Table 1. Policy definitions of youth work in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales 

As table 2 illustrates, the status of youth work has grown in each country, with increasing recognition and demand for youth work to address a wider range of challenges and opportunities. This increasing status is reflected in increasing legal recognition, outlined in table 3, which has also helped strengthen the sector’s status. Although the overall trend is for increased status and recognition, this disguises marked variations from country to country; for example:

  • in Wales, the sector’s status has ebbed and flowed, and youth services were hard hit by funding cuts in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, indicating the comparative weakness of the sector’s status compared to other sectors like health services. However, at the time of writing (in 2020) there has been a renewed commitment to, and resurgency of, youth work in Wales, with confidence that it can contribute to policy challenges, such as youth mental ill health and homelessness and a corresponding significant increase in government funding;
  • in Ireland, funding for youth services were also cut disproportionately compared to other sectors after 2008. However, the picture is complicated, as alongside cuts in funding, there were also important new policy developments, with increasing political recognition and expectations;
  • in North Macedonia the growth in status has been swift, but from a very low base; and
  • in Estonia the growth in the sector’s status and recognition following independence, has been longer and more sustained.

As table 2 also illustrates, in all four countries the status and recognition of youth work is linked in part to education and training for youth work; for example, the relatively low status of youth work in North Macedonia was attributed to the lack of formal recognition and public funding, which stifled the development of training for youth workers, while the increasing status of youth work in Wales has been linked, in part, to moves towards a mandatory degree level qualification. However, increasing status is also linked to factors like:

  • increasing professionalization, regulation and quality assurance of the sector (of which education and training is only part); and
  • young people’s needs and the effectiveness of youth work practice in meeting those needs, with the sector collaborating with partners to address challenges that other sectors, such as education, employment and youth justice services, have struggled to address on their own.

These issues are discussed further in the history of youth work in each country, in section 5.