Youth Work

Youth Work can be defined as “actions directed towards young people regarding activities where they take part voluntarily, designed for supporting their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning”.

It is worth mention the term “youth work” does not even exist in many languages and it is understood differently in the countries where it does exist.

What is it?

Youth work offers developmental spaces and opportunities for all young people and is based on non-formal and informal learning processes and on voluntary participation.

Youth work has three essential features:

  • Young people choose to participate
  • The work takes place where the young people are
  • It recognises that the young person and the youth worker are partners in a learning process

It includes a broad range of activities (social, cultural, educational, sports-related and political) carried out with, by and for young people through non-formal and informal learning. It provides out-of-school education, as well as leisure activities managed by professional or voluntary youth workers and youth leaders.  However, not all youth initiatives are considered youth work – activities that are managed by youth but not aimed at young people may not be considered youth work.

Young people should not be seen only as beneficiaries of youth work, but must be seen and met as central stakeholders and co-creators in the design and implementation of youth work activities and programmes – if you do not need to include young people when doing youth work, you are not doing youth work.

Youth work provides out-of-school education, as well as leisure activities managed by professional or voluntary youth workers and youth leaders. 

Its value is recognised in the Council conclusions on youth work and highlighted in a study released in 2014.

“Youth work’ is a broad term covering a broad scope of activities of a social, cultural, educational or political nature by, with and for young people. Increasingly, such activities also include sport and services for young people. Youth work belongs to the area of "out-of-school" education, as well as specific leisure time activities managed by professional or voluntary youth workers and youth leaders. Youth work is organised in different ways (by youth led organisations, organisations for youth, informal groups or through youth services and public authorities). It is delivered in different forms and settings (e.g. open-access, group-based, programme-based, outreach and detached) and is given shape at local, regional, national and European level.”

3239th EDUCATION, YOUTH, CULTURE and SPORT Council meeting Brussels, 16-17 May 2013

What Are the Aims?

Youth work helps young people to reach their full potential. It encourages personal development, autonomy, initiative and participation in society.


Youth Workers can be defined as “People working in direct contact with young people, carrying out activities designed for supporting their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning. Youth workers, in turn, might be professionals or volunteers and be civil servants or work for NGOs.”.

In Portugal, the Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competences (RVCC) for the Youth Worker profession characterises it as “a professional defined by: Intervening in the conception, organisation, development and evaluation of projects, programs and activities with and for young people, through non-formal education methodologies, facilitating and promoting citizenship, participation, autonomy, inclusion and personal, social and cultural development ”.

Where DOES Take place?

Youth work is delivered in different forms and settings (eg open-access, group-based, programme-based, outreach, and detached) at local, regional, national, and European level. Funding programmes and support systems to support actions directed at youth are also considered youth work.

These are the most common forms of Youth Work:

  • Youth Centres
  • Youth Projects
  • Informal Youth Groups
  • Youth Camps
  • Youth Information
  • Youth Organisations
  • Youth Movements

There are other forms of youth work, depending on the country and the way Youth Work is seen of recognised, can be carried out by different entities (NGOs, schools, municipalities, etc.) and take place in other places such as youth centres, community spaces, schools, churches, libraries, etc. 

Its effectiveness has led to an increasing number of organisations – such as those working in youth justice and health improvement – to develop a youth work approach. This enables young people who might otherwise be alienated from support to get the services they need.


Sometimes it is difficult to find a border between youth work and other activities directed at young people. There are good examples of valuable youth work in other fields, such as sports, but it is important to clearly show the differences between areas that work with the same target group.

Youth Work activities have the following key aspects to differentiate from other areas: the activities must attract young people on voluntary basis, use non-formal education methods and aimed at the personal and social development of the participants.

In the field of sport, “activities that are based purely on improving performance and reaching excellence in a given sport would most likely not be considered to be youth work by representatives of the sector” – the difference is the main objectives of the activities and the way of working with young people.

Leisure activities in certain conditions may describe the time frame where some activities take place and not directly connected with objectives. Leisure work is referred to work at providing activities with a primary focus on the fun factor and not on the development of young people in personal, social and cultural dimensions. These type of activities can however be used as tools to foster connection with young people and connected with youth work activities, 

Also a place for young people to use or hang out but without a clear way to support personal development or non-formal learning may not be considered as a location where youth work take place. For example: a room with tables to work, study, read books or play games. 

Youth work may also include similar objectives to social work such as prevention and social inclusion. However, if it is not aimed at personal and social development of young people or the participants are obliged to take part in the activities, it should be considered social work using non formal education methods.

Core Principles of Youth Work

In order to be successful, youth work should be perceived as being attractive, bringing value or joy in life;

In order to be attractive, youth work should 

1) respond to the different needs, interests and experiences of young people as perceived by themselves; and 

2) be actively inclusive, reach out and welcome all groups of young people;

In order to be this, youth work should:

1) have a holistic perspective and meet young people as capable individuals and resources; and 

2) enhance young people’s rights, personal and social development and autonomy;

In order to do this, youth work should be based on young people’s voluntary and active participation, engagement and responsibility;

In order to do this, Youth work should:

1) be designed, delivered and evaluated toguether with young people; and 

2) be based on non-formal education and informal learning;

In order to be this, Youth work should have a visible learning perspective and design its activities in accordance with clear learning objectives that are relevant to the young people participating.