The Evidence Portal

Types of interventions, programs and practices (by procedural qualities)

Youth work interventions have a dual focus on transformation of both the young person in their social and environmental context, and transformation of that context.

Synthesis of literature and sector responses relevant to ‘Types of youth work interventions’ revealed a number of predominant subcategories of youth work interventions. Some of these subcategories captured a procedural aspect of a youth work intervention category, while others coalesced around their focus on a particular subset of vulnerable youth

Types of interventions, programs and practices (by procedural qualities) include: 

Creative youth work

Youth work interventions that fall within the Creative youth work category comprise a creative component with relational or experiential learning. For example, a global youth work project that aims to engage young people in social issues via hip-hop activities was found to increase consciousness for global social issues while developing self-esteem among participant youth (Brown & Nicklin, 2019). Similarly, Wilson, Perez-y-Perez and Evans’ (2017) exploration of hip-hop activities across youth work sites in Christchurch, New Zealand found hip-hop activities run by youth trusts working with young people in the community to include graffiti, dance or music production practices. This variety of activities diversified programs’ appeal to different groups of young people and most activities incorporated both informal gatherings and formal events (Wilson, Perez-y-Perez & Evans, 2017, p1398).

These studies have highlighted the capacity for an activity with widespread appeal among young people, such as hip-hop, to bring diverse and heterogeneous young people together. The importance of bringing young people from different backgrounds together was also foregrounded in an evaluation of a cross-jurisdictional, collaborative theatre project which took place in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand (Aubrey, 2015). This theatre project, CLICK, facilitated exploration of issues of diversity and identity via arts education and theatre activities.

 This selection of Creative youth work programs and interventions suggests that combining creative program components with experiential or relational learning can bring together diverse groups of young people in the pursuit of ‘expressive and authentic conditions for learning’ (Howard, 2021) that are grounded in young people’s experiences.


Blue Mountains Women’s Health Resource Centre: Artspace

A clinical program combining creative arts with physical and mental health care for young women

What is it?

Artspace comprises weekly visual arts sessions alongside a youth health clinic offering drop-in appointments with a nurse, GP and counsellor.

What are its impacts for young people?

A qualitative evaluation undertaken by Brooks, Hooker & Barclay (2019) was conducted between 2016 and 2017. The evaluation demonstrated particularly beneficial outcomes for clients with considerable exposure to social adversity and trauma, and who were experiencing related serious health impacts. Participation in Artspace facilitated their recovery by enabling equitable access, social inclusion, creating a ‘holding environment’ and through therapeutic benefits of artist-led arts practices.

Outdoor or physical activity-based youth work

Outdoor or physical activity-based youth work involves learning, play, exercise and recreational activities that take place in outdoor settings.

Sports participation programs, including interventions involving organised sports or physical activity as a platform for engaging youth in additional interventions, have been found to promote positive youth development, build self-esteem, prosocial behaviours, social networks and facilitate advancement of life skills and academic achievement (Gaffney, Joliffe & White, 2021a). A systematic review of studies (n=61) reporting on the efficacy of secondary and tertiary sports interventions for young people found that sports interventions have a significant positive impact on offending, externalising behaviours and aggression (Gaffney, Joliffe & White, 2021a). This review also documented increases in self-esteem and academic performances and reductions in internalising behaviours. Heterogeneity among the reviewed studies meant that the overall evidence rating for these evaluations was relatively weak.

An earlier synthesis conducted by Ware and Meredith (2013) focused on the effectiveness of a range of sports and recreation programs for supporting and building healthy communities across diverse geographic regions. The authors noted the substantial body of evidence linking sports activities with improvements in physical and mental wellbeing, social cohesion and educational engagement (Ware & Meredith, 2013, p. 4). Crisp (2020) sought to understand ‘what works’ in effective sport intervention programs via interviews with experienced sport coaches (n=10). These interviews highlighted the capacity for sports interventions to develop leadership roles and community level empowerment among young people which in turn facilitates individual behavioural changes.

Outdoor play and learning programs, including forest and nature schools, wilderness therapy and ‘walkshops’, allow for growth and development through outdoor learning experiences. Forest and nature schools include nature-based games and exploration, and inquiry-based learning that can be unstructured or facilitated. For example, in Canada, children in forest and nature schools often attend a half-day or multiple full-days in an outdoor setting and engage in student-centred activities that revolve around play-based learning (Harper, 2017).

Research has shown that children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds who attend outdoor programs experience improved wellbeing and resilience (McArdle, Harrison & Harrison, 2013). Positive impacts on stress, competence, social relationships and attention have also been reported (Chawla, Keena, Pevec & Stanley, 2014).

