In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Youth Services

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Scholarly Journals
  • Reference Works
  • History of Youth Work
  • Theoretical Works
  • Youth Work Ethics
  • Group Work with Youth

Social Work Youth Services
Jay Sweifach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0225


Youth work is a continually evolving field of practice, in many ways paralleling economic, social, cultural, and political changes that have taken place in societies around the world over time. In most countries, the foundation of youth work grew out of a concern about the welfare of children, recognizing that there exists some failure in providing the support, guidance, and resources needed for young people to thrive and achieve their full potential. The term “youth work” is difficult to define; contexts, circumstances, and influences have led to diverse interpretations of the concept. In its broadest sense, youth work encompasses a range of social, cultural, recreational, educational, and political activities with young people of all ages and abilities. This broad definition allows for the term to be applied to many types of youth populations and practice settings. In most contexts, youth work is located within the sphere of informal education or learning. Activities and programs are facilitated, coordinated, and executed by professional or voluntary youth workers, leaders, or mentors. Today, the scope and breadth of youth work is great. Key constituents participating in services provided by youth workers are young people under the age of twenty-five, with a particular focus on those between ten and twenty-one. Target populations include (1) marginalized and underserved youth such as those who are disadvantaged, high risk, young offenders, urban street youth, or suffer from substance abuse; (2) those representing different configurations of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion, such as LGBTQ youth, teenage women of color, Native American youth, and Asian youth; (3) youth with skill and interest in leadership and advocacy; (4) youth interested in hands-on service within the realm of citizenship, social action, and community service; (4) youth interested in social, recreational, cultural, educational, or athletic programs; and (5) youth with a specific interest such as computer gaming, chess, or chemistry. The theoretical underpinnings of youth work suggest that its influences are diverse and multifaceted. Many appear to agree that informal education serves as the guiding principle to practice in which the individual learns and grows by doing and sharing; learning is experiential. This philosophy is based on the work of several notable scholars, including Dewey, Piaget, Kolb, and Lewin. There are a number of theoretical perspectives that continue to influence youth work, including Humanistic Theory, Community Youth Development Theory, Social Systems Theory, Psychosocial Theory, Empowerment Theory, and Positive Youth Development Theory (see Theoretical Works below). The literature on youth work is located across a wide variety of disciplines and professional contexts, mirroring the practice of youth work, which is a subspecialty of social work, leisure and recreation, education, and a host of other professions and fields of practice. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in all aspects of youth work both historically and presently, and it does appear that youth work in the United Kingdom is more formalized as a profession when compared with other countries. In the United States, for example, youth work has yet to achieve autonomy and distinctiveness from other professions. This annotated bibliography summarizes important works relevant to youth work.

Introductory Works

The topic of youth work is wide in scope and breadth. The introductory works listed here are designed to acquaint laypersons and specialists with a foundation level of knowledge about youth work. The reader will be introduced to works providing an overview of topics, including history, policy, ethics, practice approaches, theory, and current trends. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in all aspects of youth work, both historically and presently, and has produced a great deal of the prevailing literature. Of the eight texts listed in this section, five were written by experts from the United Kingdom. Jeffs and Smith 2010, Batsleer and Davies 2010, and Wood and Hine 2009 provide a comprehensive synthesis of knowledge about the theory and practice of youth work in the United Kingdom as seen through the lens of a variety of scholars and practitioners. Sapin 2008 and Young 2006 each provide a good overview of the field, with specific attention to the purpose, principles, and practice of youth work. From the United States, Edginton, et al. 2005 provides a good overview of youth work, contextualized by its history, policies, theory, and practical application. The edited text Fusco 2011 provides an international perspective on youth work, featuring invited contributors from around the world. Although dated, Krueger 1997 offers much insight and wisdom about best practices for interacting with youth. The books listed here do not give an in-depth explanation of any one subject area, providing instead a foundation of knowledge about an array of youth work study areas and a starting point for further investigation. These books can be found on the syllabuses of undergraduate and graduate courses that deal with topics related to youth work.

  • Batsleer, Janet R., and Bernard Davies, eds. 2010. What is youth work? Exeter, UK: Learning Matters.

    This book provides a good introduction to youth work practice, including a discussion of the changing nature of youth work contextualized by historical and contemporary themes. Although the book has a clear UK orientation, the themes have universal application.

  • Edginton, Christopher R., Christopher L. Kowalski, and Steven W. Randall. 2005. Youth work: Emerging perspectives in youth development. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

    Provides an overview of youth work and youth development. This is a good introductory text for the study of youth work in America. The book is both practical and theoretical. Topics relate to adolescent development, youth policy, ethics, history, programming, and other youth work topics.

  • Fusco, Dana. 2011. Advancing youth work: Current trends, critical questions. New York: Routledge.

    This text is academic in nature, bringing together a variety of commentators who explore practices and perspectives oriented toward advancing youth work. Discussion around areas of youth work curricula, competencies, and credentialing are key strengths of the text.

  • Jeffs, Tony, and Mark Smith, eds. 2010. Youth work practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Jeffs and Smith are recognized experts in the field of youth work. This book explores the current state and future of the field. The book’s contributors are practitioners who reflect on their experiences contextualized around the continuing evolution of youth work.

  • Krueger, Mark. 1997. Interactive youth work practice. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

    The book contains five essays focusing on the skill of interacting with youth, taking into consideration developmental and functional capacities. The philosophy of “meeting the client where they’re at” serves to contextualize the essays. The author also includes a curriculum for use in classrooms or other educational settings.

  • Sapin, Kate. 2008. Essential skills for youth work practice. London: SAGE.

    This text has an academic orientation with specific attention to the purposes and core values of youth work. Case material from youth workers representing an array of practice settings and roles serves to illustrate the diversity of youth work practice.

  • Wood, Jason, and Jean Hine, eds. 2009. Work with young people: Theory and policy for practice. London: SAGE.

    Grounded in theory and research, this book draws on the experiences of nineteen academics from a range of disciplines, most of whom are affiliated with universities in the United Kingdom. This work focuses on using theory and policy as a basis for exploring practice.

  • Young, Kerry. 2006. The art of youth work. Lyme Regis, UK: Russell House Publishing.

    This text, with its academic orientation, is focused on the practices and principles of youth work. Perspectives from thirty-two youth workers provide an opportunity to learn from the professional experience of seasoned practitioners. Focus is placed on the importance of relationship building between the practitioner and constituent.

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