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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 28/12/2020 - 13:23

On this page
  1. Historical developments
  2. National definition or undertanding of Youth Work

Historical developments 

The historical background of youth work in England is described in the National Youth Agency’s Guide to Youth work in England.

‘Youth work has its origins in the clubs and projects set up by voluntary organisations – often with a religious intent - in the 19th century. Many of these, such as the Boys’ Brigade and the Young Women’s Christian Association, still exist today as national voluntary youth organisations. State recognition for youth work dates from the outbreak of war in 1939.’

Today, youth services and youth work have developed into a complex network of providers including community groups, voluntary organisations, and local authorities.

There is no current specific youth work charter or strategy for England. However, there are several documents regarding youth work in England:

In April 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced the development of a new Youth Charter to set the vision for young people over the next generation and beyond. This included £500m of funding, allocated through the Youth Investment Fund, for youth work services. However, as of December 2020 this funding has not been delivered. For more information please see the article ‘Current debates and reforms’.

National definition or understanding of Youth Work 

The National Occupational Standards for Youth Work puts forth the following understanding of the aims and essence of youth work.

  • ‘The aim of youth work is to offer young people both planned and spontaneous programmes of personal and social education. There is a wide range of practice to meet the needs of young people, including youth clubs, uniformed (e.g. scouting and guiding) and non-uniformed organisations, faith groups, specialised centres for art or sport, counselling, information and guidance, voluntary service, detached, outreach in schools and colleges.
  • The essence of youth work is to enable the transition from childhood to independent adult life. In other words youth work helps young people learn about themselves, others and society, through informal educational activities which combine enjoyment, challenge and learning.’ 

Furthermore, the National Youth Agency, the leading national charity for youth work in England, sets out the following definition:

‘Youth work focuses on personal and social development – the skills and attributes of young people – rather than to “fix a problem”. It is an educational process that engages with young people in a curriculum that deepens a young person’s understanding of themselves, their community and the world in which they live and supports them to proactively bring about positive changes.

Therefore youth work needs to be (and be seen to be) transformational, harnessing skills of young people not fulfilled by formal education.’

Both definitions emphasise the influential power of youth work in informing young people how to be their best selves and the best citizens within their community. Youth work is seen as not only a learning opportunity, but a system of support on which young people can rely regarding a variety of social and personal factors.