Youth Work Funding

What is Youth Work?

Youth work has been enhancing the lives of young people and adults in Ireland for more than 100 years. It was given formal statutory recognition in the Youth Work Act 2001, which 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.

Youth work is above all an educational and developmental process, based on young people’s active and voluntary participation and commitment. It is often defined as ‘non-formal education’. Youth work is for all young people, with particular focus on those aged 10 to 25 from all aspects of Irish life, urban, rural, all nationalities and social classes. Youth work is provided primarily by voluntary organisations, with statutory support from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth  and the Education and Training Boards.

Our vision is for all of our young people to have ambition for themselves, to be confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens; and to be nurtured, safe, active, healthy, achieving, included, respected and responsible. We believe that youth work has a significant role to play in realising this vision for young people.

The purpose of youth work

  • To build young people’s self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • To develop their ability to manage personal and social relationships;
  • To offer worthwhile and challenging new experiences;
  • To provide learning opportunities to enable young people to gain knowledge and develop new skills;
  • To build young people’s capacity to consider risks and consequences and make informed decisions and take responsibility;
  • To help young people to develop social awareness and a sense of social solidarity;
  • To give young people a voice in decision-making which affect their lives;
  • To enhance young people’s role as active citizens;
  • To listen to and hear what young people have to say.

How does it happen?

With a focus on process in which the active and critical participation of young people is essential, the methods adopted and the programmes and activities engaged in by youth workers and young people are very diverse, including:

  • Recreation, sport and indoor/outdoor pursuits
  • Arts and culture, including drama and the Irish Language
  • Citizenship, social action, youth participation, rights and equality issues, the environment, development education and politics
  • Welfare and well-being including health promotion, relationships and sexuality, stress management, first aid, drugs, alcohol and smoking
  • Life skills, such as leadership, teamwork, planning and decision making, communication, problem solving, initiative and responsibility
  • Critical Analysis and creative and reflective thinking
  • Intercultural and international awareness activities and exchanges
  • Information technology

What are the values of youth work?

The values of youth work match the purpose of education and are fundamental to the process, raising the confidence of individuals, their contribution to society, and their value as citizens. These values are

  • Empowerment of young people
  • Equality and inclusion
  • Respect for all young people
  • Involvement of young people in decision-making
  • Partnership
  • Voluntary participation

What are the benefits of youth work?

Youth work adds value to the lives of all young people, helping them develop lasting skills and attributes, and can particularly affect the lives of young people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, or are most challenged by school. It can help to build confidence, provide role models, open up new experiences and give young people a sense of belonging.

For young people

Youth work is both educational and enjoyable; both fulfilling and fun along with those that take part have more opportunities and more options for the future.

For communities

Youth Work is about adults and young people working together, building community spirit and playing an active role in the development of their communities

For society

Youth work tackles real social issues, it combats disadvantage, it enhances democratic life and it’s huge value for money!

Definitive features

  • Youth work is about voluntary participation
  • Young people are involved in youth work because they choose to be, because they want to do worthwhile, enjoyable things in their free time in the company of their friends and interested, supportive adults, both paid and volunteer
  • Youth work ‘starts where young people are at’
  • Youth work is flexible and versatile in its approach. It starts with young people’s own interests and ambitions and helps them to expand their horizons
  • Youth work is about partnership
  • In youth work the young people are active partners in making decisions, planning programmes, setting priorities. The youth work relationship is based on dialogue between young people and adults

In December 2001, The Youth Work Act became Law. It confers certain responsibilities onto the Minister for Education and Science, namely to develop and co-ordinate youth work programmes and services including co-ordination with education and other programmes. The purpose of this act is to provide a statutory framework for the provision of youth work programmes and services by the Minister, VECs and by the National and Regional Youth Organisations.

You can find the Youth Work Act 2001 here.

NYCI calls on Government to increase investment in voluntary youth work organisations and youth work services. 

As our society and economy recovers from the recession, one of the positive indicators in Ireland is our growing youth population. Census 2016 shows that the number of young people aged 10-24 will grow by 13.2% between 2015 and 2025. This will also create challenges, however, with adequate resources voluntary youth work organisations are well placed to support young people to reach their potential and make Ireland the best country in the world in which to be a young person.

Voluntary youth organisations are active in almost every community reaching over 383,000 young people. They are particularly active in supporting young people from economically or socially disadvantaged communities, with 53% of all participants coming from these areas. Voluntary youth organisations work in a range of areas such as promoting active citizenship, social and political education and supporting the participation of young people in education and training. They also deliver programmes to promote positive mental health, school completion and employability and are running projects in youth justice, equality and alcohol and drug awareness. Voluntary youth organisations also organise international exchange programmes for young people, allowing them to meet, engage and work with young people from other countries and cultures. The track record, credibility and reach of the youth sector is also demonstrated by the fact that we have the highest level of involvement in youth services in the EU, with 26% of young people active in a youth club.

As detailed in the Indecon Report for every €1 invested in youth work the economic benefit/costs saved by the State in the long run are €2.20. This study demonstrates that investment in youth work not only supports young people to reach their full potential and become active citizens, it also reduces long-term costs for the State in relation to the health, justice and welfare services for young people. One of the unique features of youth work services in Ireland, is the contribution of the over 40,000 adult volunteers who work with and for young people. These volunteers bring their life experiences and expertise and provide a critical resource to organisations in the sector and considerable savings to the State. In 2012, Indecon estimated that the annual economic value of youth work-related volunteering at €47.7m. Too often the State has viewed the work of recruiting, training and maintaining volunteers as being cost free, when in fact voluntary youth organisations have to invest staff time and resources in gaining new and supporting existing volunteers. The State must urgently provide more financial assistance in this regard.

Youth Work Changes Lives


This campaign run by NYCI in partnership with our member organisations and the wider youth work sector is designed to highlight the positive contribution of youth work to young people, local communities and Irish society as a whole.