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Youth Sector and the Youth Work Sector

 

The Youth Work Act, 2001 defines youth work as:


A planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young people through their voluntary involvement, and which is complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training and provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations.

The fundamental purpose of youth work is the personal and social development of young people. The former involves learning which leads to changes in attitudes, skills, knowledge and behaviours. The latter involves changes in interactions between young people and between young people and the social environment which can lead to further changes in circumstances, conditions, systems, services and procedures.

Youth work is a type of non-formal education. It has no set curriculum and does not normally lead to certified qualifications. Youth workers have no formal authority in relation to young people that is equivalent, for example, to teachers or social workers. It occurs mainly in informal community-based settings, but not exclusively. Youth work takes many forms at the level of activities many of which involve fun.  At the core of these activities is a distinctive methodology, which is commonly referred to as the youth work process. This process is characterised by:

•    Trustful and respectful relationships with and between young people, into which they normally enter by choice and work with adults in partnership
•    Purposeful practices tailored to the interests and concerns, needs, rights and responsibilities of young people, giving priority to how they identify and understand these
•    Active, experiential and collective learning over didactic and individualised forms, or predetermined curricula
•    Opportunities that are developmental, educative, challenging, supportive, and creative that are intended and designed to extend young people’s power over their own lives and within their wider society
•    Supports for young people to clarify and embrace key features of their individual and collective  identities – in relation particularly to class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and dis/ability
•    Supports for young people as they deal with difficulties, threats and risks which may impact in damaging ways on them personally, on their communities and on the wider society.

Box 1 shows that youth work is located on the boundary of related provision. These other forms of provision have a distinctive purpose which overlaps with but is different from youth work. Formal education in school settings, for example, has a set curriculum with associated examinations and qualifications.  It takes place at certain times and in fixed locations, and attendance is compulsory.  Elements of the school experience, however, can be similar to youth work.  For example, when young people engage in small group work to discuss social issues, or go on a field trip and engage in activities where the focus is on developing communication skills.  Other forms of provision are closer to youth work. Community based health workers, for example, would share both intent and methodology. The difference is that the reason for engagement with young people is about health as opposed to personal and social development.  Obviously, personal and social development has positive benefits for formal education and health, which is why youth work is complementary to other forms of provision. 

The difference is not absolute, and in practice situations it can be difficult to distinguish between, for example, community arts and youth work. 

Box 1: Youth work on the boundary of related provision

 

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