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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 understanding of Youth Work


Historical developments

With regard to the history of working with and for young people in Portugal, it is important to distinguish, from the outset, a before and an after the revolution of 25 April 1974. The revolution established the political process of a modern democratic state, the background on which the institutions and processes under which we look today at the reality of young Portuguese people and their options, rights and status in society.

As a historical process, these terms and the very notion of “Youth” were the object of a process of construction and tuning that is naturally and inextricably intertwined and interpenetrated with the development of the country’s political, economic, social and cultural contexts.

Finally, the national context has been also a product and producer of influences and questions arising from the recent past of European integration, with the dialogue with Europe being decisive to cover the foundations of public policies for Youth and promote changes and transformations.

These characteristics are reflected in the options of linguistic nature that are present in the Portuguese translations within EU documents, where the concept of youth work has been regularly assumed as “socio-educational animation of young people”, and the workers defined as “juvenile animators”, a narrow view of the broad and rich resonance of the landscape of Youth in our country.

Since the 19th century, new pedagogic ideas and methods had been introduced to the context of formal education, with characteristics of what is known today as non-formal education (proximity, empowerment, working with marginalized young people, and reform and critics of the educational methodologies). Those movements were under the development of republican ideals, the search for national unity and the efforts invested in raising the literacy of the general public.

Later, after 1936, the country was immersed in the dictatorial political regime and the work with youth was naturally constrained to the ideas of the regime that also controlled the social movements. The Estado Novo regime created the “Mocidade Portuguesa”, an organization inspired by the fascist ideologies prevailing in countries like Spain, Italy and Germany. The participation in the “Mocidade Portuguesa” (Portuguese Youth) was mandatory between ages 7 and 14 and voluntary up to 18 years, and was focused on promoting traditional moral standards as a vehicle of nurturing and reproducing the political ideology of the regime. The Catholic Church and its institutions were also a decisive element in youth education, in a close thread with the regime and its guiding lines, although with some tensions arising regarding the militaristic path taken by the mocidade Portuguesa, as well as around the organization and aim of the scouts' movements.

After 1970, a process of reforms began to take place, and the revolution put an end to the mocidade Portuguesa, and a more cultural, rather than political, as well as more liberal and plural view of youth movements and organizations arose.

In 1974 the democratic revolution occurred on the 25th of April and started the process of democratization and pluralization. Youth rapidly became a priority, and the FAOJ – support fund for youth organizations was created, dedicated to the public organization and political administration of the youth sector. This would be the ancestor of what is nowadays the Portuguese Institute for Sports and Youth and the first of a series of reforms for the introduction of new ideas, coming from the framework of socio-cultural animation and strongly influenced by the French May of 68th.

Later, the Constitution of 1976 would state youth organizations and movements and youth rights in its article 70º.

In the following years, the Youth sector would see a rapid development, widespread and growing political relevance, aiming the advancement of youth’s aspirations and needs, their empowerment and self-determination.

Some core aspects would be the definition of the scope for the concept of youth regarding age and youth organizations, apart from other organizations. The national record of youth organizations (RNAJ) was created, to strengthen an integrated and cross-sectoral youth policy, as well as the National Youth Council, and the sector was established in a direct political position in the sphere of decision of the prime-minister itself.

The importance of Youth as a political priority remained very high and in 1988 the Portuguese Youth Institute (IPJ) was created.

Meanwhile, the country was opening to international cooperation and relationships (EU, UN, the Council of Europe, and so on). It produced important effects and influenced the country’s policies, and some key initiatives took place, like the creation of programs aimed at the training of youth leaders, youth animators. A more global view on youth was developed, rather than centered on education solely, although totally tuned with the central concept of non-formal education, with a more decentralized view and a transfer of power to local bodies and regional structures to attend the regional needs and characteristics of youngsters.

