Truths about the impact of (local) youth work

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Tomaž Deželan, Nina Vombergar

Title: Truths about the Impact of (Local) Youth Work, Literature Review Original title: kega dela Pregled relevantne znanstvene in strokovne literature Publisher: Movit, Ljubljana, May 2020 Written by: Tomaž Deželan and Nina Vombergar Peer review: Marko K Translated by: Josh Rocchio Introduction translated by: Aleš Lampe Graphic design by: Sašo Šketa Photos: Adobe Stock E-publication URL address: File type: PDF


Kataložni zapis o publikaciji (CIP) pripravili v Narodni in univerzitetni knjižnici v Ljubljani COBISS.SI-ID=17196035 ISBN 978-961-6826-40-2 (pdf)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Tomaž Deželan1, Nina Vombergar2 1

Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. 2 Research Assistant, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana.

TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. Introduction: About the impact of our work, youth work


– for the unconvinced 2. What is youth work and how to define it


3. Impact of (local) youth work


4. Conclusions about local youth work


5. Bibliography


6. About Europe Goes Local




I dare say that youth workers are well aware of the impact of youth work. To them, the things presented or rather summarized in the publication Truths about the Impact of (Local) Youth Work, will not and cannot come across as anything new. With it MOVIT, the National Agency for the EU programmes Erasmus+: Youth in Action and European Solidarity Corps, and its partners in the project Europe Goes Local, as part of which this publication was prepared, do not wish to convince the convinced, as the phrase goes. It was when we discussed with Europe Goes Local partners about how to approach convincing the others, the unconvinced, as well as support youth workers on the local level in their advocacy in support of youth work, that we agreed that we need a short document about what youth work is and what impact it has. This gave life to this publication, which provides a clear and rich overview of the relevant literature on the characteristics and impact of youth work. With it we wish to contribute to the added value of youth work both on the national and local level becoming better understood and more valued. It can serve as a set of arguments in advocating youth work, which really needs to be strengthened; it can serve as a guide for youth workers for higher quality of their work; and, yes, it can also serve as a source for further research into the impact of quality youth work—our work. In the future we will need it very much, even more than so far. Uroš Skrinar Director




Youth work and workers serve as a connecting link between young people, the local community, and society at large. The results of such work has a wide range of positive effects on both individuals and the community (Williamson, 2017). Through inclusion in youth work, young people have the chance to be heard and their needs can thus be better addressed (Gormally and Coburn, 2014). Youth work also gives young people the chance to gain knowledge, experience, and skills (Williamson, 2017), which readies them well both for the world of work and civic duty (Zubulake, 2017). In general, youth work “takes place in the extracurricular area, as well as through specific leisure-time activities, and is based on non-formal and informal learning processes and on voluntary participation. These activities and processes are self-managed, co-managed or managed under educational or pedagogical guidance by either professional or voluntary youth workers and youth leaders” (Council of the European Union, 2010) and they ensure “space and opportunity for young people to shape their own futures” (European Youth Work Convention, 2010).

Brief summary

The objectives of youth work target both personal growth and social cohesion. Part of this personal growth is emancipation, empowerment, and the development of personal responsibility. At the social level this also includes participation in democratic processes and social inclusion at the local and broader level (Coburn, 2011; Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Lee, 1999, YouthLink Scotland, 2017). Youth work promotes a democratic spirit among participants, helping young people understand the deeper causes of societal problems (e.g. unevenly distributed power) and offering them the opportunity to learn, along with experience in finding their own influential power for society or the community (Lee, 1999). The objectives can further concern and address all young people, or can be focused on specific youth target groups.



Vulnerable groups

Youth work has a special role in addressing the needs of underprivileged groups; it identifies and seeks to understand the needs of each young person, planning activities and group work so as to enable the broadest acceptance and participation of all. Furthermore, youth work treats young people positively, encouraging positive changes in their lives (Coburn, 2011; Williamson, 2017).

