Home > Assessment of the value of youth work in Ireland.

Keane, Martin (2013) Assessment of the value of youth work in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 45, Spring 2013, pp. 1-2.

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 The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) recently published what they claim to be the first national comprehensive and rigorous economic assessment of youth work in Ireland.1 The fieldwork and data collection and analysis were undertaken by Indecon International Economic Consultants.   

The nature and extent of youth work in Ireland
The vast majority (80%) of youth work organisations provide recreational, arts and sports-related activities; over half provide activities focused on the welfare and well-being of young people, including measures that address substance misuse and early school-leaving; some provide activities to divert young people from crime and anti-social behaviour.  

An estimated 312,615 young people aged between 10 and 24 participated in youth work during 2011; this figure represents 43.3% of this age cohort nationally; 54% of participants were female and 53.3% were believed to be socially or economically disadvantaged.
There are over 40 national youth work organisations in the sector responsible for providing services through local community-based projects and groups. It is estimated that 40,145 individuals work in a voluntary capacity in the sector and 1,397 full-time equivalents are employed in management, service delivery and training and support for volunteers.
The youth work sector received almost €79 million in public funding during 2011; the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) provided €61.5 million, the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) €8.8 million and the Health Service Executive (HSE) €8.3 million. This represents an investment by the State of €206 per young person participating in youth work activities in 2011.
A cost-benefit analysis of youth work
The economic assessment was guided by the following question: What would be the likely outcomes for young people participating in justice-, health- and welfare-related youth programmes, and the costs to the State if these programmes were not available? The assessment was undertaken on the assumption that annual funding to these programmes remains constant over the next 10 years.
Indecon estimates that the State will benefit by saving costs to the value of €2 billion for an €992 million investment over the next 10 years; benefits will exceed projected costs by a factor of 2.2. The projected €992 million investment is based on the assumption that the 2011 funding streams (total receipts of almost €79 million) are maintained and considering the relevant adjustments when undertaking such an assessment.
In respect of the economic value of health-related youth work programmes which include the Young Person’s Facilities and Services Fund (YPFSF) and HSE and local drugs task force funding streams, Indecon compared the cost of funding such programmes with the estimated cost to the State if these services were unavailable at the youth work organisation level. Funding provided through the YPFSF and local drugs task forces, with additional health-promotion-related funding provided by the HSE, is distributed to organisations whose programme are directed towards young people who are at risk of substance abuse and the associated adverse health-related impacts. If 2011 funding levels were to be maintained, the estimated cost of health-related funding to the youth sector over a 10-year period would be €420.5 million. Indecon assumes that in the absence of this funding an estimated 4% of beneficiaries of these youth-work programmes would have to receive treatment for substance abuse in adolescent treatment centres at a cost to the State of €60.6 million annually, or €509.9 million in present value terms over a 10-year period; maintaining health-related funding at 2011 levels would save the State an estimated €89.5 million over the projected 10-year period.
Qualitative evidence on the impacts of youth work in Ireland
The views of over 40 organisations working in the youth sector were sought in relation to the levels of significance they attach to their work with youth. According to the report,
a large majority of organisations in the sector attach very significant or significant levels of importance to the following aspects of youth work:
·       helping young people to gain practical skills,
·       helping young people to gain education and training qualifications,
·       helping to reduce costs associated with crime and anti-social behaviour,
·       helping to reduce health and social care costs associated with substance misuse,
·       helping to expand labour market and other economic opportunities for young people, and
·       Helping to promote equal economic opportunity between women and men. (p.19)
The relative significance of these particular aspects of youth work, as reported by organisations involved in the youth sector in Ireland, reflects to a large degree the important aspects of youth work reported in the international literature and summarised in this report.
According to Indecon,
The results of this cost-benefit analysis suggest that the public funding provided by the State for youth work services represents value for money. This reflects in particular the benefits of targeted programmes in the areas of justice, health and welfare, which address the needs of young people in a pre-emptive and holistic manner, compared to a scenario where the absence of these supports is likely to mean that the State would face substantially greater costs over the longer term. (p.119)
This report is timely and instructive. It is timely in that it presents a strong case for maintaining current levels of funding to the youth work sector, despite the many competing claims for State funding from the public purse. It is instructive in that it signals the changing nature of youth work in Ireland; it points to the large numbers of young people aged 10–24 who rely on the services of the youth sector, an estimated 43% of this age cohort nationally; it points to the challenging work undertaken by youth workers to prevent young people becoming embedded in a life of substance abuse and crime.
Finally, the report spells out the economic and socially disadvantaged conditions that underpin the lives of over half of all young people attending youth work services (based on 2011 figures); this is a reminder that the rationale for targeting funding to the most at-risk communities which underpinned the rationale and emergence of the YPFSF and the local drugs task forces remains relevant today. Taken together, these components which make up the nature of youth work in contemporary Ireland signal a clear need for maintaining current funding levels on the basis that this money and the work of this sector is an investment in the social capital of young people and the communities in which they live.  
1. Indecon International Economic Consultants (2012) Assessment of the economic value of youth work. Report prepared for the National Youth Council. Dublin: National Youth Council of Ireland . www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19045
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 45, Spring 2013
April 2013
Page Range
pp. 1-2
Health Research Board
Issue 45, Spring 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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