Shaping Youth Work through Policy: The Irish Context

Shirley Donegan examines the vital role of policy and frameworks in shaping effective youth work in Ireland, highlighting the importance of legislative support and structured guidance for empowering Ireland’s young people. Hear more from Shirley at our Policy Convention on 7th December.

Black and white profile photo of lecturer Shirley Donegan

Shirley is an Assistant Lecturer within the School of Social Sciences, Law and Education in TU Dublin. Shirley will provide a robust analysis of the Youth Work Act Ireland (2002) at our Policy Convention, exploring how legislative advancements in Ireland have yielded significant benefits for the sector.

Building foundations for bright futures 

Youth work is a dynamic field that plays an important role in the shape of societies by empowering, supporting and guiding our younger generations. However, the road to positive outcomes for our young people needs to be paved with more than good intentions and talented youth workers.  A strong infrastructure is important to assure and embed quality youth work practice. Therefore, the effectiveness of youth work is significantly enhanced when underpinned by strong legislation, well-defined structures and comprehensive frameworks. 

Achieving this requires a commitment to resourcing and acknowledgement from those who occupy important decision-making positions which secures investment in the well-being and development of our young people. This in turn contributes to their engagement, not just in youth services but also in communities and participation in decision-making processes. 

The Irish Context

The development of youth work practice in Ireland is not without its criticisms or challenges but there have been significant policy and framework developments that have aided the quality provision of youth work, improved understanding and supported consistency of approach and intentional practice. The guidelines and standards provided by the Youth Work Act (2001) and other policy framework such as the National Quality Standards Framework- NQSF – (2010) have played a crucial role in shaping the parameters in which youth work operates, strengthening the foundations of youth work practice and encouraging practices that innovate, include and impact. There are, of course, many other practices which support and promote Youth Work which are also significant, but the collective understanding of what youth work is and should be is underpinned by the legislation, structures and frameworks from which it is formed. 

A scaffold on which to build

As a youth worker, a youth work educator, the chairperson of a youth work organisation and the co-chair of the Irish ETS, youth work standards and quality practice is almost a preoccupation. I find that it scaffolds the majority of my work, and having the solid underpinning of being enshrined in law and therefore being the responsibility of a government department gives the profession a credibility and focus for growth and sustainability. It has aided in the professionalisation of youth work whilst remaining true to the development of youth work and the pedagogy that underpins it, has assisted the collective understanding of youth work processes and has provided a solid foundation on which to grow and develop quality practice. 

While there remains issues to be addressed and improvements that can be made, it all builds from there… 

Sign up for our Policy Convention on 'A Right to Youth Work'

The YouthLink Scotland Policy Convention aims to galvanise youth workers, managers and the wider sector by showcasing real progress in youth work’s policy agenda in Scotland.