In an Australian context, Indigenous bush knowledge programs such as the Wanga Indingii Program established in 2006, involve camps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth incorporating traditional activities like spear-making and storytelling (Korff, 2021). The program aims to ‘get kids off the street and actively involved in things’ and establish positive role models in the youth’s lives. The Wanga Indingii Program monitors young people’s school attendance and behaviour, and assists youth facing problems at school or at home via life-skills and leadership training (Korff, 2021). 

A more targeted experiential learning approach is encapsulated in Spier’s (2013) evaluation of a park design ‘walkshop’ in which young people participated in a simulated consultation walk designed to engage them in the hypothetical redevelopment of an urban park. Spier found, from consultation with the young participants, that the walk enabled a creative sensory-based experience prompting consensual discussion and ideas for improving the park (2013, p. 19). The students also reported that the walk enabled them to realise their creative agency as actors empowered to shape public spaces. Cumulatively, these studies demonstrate the benefits of incorporating outdoor settings and contexts into learning programs.


STARTTS: Youth Camps

Indoor and outdoor program that aims to bring young people of refugee background together to learn communication and interpersonal relationship skills

What is it?

The Youth Camp program involves residential camps for young refugee people that run for 3 nights during school holiday periods. Aims of this program include: develop social skills; encourage teamwork; enhance self-esteem and confidence; promote positive relationships with other individual youth and camp leaders; engage participants in a range of positive recreational and educational activities; and develop young people’s sense of responsibility.

Informal Education or learning-based youth work

There has been considerable research demonstrating the efficacy of informal youth work in building ‘democratic education’ via youth-centred dialogue with young people on the streets and in community-based settings (Sercombe, 2010; Coburn and Wallace, 2011). A qualitative study of informal education delivered by youth workers or as college-based further education in Scotland revealed that young participants (n=10) were able to access individually tailored supports not otherwise provided to them in formal school environments (McPherson, 2020). Similarly, research evaluating community-based youth work in educational spaces outside of formal school contexts including after-school programs, out-of-school programs and youth educational organisations has found that these informal learning programs are able to engage students via relevant and culturally responsive curricula (Baldridge, 2018; Baldridge, 2020).

An evaluation of a community-based, peer-led youth program conducted with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Australia found that social learning was achieved via simple, repetitive and conventionalised practices brokered by peers (Buus & Moensted, 2022). This delivery mode allowed young participants to recognise and address their own and others’ vulnerabilities.

In light of the reported benefits of community-based youth work and informal learning, there has been a push for stronger partnerships between formal and informal learning sectors as a means of embedding youth work in otherwise formal learning environments (Deuchar & Ellis, 2013).

Deuchar and Ellis (2013) explored the impact of a school and youth work partnership focusing on data from a small-scale educational intervention for young people (n=35) with a history of disengagement, criminal behaviour and school exclusions in Glasgow, Scotland. This intervention involved youth worker-facilitated workshops conducted in school environments where young people explored social issues and developed moral reasoning and team-building skills. The authors found that youth participants demonstrated a change in their self-reported participation in anti-social behaviour and an overall increase in social capital (Deuchar & Ellis, 2013). These findings substantiated previous research that demonstrated the capacity for school and youth work partnerships to improve young people’s ability to work in a team, collaborate effectively and increase self-esteem and social and emotional capital (Scottish Executive, 2007).

Research has been conducted in Australia looking at the experiences of disadvantaged and marginalised students who attend alternative education schools that cater to youth excluded from mainstream schools. The research found that when youth workers treat schooling disengagement as a product of socio-economic deficit rather than an individual deficit, students achieve positive outcomes (McGregor, 2017; also see Mills & McGregor, 2016). 

Digital, remote and mobile youth work

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growth of digital and online forms of youth work. Digital youth work offers youth workers an alternate mode by which they can deliver one-to-one support or outreach by using technology. Youth workers also support young people to develop their digital literacy and a positive online presence (Cohlmeyer, 2014).

Pre-COVID-19, digital youth work primarily supplemented in-person programs and services. An evaluation of a youth work intervention combining offline counselling with online group activities for young people not in employment or education in Finland found that the online counselling component was most beneficial for youth who identified as lonely and had difficulties participating in in-person group activities (Kivijarvi, Aaltonen & Valimaki, 2019). This research demonstrates the potential benefits of online delivery modes for young people whose circumstances, personal preferences or geographic location make difficult or preclude, in-person contact.

Since COVID-19, youth work organisations have had to pivot their services from in-person, relationship-based service models to remote and digital modes of engagement. An exploration of one youth work organisation’s transition to COVID-constrained services found that service model innovation impacted both delivery and service orientation with staff working more with families at a basic level of intervention (Shaw, Brady & Dolan, 2022).

Earlier research undertaken in the UK draws attention to the gap between adult perceptions of youth and technology, and young people’s relationship with the digital world (Jaynes, 2020). While a quick transition from in-person to online service models is likely to reveal issues with how digital technologies are negotiated and articulated in professional practice, research has generally highlighted the benefits of online youth work for vulnerable young people (see Szekely & Nagy, 2011; Blazek & Lemesova, 2011).