Characteristics of youth work

Youth work is comprised of both structured and unstructured activities (Brady, Canavan and Redmond, 2016; Brady and Redmond, 2017), which have beneficial effects (Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Idecon, 2012; Williamson, 2017). Its mechanisms include the non-formal and informal learning of young people, where their participation is voluntary. The bases of youth work lie in accessibility, inclusiveness, equality, connection, and empowerment (Brady, Canavan and Redmond, 2016; de St Croix, 2018; Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Gormally and Coburn, 2014; Lee, 1999). It is planned in advance and has clear educational goals, but is still flexible and agile in meeting the needs of current situations and users. Youth work serves as an important source of educational, cultural, athletic, and other activities and opportunities, as well as a source of information and advice (Devlin and Gunning, 2009). Support is also provided to those with personal issues and challenges they experience in their lives (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014). Through youth work processes in formal education are fleshed out and complemented (Devlin and Gunning, 2009). Youth workers function within local communities as advocates and allies (Baldridge, 2018), and they are considered partners in this process of teaching and learning.

Where it takes place


Youth work is a planned process provided by various public or private institutions (e.g. youth centres, youth projects, youth camps/colonies, youth organizations, youth movements, youth clubs, volunteer organizations, outreach and social companies, youth associations, youth foundations, etc.). It is conducted at the local, regional, national, or international/transnational level, primarily through hands-on practice (Mrak and Pucelj Lukan,

2011; de St Croix, 2018). Areas where youth work is conducted are unique, as they connect teaching and learning and the local community, complementing classrooms and school programs (Baldridge, 2018; Brady, Canavan and Redmond, 2016; Devlin and Gunning, 2009). Community spaces are key for young people’s growth and development (Baldridge, 2018). Youth workers act as a node bridging young people, school, and the local community, playing an important role in individual young people’s education and social life (Baldridge, 2018). Youth work is further an important source of dependable information and advice, and it solidifies the bond between young people and the community where they live (due to which youth workers must be very familiar with the local environment), helping them develop a proactive relationship with their surroundings (Schwartz, Schwartz, Roman and Nistor, 2016). Youth workers play an important role in ensuring that young people have a voice in their communities and that they are included in making decisions that concern them.

Who does it

Characteristic of youth work is the use of diverse methods to spark dialog with young people, which helps in processing a specific subject or topic, at the same time preserving the educative dimension with clear educational goals. These methods adhere to the principle of taking a comprehensive approach to dealing with young people as independent individuals with many talents and focused on their inclusion in the planned activities (Sapin, 2012). Due to its nature, youth work is constantly subject to improvisation (Gormally and Coburn, 2014) and centres on the voluntary inclusion of young people (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubova, 2014) in activities that they find interesting. Some of youth workers’ fundamental prerequisites include actively listening to young people, rejecting negative labels and stereotypes, and reacting to the needs, interests, and experiences of young people, in the hopes of increasing their autonomy and their social development. An important feature of youth work is the “positive approach”, which includes

Principles and methods of youth work


encouraging educational development and equitable change, and also creates opportunities that all young people can progress in equal measure by straying from mere problem solving to actual mastery of new skills and embracing their effects (Sapin, 2012; Dotterweich, 2015). As such, youth work has a “participatory nature”, which gives young people the chance to collaborate in the planning, conduct, and assessment of activities, as well as the chance to work together on making decisions that affect them (Gormally and Coburn, 2014; Davies, 2005; Sapin, 2012) and to take responsibility for the results thereof. It is also based on an “anti-oppressive” approach, which strives toward the equality both of groups of young people as well as individuals (Sapin, 2012); this means that youth workers do not pose as educators, but engage young people in a mutual process in which dialog leads to education (Freire, 2019). The general principles that determine the methods behind youth work can differ depending on a specific type of service or activity (e.g. education, consulting, support, housing services, the environment, the media, spare time, health, etc.) (Sapin, 2012). Said more precisely, the methods of youth work include informal and non-fomal learning, experiential pedagogy, consultations, mentoring, and peer support (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014). Youth workers regularly assess their work in line with these methods, reflecting upon development (Gormally and Coburn, 2014), and becoming part of the supervision that helps them advance their work. Quality youth work


school. Both pillars of youth work should be invested in, as the quality of such environments depends greatly on continued financing and the stable provision of other important resources (Minton, 2017).

