In 1977 A Policy for Youth and Sport was followed in the 1980s by the O’Sullivan Report on the Development of Youth Work Services in Ireland (NYPC, 1984)  leading, in 1985, to The National Youth Policy: In Partnership with Youth. This led to increasing state involvement in the regulation and funding of youth work in Ireland which, with the notable exception of a statutory youth service in Dublin, initially established to address youth unemployment in the city, had previously been dominated by the non-governmental sector and, in particular, the churches (Devlin, 2009, 2010). 

In the 1990s, Charting our Education Future: a White Paper on education, included a focus upon youth work, followed by the 1997 Youth Work Act, later repealed and replaced by the 2001 Youth Work Act (see boxed text). The Act means Ireland is one of the few countries that explicitly sets out youth work in legislation. As youth policy developed, so did the need for professionalization of youth work.

Youth Work Act 2001 As defined in legislation the Youth Work Act of 2001, “youth work” means a planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation. The Act articulates that youth work: 
– is educational and elective, structured and systematic;
– and complements the formal education system; for example, in practice youth work normally includes youth services and projects, voluntary youth clubs and youth cafes. 

In the 2000s, the National Children’s Strategy (2000) was followed by the National Youth Work Development Plan (2003-2007) and the establishment of the Office of the Minister for Children (OMC) (2005). The National Youth Work Development Plan (2003-2007) included additional investment and actions “for enhancing professionalism and ensuring quality standards in youth work”  and led (as outlined in tables 2 and 4) to the:

  • Quality Standards Framework (QSF), covering both state funded and volunteer led youth services; and 
  • the North-South (Ireland) and East-West (Ireland -Britain) links and professional endorsement of training through NSETS.

This led to increased standards and accountability from youth work practitioners and organisations. 

During this period, in 2008, the new Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, decided that the Youth Affairs Section, which had sat in the Department of Education and Science for over 40 years, was to be integrated within the Office of the Minister for Children (OMC). This reflected a shift from the view that youth work was primarily about education, to a broader concept, emphasising the importance of links to other sectors, such as youth justice, and the OMC was renamed the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (OMCYA) (Devlin, 2010). This brought new resources, more senior ministerial representation of the sector, and more opportunities for integration/coordination. However, the blurring of boundaries between youth work and other work with children and young people created some challenges to retain the identity of the sector, as the funding of youth work fell between the fault lines of education and the OMCYA.

Funding has been another key determinant of both youth work practice and education and training. Investment increased during the economic boom of the early 2000s. However, after the economic crash and the paralysis of the “Celtic tiger” in 2008, implementation of austerity measures resulted in significant cuts for the youth sector.

Further reforms followed In the 2010s, despite cuts in funding and the sector. In 2013, Education and Training Boards (ETBs) were established to “support the provision, coordination, administration and assessment of youth work services and assess the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of youth services”. In 2014, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-20 was launched. The “Growing Up in Ireland” study found that the majority of children and young people (80 percent) in Ireland were doing relatively well. In response, the national youth strategy aimed to address the 20 percent of children and young people who needed additional support, by identifying them and implementing early intervention approaches. This is seen as a whole government policy, with cross departmental responsibility. It is focused upon five outcomes areas (see boxed text) and is seen as requiring good quality universal systems open to all, like schools and primary healthcare services, backed up by additional targeted services and income support to give at risk or vulnerable children and young people the extra help they need to keep up with their peers.

Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-20. Its goals are that young people should be: 
– active and healthy
– achieving in all areas of learning and development
– safe and protected from harm;
– economically secure, have opportunity, be connected; 
– respected and contributing. 

In the mid 2010s, three strategies were developed under Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) which were highly influenced by the Every Child Matters policy in England a decade earlier:

  • the National Youth Strategy (see boxed text);
  • the National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making (2015), the first in Ireland of its kind and possibly the world (see boxed text); and the National Early Years Strategy
National Youth Strategy 2015-2020 The aim of the National Youth Strategy is to enable all young people to realise their maximum potential, by respecting their rights and hearing their voices, while protecting and supporting them as they transition from childhood to adulthood. The National Youth Strategy focuses on enhancing the contribution of current and emerging policies, programmes and services to improving the national outcomes for young people aged 10-24 years.  

The strategy is evidence informed and outcomes focused; is based on an understanding of youth as a distinctive period of development between childhood and adulthood, and takes account of the social and economic factors that influence young people during this period and the important role that parents, families, friends, other adults and communities play in young people’s lives. It is informed by national and European policy developments, as well as by the results of a national consultation with young people, those who work with them, and other stakeholders.  

The National Youth Strategy recognises the importance of strong engagement by, and collaboration between, statutory bodies/agencies and non-governmental organisations in the pursuit of better outcomes for young people. It acknowledges the interconnection between all of these areas of work, and that young people benefit most when the work of all stakeholders is mutually reinforcing.   

Adapted from DYCA, 2015 
The National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-MakingThe National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making is primarily aimed at children and young people under the age of 18, but embraces the voice of young people in the transition to adulthoold up to the age of 24. The strategy is guided and influenced by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 


In 2014, The Value for Money Policy Review (VFMPR) was launched, with the aim of identifying if young people who were engaging in youth work programmes were being supported to have better outcomes and brighter futures. The review made recommendations for the future operation of the schemes and to their future development to ensure effective, value for money services designed to secure the best outcomes for young people. In particular, it recommended that one targeted scheme should replace the existing three schemes, and that this new scheme should be based on evidence of what works and clear objectives to be achieved for young people.  This review led to the establishment of UBU Your Place Your Space

The main focus of UBU is to target the most marginalised, disadvantaged or vulnerable young people and provide specifically out-of-school support to young people (aged between 10 and 24) in their communities to enable them to overcome adverse circumstances and achieve their full potential. It aims to “help young people to be more employable, less likely to engage in problematic drug-taking or alcohol misuse, and less likely to drop out of school and/ or engage in anti-social behaviour.”

One of the three funding streams for UBU is Capacity Building Funding that aims to build and strengthen the capacity of frontline practitioners/funded organisations to deliver youth services and services to young people. It is envisioned that through their education and training, youth work practitioners are competent and professional change makers. The formalisation of youth work training and education is intended to develop knowledge and skills, and by applying these, promote and empower the development of children, young people and communities (DCYA, 2014). 

UBU Your Place Your Space The seven social and emotional goals for UBU Your Place Your Space are: 
– communication skills; 
– confidence and agency;
– planning and problem solving;
– relationships;
– creativity and imagination; 
– resilience and determination; 
– emotional intelligence.

This period has been characterised by increasing professionalization of youth work and an attempt to prove that youth work works. More recently, there have been significant and progressive developments, such as the Growing Up in Ireland study and the LGBTI+ Youth Strategy.