Defining Youth Work

What follows is not a ‘research definition’ and it is not normative — it is a matter of fact descriptive attempt.

The main objective of youth work is to provide opportunities for young people to shape their own futures.

Youth work is a summary expression for activities with and for young people of a social, cultural, educational or political nature. Increasingly, youth work activities also include sports and services for young people. Youth work belongs to the domain of ‘out-of-school’ education, most commonly referred to as either non-formal or informal learning.

providing opportunities for young people to shape their own futures

The general aims of youth work are the integration and inclusion of young people in society. It may also aim towards the personal and social emancipation of young people from dependency and exploitation.

aimed at integration and inclusion
Youth matters

Youth Work belongs both to the social welfare and to the educational systems. In some countries it is regulated by law and administered by state civil servants, in particular at local level. However, there exists an important relation between these professional and voluntary workers which is at times antagonistic, and at others, cooperative.

The definition of youth work is diverse. While it is recognised, promoted and financed by public authorities in many European countries, it has only a marginal status in others where it remains of an entirely voluntary nature. What is considered in one country to be the work of traditional ‘youth workers’ — be it professionals or volunteers – may be carried out by consultants in another, or by neighbourhoods and families in yet another country or, indeed, not at all in many places.

diverse youth work definitions and realities across Europe
Youth Work for Dummies

Today, the difficulty within state systems to adequately ensure global access to education and the labour market, means that youth work increasingly deals with unemployment, educational failure, marginalisation and social exclusion. Increasingly, youth work overlaps with the area of social services previously undertaken by the Welfare State. It, therefore, includes work on aspects such as education, employment, assistance and guidance, housing, mobility, criminal justice and health, as well as the more traditional areas of participation, youth politics, cultural activities, career guidance, leisure and sports.

shifting foci and enlarging priorities

Youth work often seeks to reach out to particular groups of young people such as disadvantaged youth in socially deprived neighbourhoods, or immigrant youth including refugees and asylum seekers. Youth work may at times be organised around a particular religious tradition.

Peter Lauritzen works at the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Youth and Sport as the Head of the Youth Unit.

You disagree? Have something to add? Wanna argue? Fire away!

By Peter Lauritzen

One of the leading figures of European political education.


  1. Wow – brave to take on such a issue (just like asking how long is a piece of string) :-)

    Good work!

  2. Interesting and related:

    In the framework of a study on the socio-economic scope of youth work commissioned by the EU-COE Youth Partnership, the Institut fur Sozialarbeit und Sozialpadagogik has compared the definitions, target groups and legal frameworks of 10 European countries.

    Comparison of 10 countries

    The whole study can be found and downloaded here.

    [Update: Link adjusted after Relaunch of Partnership Website // Jan 23, 2008]

  3. Hi there!

    Just have a look at the new Research Project of the Council of Europe & the European Commission «The Socioeconomic Scope of Youth Work in Europe.» There, you can find interesting information regarding youth work definitions in 10 European countries.

    [FYI – this is the same study linked to in the previous comment.]
    [The partnership website is currently under construction. Jan 08]
    [Update: Link corrected after partnership relaunch. Jan 23, 2008]

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