It should be emphasized that only high-quality youth work has appropriate positive impact on youth development, increases their well-being, educates them, prepares them for the labour market, and also contributes to the local community (Brady in Redmond, 2017; Brennan, Barnett and Baugh, 2007; Devlin and Gunning, 2009). To achieve an appropriate level of quality in youth work it is necessary to have highly educated workers and a healthy organizational environment (e.g. youth centres and organizations), which provides young people with an important space for action within their own communities and outside of




To prepare a review of the impact of youth work, a survey of the relevant literature was conducted through Web of Science (WoS), national- and European-level formal documents and reports, where we focused on the effects of youth work on young people, the local community, and society at large. The impact of youth work varies greatly due to its very nature, which encompasses work with young people as a uniform group of individuals and work with specific youth groups. The impact also varies based on the different fields that youth work touches upon. Youth work affects individuals at both the individual and social level (Devlin in Gunning, 2009), and its effects reciprocally concern both individuals and the environments they live in. The most important impact of youth work can be grouped into the following categories: 3.1 Acquiring self-confidence, improved self-image, and optimistic outlook Young people gain confidence and improve their self-image (Devlin and Gunning, 2009) through inclusion in youth work that includes accepting responsibility for tasks, expression of individual opinion, and the setting and achievement of personal goals (Zubulake, 2017). Inclusion further increases levels of selfrespect and increases the level of optimism about the future. Such feelings are also spurred by awareness that they can turn for help to those providing youth work and get advice from them (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014).

Impact on individual personalities

3.2 More successful personal, social, and formal relationships Through inclusion, young people develop important relationships with youth workers, who are inter alia allies in a system that often presents young people with a number of challenges (Williamson, 2017). Furthermore, they develop empathy and interpersonal respect, learning conflict resolution as they go. They become


aware of social stigmas, stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. Inclusion further leads to close bonds of friendship (Devlin and Gunning, 2009); young people in the process better understand formal relationships, learning through their collaborations with adults (who end up serving as role models) how to appropriately express their opinions and feelings (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy in Golubeva, 2014). Similarly, they learn the responsible use of social networks, responsible cohabitation in public spaces, and more. 3.3 Better judgement and assessment of one’s life Inclusion in youth work empowers young people (Lee, 1999) and gives them information, know-how, and social skills that help them make good decisions with positive impact on their life, which in terms helps them take responsibility and a higher level of mindfulness about their own lives (Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Gormally and Coburn, 2014; YouthLink Scotland, 2017; Williamson, 2017). 3.4 Healthier lifestyle and being better informed about the dangers of substance abuse Through inclusion that focuses on prevention of harmful habits and on the promotion of healthy, young people also get information on healthy lifestyles (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy in Golubeva, 2014; YouthLink Scotland, 2017) and the dangerous effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances (Lardier, Herr, Garcia-Reid in Reid, 2018). In some cases youth work also promotes athletics, directly encouraging young people to undertake activities that lead to a healthy lifestyle.


3.5 Expanding horizons Youth work inclusion gives young people new information and knowledge, as well as teaches them how to find and access even more. This has profound influence on their thinking, which is marked greatly by the fact that, through youth work, young people’s recommendations are heard, along with initiatives that stem from their newly acquired skills or tools (Gormally and Coburn, 2014; Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014; YouthLink Scotland, 2017). In total, this all helps young people expand their horizons and gives their communities new perspectives. 3.6 Acquiring new knowledge and skills, and learning how to use them Youth work gives young people access to new knowledge and skills (Gormally and Coburn, 2014; Williamson, 2017; Zubulake, 2017), and they work together in planning the course of their acquisition. Through this process they learn their own strengths and weaknesses, learn how to recognize their own success, support others in a process, and use their new knowledge and skills in contexts that do not concern youth work (Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Education Scotland, Scottish Government, YouthLink Scotland, 2014; Williamson, 2017; Zubulake, 2017).