Save the Children Australia: Our Voice and Journey of Hope

An online adaptation of the Our Voice and Journey of Hope services

What is it?

Our Voice foregrounds the voices of children and young people in discussions around emergency preparedness, response and recovery involving local councils, service providers and communities. Young people who have experienced disasters are able to give feedback about local emergency management and share ideas about what would work best for their peers in the community. 

Journey of Hope is a school-based group-work intervention for young people who have experienced a collective trauma such as a natural hazard or disaster. The program aims to help them identify and process emotions and identify positive coping strategies that can be used to manage current and future emotional challenges.

What are its impacts for young people?

An evaluation report undertaken by Mavros et al., (2021) presents outcomes, lessons learned and recommendations from the Our Voice and Journey of Hope services jointly delivered by Save the Children Australia and the Paul Ramsay Foundation between August 2020 and July 2021. This report concluded that Our Voice represented an innovative and promising approach to promoting the voice of children and young people in emergency planning and recovery. Additionally, the authors found that children were able to engage in difficult conversations in online group chats in the Journey of Hope online adaptation which assisted with the overall aim of facilitating collective healing from trauma.


Youth mentoring in the context of youth work is characterised by a consistent, prosocial relationship between a young person and youth worker intended to support that young person’s positive development.

Youth mentoring is often divided into informal mentoring, involving ‘natural’ mentors such as family members, acquaintances and older peers, and formal mentoring, involving structured or unstructured programs with a mentoring component.

Quality mentoring, contingent in large part on the relationship between mentor and mentee, is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including enhanced mental health and reduced delinquency (Gaffney, Farrington & White, 2021b).

Additionally, positive outcomes associated with mentoring include: improved relationships with adults, academic functioning and performance, positive behavioural choices, and feelings of self-worth and life skills (New Zealand Youth Mentoring Network, 2016, p. 24).

See also Youth Mentoring Evidence Review


Streetwork Australia: KickStart Mentoring Program

Program that provides support to vulnerable young people

What is it?

KickStart Mentoring Program provides unique support to every young person engaged with StreetWork via one-on-one mentoring and case management. StreetWork works with at-risk young people aged 11-18 who are experiencing challenges including: suicidal ideation, self-harm, severe disengagement from school, youth homelessness, substance misuse and youth crime. 

What are its impacts for young people?

Research by PwC indicate that 85 percent of StreetWork’s young people graduate from the program and achieve their goals (from a study of the 2020 cohort). Additionally, a 2021/2022 Social Impact Report documents outcomes from young participants between 2017-2022 and found that participants in the program significantly improved in life skills factors including employment, education, housing, daily life skills as well as financial management and goal setting. Positive shifts were also documented in resilience factors including determination, pride, passion, managing setbacks, increased sense of meaning and finding solutions. 

Crime prevention and diversion youth work

A number of different interventions, programs and services that fall within the remit of youth work have been documented to have a diversionary effect on youths’ criminal behaviour. A systematic review of evidence-based programs that divert young people from gang involvement and violence found that skills-based programs were among the most robustly evaluated and effective approaches for preventing criminal behaviours among vulnerable youth (O’Connor & Waddell, 2015). The skills taught included demonstrations, practice and activities and family-focused programs including home visiting and parent training. The authors identified mentoring programs, community engagement and gang-specific approaches as promising but with limited evidence; and deterrence and disciplinary approaches as potentially harmful (2015, p. 14). A more recent systematic review explored the efficacy of afterschool programs for reducing delinquency among disadvantaged young people and found these programs to be moderately effective (Gaffney, Farrington & White, 2021a).

Finally, an evidence and gap map (EGM) that documented research exploring diversionary approaches for children at-risk of violent behaviour identified a number of critical gaps in the evidence-base for what works in crime prevention with young people (YEF, 2021a). From a synthesis of over 2000 evaluations and systematic reviews, this EGM found substantive research and evidence documenting effective approaches for working with parents and carers, mental health and therapeutic interventions and socioemotional wellbeing programs (2021a, p. 6). Conversely, the evidence base is lacking in areas of contextual safeguarding (i.e. an approach to safeguarding that responds to young people’s experiences of harm outside of the home); child criminal exploitation; child-focused criminal justice approaches; and approaches that consider systemic changes to services and systems that engage children and young people.

Case management youth work*

*a number of references exploring case management interventions were identified in this review, however, due to the small number of these references, these interventions were not canvassed in the review.

Detached youth work*

*a number of references exploring detached youth work interventions were identified in this review, however, due to the small number of these references, these interventions were not canvassed in the review.

Last updated:

16 Dec 2022

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