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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 21 June 2024
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  1. Historical developments
  2. National definition or undertanding of Youth Work

Historical developments

The development of youth work in the Republic of Serbia greatly depended on a complex national history and accordingly took various forms. As claimed by Krnjajic in the History of Youth Work in Europe (2012), different types of youth care have existed in different historical periods, from early forms in the Yugoslav Kingdom (19th century) up to the systematic institutional approach of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Serbia (formed in 2007).

One of the first forms of youth work was of a humanitarian nature and existed at the end of the 19th century in the form of child and youth care. The twentieth century in the Yugoslav Kingdom and later in the Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was the period when several small-scale organisations were formed and actively contributed to the interests of young people in different areas of social life. One of the milestones was the establishment of the Serbian Scout Organisation in 1911. This organisation resumed its activities after the Second World War and is still active. Some other organisations formed in that period are also still active:

  • Nature Conservation Movement of Serbia (founded in 1960)
  • Youth Researchers of Serbia (founded in 1969).

The Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije, SKOJ) was active from 1919 to 1948. The SKOJ together with the Unified League of Anti-Fascist Youth of Yugoslavia became a part of a wider organisation of Yugoslav youth, the People’s Youth of Yugoslavia, which later became the League of Socialist Youth of Yugoslavia in 1974. As described in CoE Country sheet on youth work in Serbia, during and after the Second World War, anti-fascist and ideological influences were predominant in child and youth care. The most commonly promoted values were equality, solidarity, friendship, liberty, atheism, volunteerism, patriotism and collectivism.

Between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s, youth work activities were very popular, including voluntary labour by young people (see more in Chapter 2.1 General context). Even though the main goal was the rebuilding of the public infrastructure (roads, railways, etc.), other structured activities (sports and cultural activities) as well as the promotion of mobility among young people were also involved (The History of Youth work in Europe, 2012).  

The turbulent phase of disintegration of the SFRY and transition from socialism to capitalism in the 1990s led to a transformation of youth work as a concept. As the previous forms of organization ceased to exist and the decade was marked by student protests and a change of government - various activities, and NGO programmes and youth projects in Serbia were supported by international organisations. A significant number of programmes and projects were specifically designed for refugee and internally displaced children and youth (CoE Country sheet on youth work in Serbia).

The first efforts to establish an institutional mechanism for youth activities were made in the first years of the twenty-first century by forming the Youth Section within the then Ministry of Education and Sports (2001-2004). This, however, was not long lasting due to lack of systematic political support (CoE Country sheet).

After an intensive advocacy by youth NGOs gathered within the Youth Coalition of Serbia, in May 2007, the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Serbia was established. The adoption of the first National Youth Strategy (2008-2014) and the Law on Youth (2011) soon followed. Since then, the role of youth work has gained in importance and was further systemically supported both at the national and local levels. 

The concept of youth work, was included, for the first time, into the national youth strategic framework within the National Youth Strategy (2008-2014) under the first out of eleven strategic objectives, the one addressing the active youth participation in the society.  

The following strategic document – the National Youth Strategy (2015-2025), detected still problems related to the recognition of youth work and the lack of systemic support for youth work activities, as well as for the youth work service providers. Therefore, specific goal 2 of the second strategic objective (Education, pedagogical work with and training of youth) stipulated improvement of the quality and availability of youth work and ensuring the recognition of youth work.  The National Association of Youth Workers (NAPOR) was established in 2009 to ensure the quality of youth work programmes, to standardize and professionalize it and make youth work recognized by young people, institutions working with young people, the state and society in general. In its work so far, NAPOR has influenced policy development and helped developed quality assurance mechanisms for its implementation at the national and local levels.

The youth worker as occupation/profession has been recognised in the 2019 National Classification of Occupation. The occupation has been registered under code 3412.03 – “A youth worker is a professional person, engaged in civil society organizations/institutions/local self-government, who carries out youth work activities, and whose competencies are defined by occupational standards in the field of youth work“. Competences can be acquired through formal, non-formal and informal education and learning.

The youth work issues gained additional importance following the establishment of the expert team to implement the Bonn Process in 2021, and the adoption of the latest strategic document in the field of youth – Youth Strategy in the Republic of Serbia for the period from 2023 to 2030

National definition or understanding of Youth Work

Youth work is defined within the Law on Youth (2011) in Article 3 as youth activities organised by and for young people, based on non-formal education, carried out in young people’s free time and undertaken with the aim of improving the conditions for personal and social development of young people, in accordance with their needs and abilities, in which young people voluntarily participate.

The definition given by NAPOR in the Glossary of Youth Policy is more detailed as youth work is seen as professional, pedagogical work with young people, that takes place outside the system of formal education, i.e. within youth leisure time and in which young people participate on a voluntary basis. Youth work is complementary to formal education. It is a planned (and continuous) educational process, created with the purpose of providing support to young people in the process of gaining independence. Youth work is carried out by youth workers, who help young people in personal and social development to become active members of society and participants in the decision-making process. The idea of ​​youth work is based on creating a safe environment and opportunities for active participation of young people. Young people in youth work acquire competencies for employability, re-examine and build their values ​​and attitudes, and thus their identity.

In its Glossary, NAPOR makes the distinction between non-formal education and youth work. The main differences are reflected in the methods in use. Namely, the methods of youth work are of a wider scope and include the methods of non-formal education, without being limited only to them. In addition to them, numerous methods are used that aim to encourage the emotional and social development of young people. Non-formal education may include a variety of target groups, not just young people, as is the case in youth work. In addition, whereas participants in non-formal education can be “passive beneficiaries”, youth participating in youth work is active and can often independently carry out some of the activities.

The first of the five specific goals of the current Youth Strategy in the Republic of Serbia for the period from 2023 to 2030, directly addressees the youth work and has been defined as follows: “Youth work is standardised in the system of non-formal education and is continuously implemented“. Strategy has defined 6 measures to be implemented in order to achieve this objective specifically addressing problems of youth workers, quality assurance, cross-sectoral cooperation, recognition, knowledge management and harmonisation with international standards. Progress in addressing youth work issues will be verified through 4 outcome and 17 output indicators. More details on specific measures and indicators could be found in the section 10.3 Support to youth work.