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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
On this page
  1. Historical developments
  2. National definition or understanding of Youth Work

Historical developments

Irish youth work arguably rose from Britain’s foundations in youth work in the early to mid-19th century. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of early Irish youth work was established by religious and political organisations. The 1920’s and 1930s were the begin of Irish youth club work. For more information, please see The Historical Development of Irish Youth Work.

The National Youth Council of Ireland was established in 1968. Part of the national budget was first allocated to sport and youth organisations in 1969/70. The first national youth policy, ‘National Youth Policy: In Partnership with Youth’, was published in 1985.  

Youth work has generally been implemented by non-statutory or non-governmental organisations, but, under the Youth Work Act 2001, there is a statutory responsibility to ensure the provision of youth work programmes or youth work services. This act also creates a statutory responsibility to ensure the development and co-ordination of policies relating to youth work programmes and youth work services in both the Irish and the English languages.

The first Irish framework for the delivery of a comprehensive youth service at local and national level was established in Ireland’s National Youth Work Development Plan 2003-2007.


National definition or understanding of Youth Work 

Youth Work Act 2001 (Section 3) defines youth work as a:

planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation, and which is —


(a) complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and

(b) provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations.


According to the National Quality Standards Framework, Youth Work Act 2001’s above definition highlights four important dimensions of youth work. That it is:

  • planned;
  • educational;
  • based on voluntary participation;
  • provided primarily by voluntary youth work services.


The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) lists youth work’s purposes as:

  • To build young people’s self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • To develop their ability to manage personal and social relationships;
  • To offer worthwhile and challenging new experiences;
  • To provide learning opportunities to enable young people to gain knowledge and develop new skills;
  • To build young people’s capacity to consider risks and consequences and make informed decisions and take responsibility;
  • To help young people to develop social awareness and a sense of social solidarity;
  • To give young people a voice in decision-making which affects their lives;
  • To enhance young people’s role as active citizens;
  • To listen to and hear what young people have to say.

Youth work is provided primarily by voluntary organisations. It receives some statutory support from the Department of Education and the Education and Training Boards.