Impact on professional capabilities

3.7 Better group work Regular cooperation in groups helps young people develop interpersonal relationships, learn how to listen to others mindfully, and resolve conflicts more successfully. They actively help form their own collaborative processes, supporting others and developing a networking culture at the same time (Bradley, 2009). Successful collaborations in youth work contexts transfer well to cooperative efforts in the broader community. Inclusion


gives young people the confidence to express their own opinion (Gormally and Coburn, 2014), with the result that they become more active participants in groups and communities. A part of this includes active engagement in making collective decisions (Devlin and Gunning, 2009). 3.8 Improved educational achievement Support, encouragement, and advice from youth workers can help young people achieve better results within the formal education system (Devlin and Gunning, 2009). Youth workers can namely use their familiarity with the educational system, taking into consideration opportunities for learning within youth work itself, to understand the dilemmas other young people are facing in school, as well as potential problems and needs. Youth workers can help young people think outside of the box in terms of their career, taking action thereupon as warrants (Baldridge, 2018; Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014). 3.9 Better employability and a higher level of social capital Their inclusion in youth work gives young people knowledge and life skills, and furthermore strengthens their social networks, gets them involved in the local community, and increases their social and cultural capital (Bradley, 2009; Coburn, 2011; Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Idecon, 2012). Within youth work programs young people focus on their careers and, along with youth workers, set and evaluate their career goals, which increases their chances of finding gainful employment (Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy, in Golubeva, 2014; Education Scotland, Scottish Government, YouthLink Scotland, 2017).


3.10 A reciprocal relationship between young people and society, with more responsibility to the community

Impact on the community

Youth work affects young people’s relationships with the community and broader society (Devlin and Gunning 2009). Young people undertake a wide and diverse range of activities, affecting not just them but the local community as well (Schwartz, Schwartz, Roman and Nistor, 2016). Through their participation, young people feel included and they acquire competencies for active involvement in society (YouthLink Scotland, 2017). They further expand their horizons and change their perception of the world, forming an interest in the workings of local communities (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubova, 2014). This type of experience increases their commitment to inclusion and promotes equality of all social groups, at the same time contributing to the development of various forms of solidarity (e.g. intergenerational). This leads to the development of competencies for responsible engagement and cohabitation with said communities (Lee, 1999; Mrak and Pucelj Lukan, 2011). Youth work thus encourages young people to active and responsible engagement, promotes feelings of safety, and strengthens interpersonal relationships both within families and communities (Strycharczyk et al., 2011). The methods used by organizations dedicated to youth work, like non-formal learning and experiential pedagogy, are slowly expanding into formal educational institutions in the local and broader community. Thus schools more and more often work with local youth organizations, both as part of curricular and extracurricular activities (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubova, 2014). 3.11 Better local services and a stronger economy Youth work that is actively engaged with the local community, that offers support and encouragement to young people, reduces the risks that young people become antisocial or even (self-)destructive (Idecon, 2012). It also creates economic value in several ways, including through the outright creation of new jobs,

Impact on the economy


improved local services, and lower costs for the legal, health, and social security systems (Idecon, 2012, 91). Programs intended for young people can be implemented by forging partnerships between youth organizations, schools, local communities, and private sector firms (Idecon, 2012; Minton, 2017).





