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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 - 13:39

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


Historical developments 

Youth work is an important area of education policy and is therefore covered by the Department of Education’s vision and priorities for education. The Department of Education’s policy for youth work is set out in detail in Priorities for Youth: Improving Young People’s Lives through Youth Work, published in October 2013. The policy document provides the strategic direction and overall framework for the delivery of the Department of Education funded youth services.

Priorities for Youth is also informed by Youth Work: A Model for Effective Practice (1997 - updated 2003), a non-statutory curriculum endorsed by the Department of Education that provides a flexible framework for the delivery of good youth work practice.

One of the key actions required within Priorities for Youth is the development of a Regional Youth Development Plan. This is outlined as a three-year, strategic regional plan, focused on outcomes, to address the priorities and actions identified though a regional assessment of need which is undertaken every 3 years and reviewed annually. A draft 2020-2023 assessment was released in December 2019.

National definition or understanding of Youth Work 

Priorities for Youth defines the strategic aims of youth work as:


  • To contribute to raising standards for all and closing the performance gap between the highest and lowest achieving young people by providing access to enjoyable, non-formal learning opportunities that help them to develop enhanced social and cognitive skills and overcome barriers to learning; and
  • To continue to improve the non-formal learning environment by creating inclusive, participative settings in which the voice and influence of young people are championed, supported and evident in the design, delivery and evaluation of programmes. 

Priorities for Youth sets out ambitions for youth work that illustrates the document’s overarching understanding of the concept. According to the document, youth work should ‘support and encourage children and young people to mature and reach their potential as valued individuals and responsible citizens. Effective youth work helps young people to identify their personal and social development needs and involves them in shaping the services designed to meet those needs to improve both their own skills and life chances in order to create a better future for themselves and their communities. Unlike school, participation is voluntary.’

Youth Work: A Model for Effective Practice defines youth work as ‘a distinctly educational process that happens in a non-formal environment. It seeks to go beyond where young people start, to widen horizons, promote participation and invite social commitment, in particular by encouraging them to be critical and creative in their responses to their experience and the world around them.’

In both documents, there is an emphasis on inclusivity in youth work.