During the communist/pre-independence era, youth work was focused upon hobby schools, pioneering, youth summer camps and delivered by Pioneer leaders and hobby school teachers.

Following independence in 1991, the Ministry of Education and Culture’s youth department negotiated with several universities with a view to developing a youth work qualification. However, as in the Soviet era, youth work was seen as a political instrument and most universities declined. The only higher education institution which agreed was Tallinn Pedagogical School. In 1992 Tallinn Pedagogical School[1] established a two year long vocational level (diploma) course in youth work. In 1998 the youth work curriculum was upgraded to the applied science level, and the length of studies increased to three years. Youth work graduates were reported to be well prepared for direct youth work with young people, with a “toolbox” with plenty of games, methods and items for hobby classes, summer camps and other out-of-school activities. 

In addition, in the 1990s:

  • youth work courses were also established by NGOs, including churches, the YMCA and the Scouting movement; and
  • in 1995 youth work studies with the study programme Children and Youth Leisure-time Manager were opened at Viljandi Culture Academy[2] for preparing hobby managers for schools. 

In 2004 the youth work curriculum was opened in Narva College, University of Tartu, in response to the regional need, offering studies on special youth work (Dibou et al., 2019).

In the 1990s and 2000s, the evolution and expansion of youth work education and training was fuelled by policy developments. As outlined in table 4, the 1999 Youth Work Act defined youth work, the age of young people for whom it caters (7 to 26), regulations for summer camps and annual support to youth organisations.  The Youth Work Council was established as an advisory body to the Minister of Education and Research. This was followed in 2001 by the Youth Work Conception (influenced by the European Commission’s White Paper on Youth Policy) and 2001-2004 by the Youth Work Development Plan, which identified the aim and principles of youth work, and defined seven youth work fields:

  • special youth work (with children at risk, juvenile commissions);
  • hobby education;
  • information about and for young people, counselling and studies;
  • training, additional and re-training in the youth field;
  • health and developing holidays for young people (summer camps and youth sport);
  • youth employment education; and
  • international youth work. 

The fields developed from practice as different existing and established services started to be amalgamated into the youth field and came under the umbrella of youth work. The fields were coordinated by the Estonian Youth Work Centre, established in 1999. In youth work training the fields offered the possibility of specialisation inside the study programmes (e.g. specialisation in working with juvenile offenders, specialisation in international youth work, as a hobby educator, or in youth information and careers).

Training continued to develop in the early 2000s, led by a training coordinator from the Estonia Youth Work Centre and the Round Table: a programme of Additional Training and Re-training in the Youth Field was developed.  The Round Table created a good networking space for specialists, and it was active until 2005; for example:

  • a Master’s programme at Tallinn University specialising in social work was set up, and a curriculum of cultural management at the University of Tartu was established;
  • T-Kit 6: “Training Essentials” by the Council of Europe was translated and published in Estonian; 
  • the youth worker curriculum, starting with specialisation in children at risk was developed at the University of Tartu Narva College;
  • in 2002 the description of youth work as an occupation was created by the working group formed by the Ministry of Education and Research. This competence-based model was an important step toward creating an occupational standard for youth workers and offered a systematic approach to youth work training;
  • in 2005, the Youth Worker Professional Standard was published; the content was developed together with universities and practitioners, and universities adapted their curricula based on the agreed standard.

In 2006, the Youth Work Strategy for 2006-2013 was published, and in 2010 the Youth Work Act (new version) added principles followed in youth work, more definitions, and specified youth councils in municipalities. This was followed by the publication of the 2014-2020 Youth Work Development Plan. As in the previous development plan (2006-2013), youth work was still divided into 10 fields with their own aims and measures. However, unlike the earlier plan, it prioritised four key topics and the need to offer specialisation in a particular youth work field became less important for training, and greater emphasis was placed upon preparing students to implement evidence-based youth work.In addition, since 2008, the Archimedes Foundation Youth Agency has implemented projects developing youth work quality and youth work training, funded by the European Social Fund. A youth work trainers’ community was created and supported, quality criteria for youth work training were set, and a number of programmes for training were developed and run, supported by online training materials, a youth work magazine and handbooks. The national programme mixed youth work trainers from formal and non-formal education, and embedded youth work training across the public, private and non-governmental sectors. It is reported that the Youth Agency has played a really important and significant role creating and shaping youth work practices through training.

[1] The institution joined with Tallinn University in 2012.

[2] The institution joined with the University of Tartu in 2005.