Research results in a nutshell

Value of youth work

Review/Highlight Summary of a European Study


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The Education, Audio-visual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Commission Directorate General Education and Culture commissioned ICF GHK to carry out a Europe wide study to gain a better understanding of the youth work sector and crucially, to present its value across the EU. This is the first time that all Member States have been included in a review specifically about youth work. Croatia was not a Member State when the call for tenders was launched, so it was not involved in the research.

This report was developed between August 2012 and October 2013. During this period, the research team carried out a review of what is already known and what gaps exist in knowledge on the topic of youth work in the EU.

They created a typology of different youth work activities across the EU and mapped the national context of youth work in each Member State through an examination of definitions and legal frameworks. As well held a seminar with stakeholders to share knowledge and expertise and discuss the preliminary results of the study and carried out case studies with youth work initiatives and activities exploring the stories behind their success.

This report looks at what youth work is, how it is delivered and supported, who is involved and the trends in the last decade. The study also combines the evidence according to the literature, stakeholders and case studies to identify the factors that led to successful youth work outcomes.

There are some distinct main phases identifiable with the origins of youth work

The study highlights the diversity of youth work practice, the theoretical perspectives, the variety of actors involved, the observable trends in the sector, features of successful youth work and the range of outcomes associated with that success. Furthermore, it presents a comparative overview of the frameworks which support youth work at the national level across the EU.

This study has examined the tradition and development of youth work across all Member States of the EU which provides an important context for the more recent trends that have taken place in the sector during the last decade. Whilst traditions vary, there are some distinct main phases identifiable with the origins of youth work characterised by values -based youth work delivered by adults on a voluntary basis, often through the church or ideological youth movements. Since that time, other actors have become involved, notably the state, and the focus of activities has evolved as the concept of ‘youth’ developed and specific youth policies were put in place.

At national level, youth work continues to evolve and today has an important place in the political agenda of most EU countries. In fact, one of the growing trends is the increasing importance of youth policy for the youth work sector. The priorities of countries’ youth policies closely shape the public support for youth work. Primarily policy has shifted from a deficit model where ‘youth’ were viewed as problematic to recognising the value of young people as a resource and focusing on inclusion, empowerment and participation.

Whilst the report recognises the value of youth work in terms of the positive outcomes identified above, it is important to state that this study acknowledges that the focus and value of youth work is not only on what it produces in terms of outcomes. Whilst it is important to highlight the positive impact that youth work has, youth work should not be expected to do the job of other sectors and has to be valued as a distinct sector with its own set of objectives and characteristics.

Young people do not have the same patterns of participation in youth work on the basis of a number of characteristics. The reach of youth work is sometimes insufficient when it comes to some categories of young people, although these elements vary according to the type of youth work concerned: ‘older’ age cohorts of young people (i.e. young people aged 18+); those who are no longer in education (i.e. those in employment or unemployed); young people living in rural areas; those from a migrant background, and other minority groups and those who are from vulnerable or disadvantaged circumstances. On the other hand, there are some groups of young people who are very active and participate in a broad range of activities both inside and outside of youth work. The implications being that many of those who have perhaps the greatest potential to benefit from youth work are not currently being reached in practice.

The reach of youth work is sometimes insufficient when it comes to some categories of young people.

Aspects of youth work are regulated within the national contexts almost universally across the EU, though what is regulated varies from country to country.

The comparative analysis of the country reports shows that in many cases there are a range of structures or mechanisms in place in order to consult the views of those outside the national governance structures when developing youth policy. Whilst provisions may be in place to include the views of these stakeholders and young people, it is very unclear to what extent this is happening in practice and whether the rhetoric matches the reality. There is concern that the voice of young people is not in fact being represented at the various levels of policy and decision making. The economic crisis has also had an impact on supporting frameworks in both policy and funding. In countries that have suffered the most (Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Portugal) due to the economic downturn, the process in developing youth policy has stalled, though Ireland is a notable exception.

The data does not enable the report to conclude the exact reach of youth work amongst young people. Similarly, the population of youth workers remains unknown, though estimates do indicate that the number of volunteers greatly outweighs the number of salaried youth workers employed in the sector. The estimates show there are over 1.7 million youth workers (salaried and volunteers) in selected countries in the EU.

Increasingly youth workers are becoming understood as distinct profession. Youth workers are professional in their approach to youth work, even though they may not have been formally trained. Professionalism is not exclusively related to formal qualifications: rather youth workers integrate a professional approach to their work often supported through training and development provided by youth organisations and initiatives. Whilst in some countries the Government is involved in supporting youth workers through training opportunities, recognition and validation of learning, these supports are most commonly provided by youth associations, organisations and initiatives themselves.

Download the full report here


by Ivana Kuzmanić

Ivana Kuzmanić is the head of the regional youth info center Zagreb in Association IMAGINE, Croatia.

Photos: © poywe/Harti Gräbner


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