The 1960s-1970s is seen as a golden age for youth work in England and Wales, with strong political support and investment in youth centres and youth services, following the Albemarle report (1960) which addressed concerns about the “the youth problem”. The report and this period is “associated with the expansion and professionalization of youth work” (Smith and Doyle, 2002). The report’s recommendations for training for paid and voluntary youth workers led to the establishment of the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders and the National Youth Agency (NYA), initially an information centre for youth services at the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders, which became the National Youth Bureau in 1970. The status of youth workers as a distinct profession and youth work training remains weak though; for example, in the 1970s a qualified teacher could apply for an official registration number from government to enable them to practise as a youth worker.

Within Wales, youth worker training sprang up in the 1970s when needed, and was often driven by individuals, rather than as a result of a national strategy or policy; for example it developed in:

  • North Wales (Cartrefle, Wrexham); this was the first “initial youth worker training course”, providing qualification as JNC (or nationally qualified) youth workers through first a Dip HE (usually in community education) and later a university degree;
  • The South Wales valleys: the Youth Workers in the Valleys apprenticeship programme was established by the National Youth Bureau in England in the 1980s to strengthen grass-roots youth work by training local people who were likely to remain in their localities.  The youth work apprenticeship scheme ran in many parts of England but only in the South Wales valleys in Wales.
  • South East Wales: Basic (“Bessey”) youth work training courses were established in Cardiff in the 1970s, then a university level programme in Newport; and
  • West Wales: Trinity St David’s Welsh-medium youth work courses.

In the 1980s-1990s the confidence and influence of the youth work sector continued to grow as government influence and interest waned, until the early 1990s when the UK government again sought to reassert control over practice and priorities. In particular, the government sought to strengthen youth work’s focus upon key priorities; “training, crime, health” and also links to “other youth policy structures (schooling, the careers service, policing)” through a “curriculum statement” for youth work. A series of three Ministerial Conferences on the Youth Service were held in 1989, 1990 and 1992. At the first of these  conferences, the Minister asked for a “concentrated fusillade” and a clear curriculum statement for youth work.  This was produced by 1990 for the second Conference (when Wales felt the agenda was far to urban and Anglocentric); then in 1992 (by which time the Wales Youth Agency had been established), the Minister said that if youth work could not tell him how it contributed to positive outcomes in relation to crime, health and careers, then the future of the youth service could be called into question. 

The decline of traditional centre-based youth work during this period was partially offset by a rise in detached youth work and more targeted issue-based youth work for young people deemed at risk. There was an increasing focus upon issue-based and one-to-one work, and also an increase in faith-based youth work, funded by churches, rather than the state (Smith, 2013).

The youth work sector in Wales began to assert its own identify, separate to that of England. The Wales Youth Agency (WYA) was established and new education and training for youth workers was developed in Wales including: 

  • the Scheme for the Validation of Initial Part-time Youth Work Training[1]
  • the establishment by the Welsh Youth Agency, of the “coherent route” for youth worker training, to enable progression from lower levels to the JNC endorsed degree level courses; 
  • the establishment by the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) of their own part time training for voluntary sector youth workers, given concerns that the WYA’s training was too focused upon the needs of local authority youth workers; and 
  • the Education and Training Standards (ETS) Committee was formed in Wales to endorse initial training for youth and community work in Wales (Smith, 2013; Rose, 1997).

In the period 2000-2005 there was a short-lived renaissance for youth work in Wales as political commitment and investment in the youth service increased following devolution and the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales.  A distinctive Welsh “opportunity-focused” youth policy, Extending Entitlement (see boxed text), was formulated in 2000, to support young people aged 11-25.  This included additional funding (£3m) for the Wales Youth Agency, one third of which was for youth work training (Williamson, 2010).  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted as the basis for all policy towards children in Wales and the Learning and Skills Act (2000) required local authorities to “provide, secure or participate” in the provision of “youth support services” (Jeffs, et al, 2019). However, the specific status of  “youth worker” and “youth work” became somewhat diluted by the promotion of “youth support services” which would work with young people aged 11-25. 

Extending Entitlement Extending Entitlement was the Welsh Government’s flagship policy for youth support services in Wales. It included all services, support and opportunities for young people between 11 and 25, wherever they happened, whoever was delivering them and wherever their funding originated from. It aimed to provide a “universal entitlement” for young people to:  
– education, training and work experience – tailored to their needs; 
– basic skills which open doors to a full life and promote social inclusion;  
– a wide and varied range of opportunities to participate in volunteering and  active citizenship; 
– high quality, responsive, and accessible services and facilities;  
– independent, specialist careers advice and guidance and student support and counselling services; 
– personal support and advice, where and when needed and in appropriate formats, with clear ground rules on confidentiality; 
– advice on health, housing benefits and other issues provided in accessible and welcoming settings; 
– recreational and social opportunities in a safe and accessible environment;
– sporting, artistic, musical and outdoor experiences to develop talents, broaden horizons and promote rounded perspectives including both national and international contexts; 
– the right to be consulted, to participate in decision-making, and to be heard on all matters which concern them or have an impact on their lives.  

in an environment where there is: 
– a positive focus on achievement overall and what young people have to contribute; 
– a focus on building young people’s capacity to become independent, make choices, and participate in the democratic process; and 
– celebration of young people’s successes. 

Adapted from WAG, 2002 

During the period 2005-2017, the influence of the youth work sector declined as the Welsh Government sought to exert control through its bespoke Youth Policy Unit. Funding for the Wales Youth Agency was stopped and its roles and responsibility were taken over by the Welsh Government’s Youth Work Strategy Unit, and the Care Council for Wales was tasked with taking forward the development of a Children and Young People Workforce Development Network for Wales[2]. The financial crisis (from 2008) and subsequent period of austerity led to further cuts in youth work funding, and a focus upon more targeted youth work (e.g. supporting young people who are NEET). There was a lack of strategic leadership, and youth policy and services became oriented toward a Youth Engagement and Progression Framework (YEPF) focused upon supporting young people who are, or are seen as at risk of becoming NEET, rather than cementing a National Youth Work Strategy (Jeffs, et al, 2019). There were also cuts in funding for training youth workers.

In the period 2017-2020, a series of critical reports on the state of the youth work sector and youth work practice in Wales, coupled with changes in the civil servants and politicians involved in shaping policy, led to a new alliance between the youth work sector and government in Wales. In 2018, Extending Entitlement was reviewed (WG, 2018);  the Welsh Government established an Interim Youth Work Board, and increased funding for youth work and youth services from £5m to £10m. Much of the increase was to be used to help prevent youth homelessness (£3.7m) and to support young people’s mental health (£2.5m)  (WG, 2019a)[3]. A Workforce Development Strategy Participation Group, including representatives from the government, youth work sector and training providers, was established to take forward the new Youth Work Strategy’s commitment to supporting voluntary and paid professional youth work staff to improve their practice. This includes work to:

  • map and better understand the youth work workforce in Wales;
  • develop the professional learning offer for youth workers; 
  • improve the recruitment and retention of youth workers; and
  • explore the extension of professional regulation of youth workers by the Education Workforce Council. 

Some in the sector hope a new golden age is dawning.

[1] There had previously been approaches to the validation of part-time youth worker training in England, through RAMPS (Regional Accreditation and Moderation Panels).

[2] This included developing a Children and Young People Workforce Development Strategy; a Common Core of Skills and Knowledge; and a Qualification Framework for the workforce.