What Is Youth Work?

Discover the power of youth work: a powerful, dynamic and versatile education practice that equips young people with the tools and support they need to reach their fullest potential.

Definition of Youth Work

What is youth work, exactly? Youth work is an informal education practice that supports young people’s social, emotional and educational development. Youth work can be adapted across a variety of settings, and typically engages with young people within their local community.  

This could be at youth clubs and youth centres, youth cafes, community groups, uniformed and voluntary organisations, or youth action and participation groups. You might also find youth work at youth counselling units, drug and alcohol projects, at outdoor education centres, or on the streets via outreach programmes and detached youth work. 

Youth work can also take place in schools, where youth workers are embedded within the school staff team, working to ensure young people are supported to achieve the best educational outcomes through higher levels of engagement, attendance and attainment. 

Principles of Youth Work

Youth work promotes values of inclusion, mutual respect, equality and the involvement of young people in decision-making. It is about building relationships based on trust and shared understanding, and using the strength of these relationships to develop a person-centred approach to the development of young people. 

Youth work has three essential and definitive features: 

1. Young people choose to participate 

The young person takes part voluntarily. They choose to be involved, not least because they want to relax, meet friends and have fun. The young person decides whether to engage or to walk away. 

2. Youth work must build from where young people are

Youth work meets young people where they are at. The young person’s life experience is respected and forms the basis for shaping any agenda and development plan in partnership with peers and youth workers. 

3. Youth work recognises the young person and the youth worker as partners in a learning process 

Youth work is an equal partnership. The young person is recognised as an active partner who can, and should, have opportunities and resources to shape their lives. The relationship and dialogue between the young person and youth worker is central to the learning process. 

Nature and Purpose of Youth Work (Updated March 2024):

Updates to the Nature and Purpose of Youth Work were jointly developed and agreed by both the National Voluntary Youth Work Organisations Network and the Local Authority Youth Work Managers Network. A working group of members of both networks was convened in October 2023 and drafts put to the wider networks between October 2023 and February 2024 for consultation, input and final sign-off.

Young person in a red jacket on the beach, chatting to a youth worker

Youth Work Outcomes

By working as equal partners with young people, youth workers can bring young people’s ideas to life and help them achieve their fullest potential by giving them the tools, resources and support they need to thrive. By working in this way, youth work is uniquely placed to secure the best possible outcomes for young people: 

Youth Work Outcomes & Skills

To find out more about youth work outcomes, please refer to our Youth Work Outcomes & Skills Framework.

A youth worker works through the Youth Work Outcomes and Skills framework with two young boys.

Youth Work Approaches

Youth work is a versatile and adaptable practice which aims to meet young people where they are at. As well as taking place in a wide variety of settings, youth work has a wide range of approaches: 

How to Become a Youth Worker

To find out more about what qualifications you need to be a youth worker in Scotland, apprenticeships, youth work courses and other related career pathways, visit our Training & Development page. This is where you can also find information on National Occupation Standards for the sector, as well as the CLD Competent Practitioner Framework and the National Youth Work Induction Checklist.