Youth Work Context Ireland

The Irish Youth Work act 2001, defines Youth Work as 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, and which is:

  • Complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and
  • Provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations Youth Work Act of 2001

Youth work in Ireland has a long history. Initially rooted in the non-governmental sector, and in particular the church, in the late 1970s, as the complexity of “youth problems” increased, a national policy for Sport and Youth Work was created and state involvement slowly increased. The main exception to this is Dublin, where a statutory youth service was established in the 1940s (Devlin, 2010).

The 1980’s witnessed surges in the heroin epidemic within many cities and communities throughout the country. This further reinforced the need for evolving non formal education and the preventative nature of youth work based upon the primary principles of inclusion equality and voluntary participation. 

Youth work in Ireland was influenced a lot by the catholic church with the establishment of YMCA, founded institutions of Catholic Youth care now known as cross care who are still operational today. Other youth work service providers include Foroige, Youth work Ireland, Garda diversion Programme funded though the Irish youth juvenile service, and ETBI (Education Training Board Ireland).

Despite increasing state involvement, churches remained major providers until the 1990s and the non-governmental sector as whole remains the main provider, albeit with state support, funding and regulation. Although the sector suffered disproportionately large cuts in funding following the 2008 economic crisis, policy development continued and  a new youth strategy and the National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) was launched. 

Youth Work was given formal statutory recognition through the Youth Work Act in 1997, subsequently repealed by the 2001 Youth Work Act, “providing a degree of clarity regarding its nature and purpose” (Devlin, 2010). Following this, an all-Ireland professional endorsement framework for youth work education and training was established (the North South Education and Training Standards Committee, NSETS) Youth work today is widely recognised as a profession in Ireland.

Case Study “ European Youth Mobility Project Management”

Reflective practice is a concept that is accepted and appreciated in the field of Youth & Community work. The concept is equally as valuable in the design and delivery of professional youth worker education programmes. The world is changing at a rapid pace and so too are the needs of young people. In this context Youth work programmes need to be consistently evaluated and reformed to adequately meet the needs of Youth Work practitioners and more importantly young people.

Professional Youth work education and training is well established and widely available in Ireland. Youth worker training in Ireland is both professionally endorsed by NSETS and academically validated and accredited. This is complemented by initiatives such as the Quality Standards in Youth Work Framework, supported by the Resource Development Task Group tasked with assisting the youth work sector to engage with and attain the standards. As a consequence, it is reported that standards and accountability have increased and there is a greater emphasis upon evidence informed work (Dunne, et al, 2014; West et al., 2014). 

The Department of Social Studies at Maynooth University has long been acknowledged for its willingness to develop strategic partnerships with external organizations to enhance Youth Worker Competence in the field of Youth and Community work. The following case study gives us an example of how Maynooth University in Ireland collaborated with Leargas, the Irish National Agency for the Erasmus+ programme to develop a Unique & innovative Level 8 Certificate to support the continued professional development of youth workers in a European Context. 

In 2015 Maynooth University and Leargas worked together to develop a Level 8 certificate titled “European Youth Mobility Project Management”. This course was the first of its kind in the University. The innovative programme was born out of the need to upskill Youth Work Practitioners in the area of “European Youth Mobility Project Management”.

Target Group

This Certificate was designed for: youth service managers; youth work practitioners; those experienced in the design, development and delivery of youth work programmes; those working with groups of young people; and those interested in developing high quality international mobility projects in the context of Erasmus+.

The aim of the programme was to develop students’ knowledge, skills and competence in high quality, mobility project management in the context of European programmes.  

The objectives of the programme are to ensure that students:  

  1.  Have detailed knowledge of the national and European contexts of mobility projects 
  2.  Understand the principles and practices that underpin European mobility projects 
  3.  Can plan, organise and undertake a European mobility project 

Course structure

The Certificate is structured around the following themes: 

The Certificate in European Youth Mobility consists of three modules as outlined below.  

  • Module 1: National and European Contexts [5 credits]  
  • Module 2: Principles and Practice Skills [5 credits]  
  • Module 3: Mobility Project Management [10 credits] 

Themes which are addressed by the programme include:

  • Policy and Practice 
  • Project Management
  • Strategy and Leadership
  • Erasmus + Application process, dissemination, impact and evaluation 
  • Self-awareness and personal effectiveness
  • Recognition and validation 

Practice study visit

A study visit to Finland also took place as part of the Programme. This visit exposed participants to intercultural learning processes, gave them an opportunity to meet other practitioners in Finland working with the same issues and in lots of ways acted as a contact making seminar for developing future partnerships.   

The programme was underpinned by adult learning principles and adopts an experiential learning model that challenges students to develop analytical skills and adopt a rigorous approach to articulating the basis for youth work as a unique approach to working with young people.

  • developing their own learning objectives and preparing a learning contract with the tutor 
  • reflecting on and recording their experiences, personal and skills development and analysing implications for working with young people 
  • engaging in developing a group contract and taking part in exercises and discussions  
  • completing work for assessment individually and in groups

Content & Methodologies

While the programme was delivered in partnership with Leargas and Maynooth University it was widely accepted that the tutors would use a variety of formal and non-formal methods of delivery including; creative group-oriented methodologies; presentations; direct contact with youth organisations and groups; project management practice.

Assessment Summary:

Overall Attendance rate of 80% was required to graduate.  To successfully complete the course and receive the certificate, the students were expected to participate in the study visit and complete assignments, which were assessed by Maynooth University.

Methods of Assessment 

The programme was offered over 100 hours over 8-10 months. It was 100% continuous assessment including essays, presentations, learning journal and group exercises. The assessment will be set and marked by tutors.  

Specifically, the assessment includes:  

  • Reflective Journal 15% 
  • Individual essay (20%) 
  • Proposal (20%) 
  • Presentation (15%) 

On completion of the programme, students have achieved: 

  • detailed knowledge of the national and European contexts of mobility projects
  • an understanding of the principles and practices that underpin European mobility projects
  • expertise in planning, organizing and undertaking a European mobility project
  • increased ability to provide access to mobility opportunities for young people

Student feedback on the course

The course is an energizer for staff.  You realize that you are actually a European-level youth worker, involved in European networks.” 

“Throughout the course, there was an understanding of that bigger picture…of how our organisation’s objectives fit in with different policies in a really fun and informed way.”