Youth Work In Ireland



The focus of this essay is the role of youth work in modern Ireland, in addition, to providing examples from practice. Youth work can generally be defined as teaching young people in an informal context as it usually occurs out of school and consists of various activities that aim to provide new opportunities for ‘young people’s social development’( Hurley & Treacy, 1993). In Ireland, youth work has been regulated and State involvement has been visible under legislations such as Youth Work Act 2001 and the National Youth Work Development Plan 2003-2007 (Burgess & Herrman, 2010). Within youth work an individual can volunteer to help young people or can be a paid worker within the field. Throughout history Irish youth work has relied enormously on ‘voluntary effort’ both individual and institutional (Devlin, 2012). This will discuss the role of a volunteer, a paid youth worker, as well as comparing both of these roles.


The goal of volunteering is to help individuals, groups, organization, cause, or a community, without expecting any material rewards (Musick &Wilson, 2007). Within the realm of youth work the service providers can either be paid or volunteer their time. However, there is much more to a community other than its geographic location, the community, is a ‘social and psychological entity that represents a place, its people, and their interaction’ (Luloff & Bridger, 2003; Wilkinson, 1991 cited in Brennan (2007). The majority of youth work in Ireland is voluntary, therefore, the voluntary action and social participation can be viewed as the key to the development of the community (Devlin, 2010) in Ireland volunteerism has been consistent with the youth work policy. Three major factors that contribute to volunteerism is that the service is not compulsory, not paid, and non-statutory (Devlin, 2010).

Voluntary youth work organisations are non-statutory an example of this can be seen in youth work organisations that have ‘voluntary management committee’ in comparison to paid ones that are appointed in other organizations (Doran, 2014a). Young people are not required to go to a youth work organization as it is not compulsory which is markedly different from their relationship with the formal education system (Devlin, 2010). There are different types of volunteering such as formal volunteering this consists of a volunteer having direct contact with young people of the service, this is much more directly linked to affluent areas wherein the voluntary youth services, have more volunteers in comparison to paid professionals. According to Doran (2014a), there is an average of ‘50 volunteers to 1 paid professional worker in voluntary services and 6 volunteers to 1 paid professional worker in community youth work projects’ (Doran, 2014a). Whilst there are formal volunteerism there is also informal this usually occurs in disadvantaged areas, and can more often occur when family or friends try to help out a parent or young person. Volunteers also help make aware of issues that are occurring within the community and encourage ‘outreach programs that partner with ongoing voluntary activities’ (Brennan, 2007). Thus, creating a greater result by coordinating efforts between group and may result in meeting young people’s needs.

Moreover, volunteering can also create a positive and friendly atmosphere for children as it allows different individuals with an array of skills to feature their many talents and abilities to the youth work setting (Doran, 2014a). Through voluntary efforts young people and volunteers are able to interact with one another and ‘begin to mutually understand common needs’ (Luloff & Swanson, 1995 cited in Brennan (2007). Further, this interaction should improve the social, cultural, and psychological needs of younger individuals (Brennan, 2007). Volunteers can also take part in activities within the community such as helping to coach kids sports, field trips, art classes, and mentoring, all of these activities should enhance a young person’s social development.

The role of a Youth Worker

Youth work in Ireland has become increasingly ‘professionalised over the last decade and has a greater sense of established identity’ (Jenkinson, 2013). Youth work that predominately correlates with paid youth work occurs mainly in disadvantages areas. Furthermore, within disadvantaged areas youth workers participate in a programme known as detached youth work. These programmes allow youth workers to go out and find young people either on the street or youth centres. Youth workers are able to meet young people and grow to develop relationships (Nuffield Foundation, 2008). This service is provided based on mutual trust and developing respect on the young person’s terms e.g. going to a local area at night where young people tend to be. The youth worker will be able to talk to the individuals and assess their needs as the relationship develops workers will be able to reach young people in a comfortable setting. The goal of detached youth work is to build effective relationships and gain trust. Youth workers act as role models for young people and relationships created supports the personal learning and development of young people (Doran, 2014b).Youth workers now have to work towards an established ‘youth work curriculum’ this is a targeted specified participation rates and evidence of young people’s progression towards and achievement (Nuffield Foundation, 2008).

Young people are generally portrayed as a group that are personally or socially lacking in terms ‘of education, morality or even the civilising effects that can only be accessed with the aid youth development worker’ in predominantly disadvantaged area (Belton, 2012). Youth workers have to work with an increasing policy that ‘emphasises targeted, intensive interventions, shaped by a ‘deficit’ model of youth’ (Lee, 2010) The Deficit Model of youth work, reflects a negative perception of young people it is in intended for individuals that are unable to take care of themselves (Lee, 2010). This model presumes that young people are difficult to understand, rebellious, misbehaved and have numerous shortcomings and weaknesses. However, the role of a youth worker should reject the deficit model, and promote a model that emphasises young people as optimistic.

Volunteerism and Youth Workers Roles

Volunteers and youth workers both work to help and support the community and the welfare of young people. However, while both are working towards a common goal, both fulfill different roles. A youth worker is in charge of doing an array of tasks to assist the youth such delivering programmes and assessing the needs of young people, working within community projects, monitoring and reviewing the quality of the local youth work provision, working with partnerships with professionals from other organisations that support young people such as ‘health, police, education, youth offending teams and local authorities’ (Prospects, n.d.) and drawing up business plans and making formal presentations to funding bodies. These are all significant to continue getting funded so that youth programmes are not ceased, thus, youth workers can continue to provide for young people within the area (Prospects, n.d.). In contrast, volunteers are unpaid and working freely on their own time. Volunteers work primarily face-to-face with the youth and help to provide a safe environment for young people as well as contributing to specific skills that may help young people e.g. social skills. Further, to encourage young people to be socially active and participate within their community. Both of these roles are different yet everyone is working towards helping young people.


Overall, the main objective of this essay was to describe the role of volunteers and youth workers within modern Ireland. Whilst this essay gave a clear understanding of both volunteers and youth workers it also gave an account of their roles within youth work and their similarities and differences. Thus, concluding that while both roles are different both of these groups are a valuable part of the community and in young people lives.


Belton, B. (2012) Professional Youth Work: A Concept and Strategies. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2014]

Brennan, M. A. (2005). Volunteerism and community development: A comparison of factors shaping volunteer behavior in Irish and American communities. (pp.61, 67) Journal of Volunteer Administration, 23(2), 20.

Burgess, P., & Herrmann, P. (Eds.). (2010). Highways, Crossroads and Cul de Sacs (Vol. 8).

(pp.72). BoD–Books on Demand.

Devlin, M. (2010) Youth work in Ireland–Some historical reflections. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2014]

Doran, C. (2014a). Detached Youth Work Lecture: Course Notes. Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.

Doran, C. (2014b). Volunteerism: Course Notes. Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.

Hurley, L., & Treacy, D. (1993). Models of youth work: a sociological framework. (pp.1) Irish YouthWork Press.

Jenkinson, Hilary (2013) “Youth Work in Ireland – A Decade On,” Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies: Vol. 13: Iss. 1, Article 1. Available at: [Accessed 22 November 2014]

Musick, M. A., & Wilson, J. (2007). Volunteers: A social profile.(pp.1) Indiana University Press.

Lee, F. W. L. (2010). Nurturing Pillars of Society: Understanding and Working with the Young Generation in Hong Kong (Vol. 1).(pp.29-31). Hong Kong University Press.

“Nuffield Review” (2008). Available at: [Accessed 19 November 2014]

Prospects (n.d.) Youth Worker. Available at: [Accessed 14 November 2014]





Approximately 250 words