At the local level, youth work translates to the mutual development of both young people and local communities (Baizerman, 1996; Devlin and Gunning, 2009; YouthLink Scotland, 2017). It serves as a common space for activities and dialogs between various social groups. Fundamentally, it is a form of social practice that links young people and their surroundings, addressing and significantly contributing to the resolution of social and economic problems that arise in local communities (Idecon, 2012). Local youth work can offer a broad spectrum of activities such as those related to sport and culture, personal and spiritual development, or even creativity, innovativeness, entrepreneurship, commitment, etc. Accordingly, local organizations offering youth work have proven in practice to be “inclusive, friendly, fun and safe environments that offer young people opportunities develop through structured educational and leisure activities.” (Fyfe, Biggs, Hunter, McAteer and Milne, 2018). Youth work has important impact on society, especially locally, as the organizations involved in youth work play an important role in providing common spaces for gatherings, for establishing contacts, and encouraging social cohesion (Dunne, Ulicna, Murphy and Golubeva, 2014). By participating in youth work, young people become engaged to make positive decisions for their personal growth and for society’s development, decisions that positively affect their surroundings (Devlin and Gunning, 2009; Williamson, 2017). Young people should thus be supported – also through support to local youth work – in their active cocreation of (local) community. This implies that organizations engaged in youth work should be treated as (equal) partners in a civil dialog that addresses young people and their role in society at all levels.




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The National Agencies of the Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme and their partners decided to engage in long-term cooperation in 2016. Europe Goes Local (EGL) was created to raise the quality of local youth work in particular through enhanced cooperation among the various stakeholders that are active at the municipal level. By 2020 Europe Goes Local has become a platform offering several opportunities for cooperation, learning and development in local youth work. The actions and activities take place in various contexts from the European to the local level in a European-wide network of 24 countries, 200 municipalities and organizations active in local youth work. Each member country formed an EGL National Working Group (NWG), the purpose of which was to bring together key stakeholders of municipal-level youth work with coordination by the Erasmus+ National Agencies. The NWGs work to develop action plans aimed at increasing the quality of local youth work. These action plans include strategic planning processes, mentoring, international study visits, seminars and training activities. Network members take part in various learning and networking activities that are specifically designed for the municipal context. At the European level, three conferences have been organized within the project, aimed at networking and peer learning. In response to the needs expressed earlier, the EGL network also created a tool that provides practical guidelines for the quality development of local youth work. This tool is the European Charter on Local Youth Work, the common product of the network as it was created through two consultation rounds and dialogue at the European events of the EGL network. The Charter translates European policies into practical guidelines, and can be used as a quality checklist in local youth work. Judit Balogh Project coordinator



MOVIT has been performing the tasks of the National Agency for EU programmes in the field of youth since May 1999 when Slovenia joined the EU Programme Youth for Europe III, which was succeeded by the Youth Programme (2000–2006), the Youth in Action Programme (2007–2013) and ERASMUS+: Youth in Action (2014– 2020). In 2018, Movit became also the National Agency for the European Solidarity Corps programme. In this role, MOVIT manages indirectly centralised EU budget funds and enables support for different forms of learning mobility activities in youth work, while also running activities for the general development of youth work and non-formal education, with special stress on activities contributing with their form or content to the strengthening of European cooperation in the field of youth. European Solidarity Corps programme expanded these fields also to other spheres and actors, such as organisations, institutions, and employers, organising solidarity activities as a means to contribute to strengthening cohesion, solidarity, democracy and citizenship in Europe. Along with its role as a National Agency, MOVIT also serves as an office of Eurodesk, the European Commission’s free-of-charge info service offering EU-related information to young people. It was established both for young people and for those who encounter young people and their questions as part of their regular work – school counsellors, teachers, youth workers, information providers and others. When you need help in finding information, you can always turn to your national or regional Eurodesk partner for help. In 2002, MOVIT also took over as the SALTO South East Europe Resource Centre, promoting cooperation with the Western Balkan countries within the Erasmus+ Programme in the field of youth and the European Solidarity Corps through training and partner-finding activities and various other support measures, tools and resources. It aims to contribute to youth work and youth policy development in the Western Balkan region, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders and with the help of pools of trainers and accreditors as well as Contact Points located in Erasmus+ Partner countries of the region.

MOVIT National Agency of the EU Programmes Erasmus+: Youth in Action and European Solidarity Corps Dunajska cesta 5 1000 Ljubljana Phone number: +386 (0) 1 430 47 47 Web: E-mail: