Illustration by Madalina Pavel (Picturise)


Shaping the future of youth work

Highlights from the Visible Value symposium: Growing youth work in Europe

 by Lorena Barić with contributions from Giorgia Verna and Alberto Carmena Garcia 


Under the warm embrace of Budapest’s spring sun in late May 2023, the European Youth Centre was hosting a gathering of more than 100 participants from 31 countries. Organised by the Youth Partnership, the Visible Value symposium unfolded over two days (31 May-1 June 2023), not only marking the Youth Partnership’s 25th anniversary but also inviting the participants to engage in a thorough exploration of the past, present and future of youth work in Europe. 

Upon arriving at the European Youth Centre in Budapest, I was warmly welcomed by the Youth Partnership team, excited to be part of a two-day event filled with fruitful discussions, networking, and the sharing of experiences and ideas. Next to the registration table was a display featuring various materials and publications created by the Youth Partnership over the years. Upon registering, the participants received eco-friendly tote bags as homage to the Youth Partnership’s 25th birthday. I observed that the bags, reminiscent of large beach totes, were well designed to hold the abundant knowledge showcased by the Youth Partnership. However, it soon became evident that the bags were not spacious enough, as I had to fill them twice to secure my copies of certain publications. This experience struck me as a meaningful portrayal of how the wealth of shared resources symbolises the dedication and effort invested in advancing youth work up to today.

As the symposium commenced, the air buzzed with anticipation, and the atmosphere during the two days was transformed into a palette of new information, spirited discussions, reflections and a myriad of perspectives coming from diverse participants, stakeholders and actors in the youth work field. The participants shared the past, present and future and, I believe, collectively there was an understanding or rather, an acknowledgement, that, while there had been significant development, the journey of shaping youth work was far from complete. 

The Visible Value symposium brought together an enthusiastic group of people contributing to the development of the youth sector, including youth work practitioners, youth researchers, policy makers and policy experts. Representatives from the European Commission, the Council of Europe and its statutory bodies, the European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ) and the Advisory Council on Youth (CCJ), as well as the European Youth Forum, were also present. 

The aim of the symposium was to bring together the youth work community of practice to share resources, showcase good practices, discuss research, identify needs and reflect on youth work trends in the context of Council of Europe and European Union initiatives. The symposium ambitiously sought to reflect on the past and present regarding youth work from the perspectives of the Youth Partnership.

Strategically timed between the 3rd and upcoming 4th European Youth Work Convention (EYWC), the symposium served as a mid-point reflection on the results made since the last convention. This was important because the EYWCs are a central platform for discussing the latest developments in youth work practice and youth policy in Europe, taking place every five years. The 3rd EYWC resulted in the European Youth Work Agenda which, until the time of the symposium, had been implemented for two years. The symposium has served as an excellent moment to reflect on the progress made thus far and provide an opportunity for the youth work community to shape their expectations for future developments leading up to the 4th EYWC. 

Throughout the many plenaries, workshops, as well as coffee breaks, discussions and participant feedback predominantly focused on the following key takeaways:

  • the recognition of youth work (the value of youth work; stages of recognition; need for supportive policies; quality assessment and impact evidence; unified standards of the youth worker occupation, recognition of the role of youth workers in crisis situations); 
  • education and training of youth workers; 
  • enhanced dialogue and engagement between youth and policy makers; 
  • mental health support for youth workers; 
  • integration of digital practices; 
  • providing enabling infrastructure such as youth clubs and youth centres.


 The future of youth work

“We need to look back at the steps taken to make youth work grow in Europe and to look ahead to recognise youth work in Europe. Dialogue, networking, your experience and suggestions are very important to us,” said Clotilde Talleu, Manager of the Youth Partnership.

To make plans for the future, the participants reflected on past and present developments of youth work. 

 I’m a youth worker. – Yes, but what is a youth worker?

What is the present situation of youth work? Well, it’s complicated. The present situation of youth work, discussed extensively at the symposium, revolves around the recognition of youth work and its vast challenges across different countries. In Europe, the recognition of youth work is nuanced and complex, varying across countries and administrative levels. For example, in some countries (Ireland, Estonia and Finland), youth work is recognised as an occupation, while in others (such as Greece), it is not recognised at all. Despite being recognised in European policy, youth work faces issues at the national and local levels.

Recognition of youth work presents a complex challenge that involves multiple levels and layers across countries. In nations where youth work is not officially recognised as an occupation, practitioners highlighted key issues they currently face: unequal pay compared to other professions working with young people, such as teachers and social workers, limited career prospects, and a sense of undervaluation in their occupation. Despite being acknowledged in European policy, youth work encounters difficulties at national and local levels. For instance, in Hungary, the term “youth work” is entirely absent, although ongoing efforts aim to establish a national definition. The symposium also featured the first empirical data collection on the competence, values and professional identity of youth workers in Hungary.

In North Macedonia and Romania, challenges such as a lack of visibility, absence of quality standards, and the need for support at both local and national levels were discussed. On a positive note, examples of successful initiatives were shared, as seen in Serbia, where a youth strategy was introduced. This strategy aims to promote, support and recognise youth work in Serbia within the broader youth policy framework, synergising with European-level efforts. These positive developments have stemmed from collaborative work by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. 

Workshop discussions delved deep into professional identity with clear quality standards, ethics (varying codes of ethical practices in youth work), aligning the youth worker occupation to others working with young people (social care, health care, education, criminal justice), and the pressing need for an approach to measure the impact of youth work. 

As another important element in the recognition of youth work, participants recognised the need for specialised and high-quality education pertinent to the professionalisation of youth work as a practice.


 The role of the Youth Partnership

The symposium also marked the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Youth Partnership. To honour this milestone, a high-level political panel took part, featuring Matjaž Gruden, Director of Democratic Participation at the Council of Europe, and Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot, Director of Youth, Education and Erasmus+ at the European Commission. Additionally, Spyros Papadatos, Chair of the Advisory Council on Youth (CCJ) and the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ), Jorge Orlando Queirós, Chair of the European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ) and María Rodríguez Alcázar, President of the European Youth Forum, actively participated in the panel discussion on the Youth Partnership’s substantial contribution to the youth sector in Europe.

The panel received greetings via a video message from the Deputy Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Bjørn Berge, who highlighted that the Youth Partnership was one of the first cooperation programmes between the Council of Europe and the European Commission. He emphasised that this partnership reflected “the strength of our commitment to European youth and our determination to ensure that young Europeans should be heard and be given an opportunity to lead and to actively contribute.” He added: “For no less than a full quarter century the Council of Europe and the European Commission have worked together on research into the needs of young people and activities that can help meet these needs.”

The symposium cast a spotlight on the Youth Partnership’s unwavering support through fostering a dialogue within the community of practices, supporting recognition of youth work and relevant initiatives of its partner institutions, praising its unique policy position and dedication to shaping youth work. 

The event also reaffirmed a shared commitment among participants – a genuine belief in creating environments in which young people can thrive and contribute to our shared future.


 Youth work is a crucial investment – a look into the future

As the symposium concluded, a unanimous agreement emerged – youth workers are the driving force, while policy makers provide the framework. Positioned as an investment in the future, the recognition of youth work is seen as pivotal for societal growth. A harmonised partnership between practice, research and policy is needed to shape the future of youth work. 

Everyone agrees that youth work is an investment in the younger generation and, consequently, in the future of society as a whole. There is an expectation that the recognition of youth work will position it on an equal footing with other professions working with young people. However, this recognition needs to happen on different levels: self-recognition, societal recognition, political recognition and formal recognition (The Youth Partnership, About Recognition). Adequate resources, education and career growth opportunities, including appropriate wages, are much-needed elements that would ensure stability, sustainability and strengthen the position of youth work across all levels. Another crucial aspect of this process involves establishing a robust monitoring mechanism and a quality assessment framework. These measures would effectively showcase both the tangible and intangible impact of youth work on young people and society as a whole.

Further, many recognise the importance of fostering enhanced dialogue and engagement between young people and policy makers around the topic of youth work development. It is crucial to encourage active participation and co-creation experiences for young people, thereby creating an environment that supports civic engagement and facilitates targeted outreach activities. Given the synergetic relationship between civic engagement and political involvement, youth work should also be able to align with changing socio-political landscapes. This involves establishing civic spaces that encourage active participation within their communities and society as a whole (such as youth clubs and youth centres). 

There are many pieces of the youth work landscape puzzle that need to be put together. But, having participated at the symposium and having had the opportunity to chat and meet with a lot of dedicated members of the youth work community, one thing is certain – we’re all in this field because we genuinely and truly believe in it and want to help create environments for young people to thrive in so that they can help shape our shared future. The symposium provided participants with ample opportunities for learning, sharing, networking and discussion about youth work development. And we’re looking forward to what the next years of the Youth Partnership and the youth work community will bring.



Here are some highlighted materials and workshops from the symposium. You can find the entire overview via the designated Visible Value symposium page.








 Issue 36 

 25 years: 
 Youth Partnership 



Lorena is an editor of Coyote magazine, a writer, and a youth information worker.