Throughout the United States and Canada, youth work is seen as any activity that seeks to engage young people in coordinated programs, including those which are recreational, educational, or social by nature and design.
In the Republic of Ireland the Youth Work Act of 2001 states that,
However, critics of this particular definition report that,
Youth work is historically said to focus on five areas, including a focus on young people; an emphasis on voluntary participation and relationship; a commitment to association by youth and adults; friendly and informal atmospheres, and; acting with integrity.
Modern youth work emphasises the need to involve young people in the running of their own services through a process of youth-led youth work though historically youth services were more about adults providing activities for young people or, to coin a phrase, "keeping them off the streets".
This early approach to youth work has actually been around since the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, which was the first time that young men left their own homes and cottage industries to migrate to the big towns. The result of this migration was an emergent youth culture in urban areas, which locally was responded to by the efforts of local people. Although with the formation of the YMCA (and later Scouting) organisations were founded whose sole aim was to address these issues, the emphasis was always on providing for young people.
By 1959 widespread moral panic in the press about teenage delinquency led the British government to look into a national response to catering for the needs of young people. In 1960 a government report known as The Albermarle Report was released, which outlined the need for local government agencies to take on responsibility for providing extracurricular activities for young people. Out of this the statutory sector of the youth service was born.
Today (as outlined in the Transforming Youth Work document released in 1998 by the DfES) it is the statutory duty of all local government organisations to provide a youth service in their region. Also for the first time the youth service has national targets that have to be met with regard to the reach (initial contact) with young people, the number of relationships developed with young people and the number of accredited learning programmes achieved through the youth service.
Community youth workers provide community-based activities for young people in a variety of settings throughout local communities, including places of worship, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
Youth empowerment is the deliberate granting of authority to young people by adults. This may take the form of youth leadership in program or organizational planning, research, design, facilitation or evaluation. This youth-centered approach has been shown to be particularly effective at promoting and sustaining youth engagement and for its efficacy across cultural, social and other boundaries.
Schemes associated with youth empowerment include programs various types of youth participation throughout organizations, governments and schools. This includes involving youth as planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates. Young people are granted varying levels of authority in exchange for their input, which in turn leads to great effectiveness within the programs. In turn this promotes broader community acceptance of the ability of young people, countering popular media demonization and alienation of youth.
Also referred to as "Street Work" by some European, North and South American practitioners, modern detached work appears to have been influenced in Great Britain and Ireland by early contributions from the United States, and in particular, the work carried out by the Welfare Council of New York with street gangs in the 1950s became some of the earliest literature available on the subject of street-based work. Although street work has always had a role to play in youth work since its earliest incarnations, such as, the work of T. H. Tarlton for the YMCA in 1844 and the work of Maud Stanley around the Five Dials area of London in 1878, 'detached work' has re-emerged as a popular method among many agencies and indeed the rate of growth has risen rapidly, especially since the early 2000s.
However, it is important to note that contributors on the subject, such as those referenced above, e.g. (Kaufman, 2001) & (Smith, 1996.) have discussed the ambiguity surrounding the titling of such forms of work and the regular confusion around which form of work is which and indeed as Smith himself states
"There has been a good deal of dispute over how to label the work described here. The problem with notions such as 'detached' is that it could still be seen as making the youth centre or traditional youth organization the basic reference point. (These are what the workers are detached from). Furthermore, the titling adds to the stereotypical view of detached workers as 'mavericks' who float free of attachment. The reality of practice is that a central feature of the work is the process of becoming attached - to a neighbourhood, groups of young people, local community members and so on. To this can be added the pretty pointless debate between 'detached' and 'outreach' work. The latter, it is sometimes said, is mainly concerned with bringing people into existing organizations and activities; the former is about 'working with people where they are at'. In reality most 'detached' workers have to use existing organizations, and have a range of activities that people can plug into. Some care is needed around this area...Most detached workers have some sort of office and base (with group rooms etc.) Furthermore their contact making may well be 'off the street' in schools, various commercial leisure environments, and in people's homes".
Reproduced from the encyclopaedia of informal education http://www.infed.orgAdding to this debate is the fact that while there exists much support for street-based provision there is few definitions in existence to clearly distinguish the differences (if any) between 'Outreach' and 'Detached' work. That said, the Scottish Executive in 1998 commissioned The Princes Trust to carry out a National Development Project to develop Best Practice guidelines and methods to monitor, evaluate and create a National focus for Outreach and Detached Youth Work. Through their research they offered this clear and simple definition for detached work, that is adequate for all those who are unfamiliar with this type of youth work provision,
"Detached Youth Work is a model of youth work practice, targeted at vulnerable young people, which takes place on young people’s own territory such as streets, cafes, parks and pubs at times that are appropriate to them and on their terms. It begins from where young people are in terms of their values, attitudes, issues and ambitions and is concerned with their personal and social development. It is characterised by purposeful interaction between youth workers and young people and utilises a range of youth and community work methods".
As highlighted above there are few definitions available to clearly distinguish the differences between Outreach and Detached work and according to The Princes Trust's research for the Scottish Executive, the reason for this may be partly due to the similarities in the places where the work is carried out (on the streets, in parks and cafes) and the fact that both models work with the same target groups of young people (those who are disaffected or alienated). Furthermore the research points out that "There is even some evidence from fieldwork that there can be an occasional overlap in practice between the two modes of work. For these and other reasons, definitions have received less emphasis in the literature than the principles and intentions of each of these modes of work".
Youth development programs seek to identify the needs of young people from a social/educational perspective, and to meet those needs through structured, intentional activities which satisfy those needs. This area includes community youth development and positive youth development activities.