funded Elisabeth Youth Foundation Nonprofit Ltd which was the legal successor of the New Generation Centre Nonprofit Ltd. As of 2024, no such institutions exist. As Nagy and Oross (2018) conclude regarding the traditions of Hungarian youth work:

'The tradition of Hungarian youth work has been shaped by the pedagogical practice of teachers, by the social work practice of building horizontal relationships and cooperation with young people and by the leisure-time activities of public cultural work. Since 2003, the basis for the distinct profession is provided by youth worker training. But […] youth work has continued to be a complementary, ancillary area in Hungary, and has less prestige than related professions.' (Nagy and Oross, 2018: 43).

National definition or understanding of Youth Work

In Hungary, there is no official definition of youth work. As a youth law is missing, only contextual information and approach can be drawn. Strategical and policy documents often use the term youth work, often referring to or adopting the EU terminologies and definitions. However, the term ifjúságsegítő (officially translated into youth assistant, but routinely referred to as the Hungarian translation of youth worker) is also present in both strategic documents and everyday language of youth work.

It appears that in recent years, youth work terminology has become entrenched in Government documents and statements. The consistent terminology is undermined by the changes in the training, which was called 'social and youth work' between 2012 and 2016 and was reconceptualised as 'youth community coordinator', while the Hungarian Standard Classification of Professions still refers to the profession as youth assistant.

In Youth Wiki, we make a distinction, and

  • where the term 'ifjúságsegítő' is in use, we will refer to youth assistant, and
  • 'ifjúsági munka' will be translated as youth work.

But here too, it must be underlined, that in many cases they are used as interchangeable or overlapping terms.

Theoretical approaches of youth work in Hungary usually refer to its low threshold nature and service role, as well as its non-formal and informal learning methods, contribution to young people becoming responsible adults and citizens and participation in the labour market (Wootsch, 2009).

The National Youth Strategy [Nemzeti Ifjúsági Stratégia (hereinafter referred to as NYS)] refers to youth work as one of the youth services playing a key role in the development of youth. A vague understanding of youth work can be concluded from the part of the NYS that concerns intercultural learning:

'In the context of youth tourism, youth exchanges, volunteer work performed in an international environment (...) particular attention must be paid to the involvement of disadvantaged young people.' (National Youth Strategy p. 54.)

This extract implies that informal and non-formal learning, as well as counselling, is considered to be part of youth work. Youth work is most saliently mentioned in the specific objective of 'Enhancing the Work of The Youth Profession and Nongovernmental Youth Organisations'. The chapter on 'youth policy, the youth profession, youth work' state the necessity

'in the Hungarian youth work and youth field to set the criteria of recognising the equality of the professions of youth assistants and youth specialists.' (National Youth Strategy p. 68.)

This extract adds the aspect of direct and multilateral contact to the understanding of the concept.

In more recent government documents youth work (in line with the changed name of the education programme) is often understood in the context of community coordination.