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Like many other aspects of social life, Maltese youth work has its origins in the activities of the Catholic Church and its voluntary organizations. Bodies such as The Society of Christian Doctrine, the Catholic Action and the Salesians which were all founded in Malta at the beginning of the 20th century were concerned with providing structures through which adults could reach young people and keep them connected to the orderly Catholic world. They mainly worked for the same cause using different methodologies. They were also committed to youth socialization, to mould a catholic character and to develop Maltese catholic citizens with habits of self-control, rather than having a congregation of young people separate from adult society and whiling away their time aimlessly. Amidst the voluntary work done by a number of Church organisations, the British connection brought about other youth organisations such as the Scout Association. Since 1908 the Malta Scouts Association started a tradition that kept scouting in the very forefront of youth education in Malta.
Later with the inception of Malta’s independence and the Second Vatican Council reform (1963-1965) the church had to take up the challenge of the new social role. The 1970s and early 1980s brought about parish based youth centres run by the parish priest or parish youth led groups run by the Catholic Action. These centres still aimed at catholic formation but also opened as a drop in club where young people could frequent the centre every evening, have a drink at the bar and play indoor games or football whilst at the same time attending a weekly bible study or religious meeting organized mostly by a young priest from the parish. These centres were complimented with some residential focused work where retreats were run for groups of young people in a residential retreat centre.
State provided youth services and youth work started to get shaped in the 1980s. A section called YSO (Youth Services Organisation) within the Education Department was set up to organise youth exchanges between Malta and some close countries to encourage young people’s mobility and strengthen language practice. These exchanges were organised through schools during the school holidays and young people were taken to countries like Italy and France.
Young people themselves also started seeking belonging because of the services offered rather than because of an interest in the ideals of the group. which led to the formation of new youth led movement.
In 1993 The Department of Youth & Community Studies within the University of Malta was established. Its main aims were to produce research on young people as well as to train people who wanted to work with young people – Youth Workers. In 1998 the first set of Youth and Community Studies graduates set the Maltese Association of Youth Workers intended to lobby for the profession and in 2015 Youth Work was officially recognised as a formally regulated profession through the Youth Work Profession Act.
Youth Work in Malta is a formally recognised profession. The Youth Work Profession Act – Chapter 533 of the Laws of Malta specifies that: Youth Work Malta is a non-formal learning activity aimed at the personal, social and political development of young people. Youth workers engage with young people within their communities, including the voluntary sector and support them in realising their potential and address life’s challenges critically and creatively to bring about social change. Youth work takes into account all strands of diversity and focuses on all young people between thirteen (13) to thirty (30) years of age.