From this period, a wide range of programs emerged in several domains, having non-formal education as a central pillar, giving form to the concepts mentioned before, in leisure times activities, work camps, health, voluntary service, European programs, international cooperation, entrepreneurship, environment, and so on.

From 1996 onwards Youth work became strengthened and assumed the complexity of our age, with a reinforcement of the political and civic participation of young people, the growth of youth organizations and movements, the spread of youth hostels, and the consultation and participative structures for young people (federations of youth associations, local youth councils), offering of regular state support to youth activities and new youth programs and initiatives, increase in training, growing of youth voluntary service, and an intense debate on the notion of professionalization and recognition of youth work).

The number of youth organizations has remained stable in the last decade, frequently around an average rough number of 1000 each year, across the territory, including youth organizations, federations of youth organizations, students organizations and federations, scouts movements, and informal groups.

As for youth workers, following the intense debate and the evolution of public youth policies, and particularly influenced by the European debate, where the two conventions on youth work had a central place - on December 8, 2015, the first professional profile of a Youth Worker was published in the National Qualifications Catalog.

This professional is now called “Técnico de Juventude”.

National definition or understanding of youth work

In Portugal, there is no specific concept of youth work, there is no legal or other definition. Speaking of “youth work” nowadays, in Portugal, however, we can approach a close meaning in the expression “work with and for young people (trabalho com e para jovens). It is, however, a very broad range of interventions, situations, actors, implying generally and mainly non-formal education, private and public institutions, and an intervention with ages ranging from 10 to 35 years old.

As such, the notion of a modern youth policy can be the optimal combination of the “for”, thus having young people and Youth as recipients or target audience, and the “with”, that is, guaranteeing their decisive participation and self-determination at all institutional and procedural levels of action in the field that latu sensu is called “Youth sector” on a daily basis.




Having this in mind the broad scope of work with Youth, mainly through non-formal education, both in public as well as in private sector, essentially through non-profitable activity, we, therefore, can find multiple ways and contexts of practice: volunteers, members of youth organizations, scouts, trainers, socio-cultural animators, civil servants from central and regional structures, and central and local powers, all working in the most diverse and transversal activities and places with and for youth.

Likewise, and on an emblematic basis, on December 8, 2015, the first professional profile of a Youth Worker was published in the National Qualifications Catalog. It was build aiming to coincide with a certain idea of Youth Worker in Portugal, hereinafter referred to as “Técnico de Juventude”.

This means officially a professional whose purpose is to: “Intervene in the design, organization, development and evaluation of projects, programs and activities with and for young people, using methodologies in the field of non-formal education, facilitating and promoting citizenship, participation, autonomy, inclusion and personal, social development and cultural.”

Thus, with the integration in the CNQ (National Qualifications Catalogue) and the formal institutional definition as a profession, based on a rigorous set of objectives, qualifications, competences and training profile, a new standard of quality was achieved and a new ambition to develop this kind of activity gained space.

Plus, the profile has been built based on some principles present in the European youth work portfolio of the Council of Europe, having in mind the national context and the joint work with the young people themselves, including youth workers and the main representative platforms such as the National Youth Council (CNJ) and FNAJ (National Federation of Youth Organizations), under the supervising technical role of IPDJ and the political support of the State Secretary for Youth and Sport, that had already developed a unique tour around the country to listen to young people and their organizations, in-person (Roteiro do Associativismo).

Finally, the professional profile of the youth worker is a level 4 EQF standard, with double certification, allowing the professional certificate and the access to the 12th-grade degree of secondary school education, building bridges between non-formal and formal education.

However, following the best practices in the field of professional requirements today, there is no mandatory obligation for someone who wants to be a “youth worker”, or to “work with or young people” to have the professional degree of Técnico de Juventude. Nevertheless, the several different contexts of intervention require their own sets of competencies: for example, a trainer must have training for trainers degree, a socio-cultural animator has its own professional profile, civil servants are recruited based on formal criteria, and so on.