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An intercultural approach to youth work requires the involvement and participation of young people from the cultural and ethnic groups living in the local community as much as possible. Outreach to new communities is essential, and a traditional ‘open-door’ policy may not work. Consultation with young people in the area ensures that the youth organisation is needs-based, and in the youth services, projects and clubs featured in this resource, an individual needs-assessment was often completed when new participants joined.

Young people from minority ethnic backgrounds attending your organisation may initially prefer to engage with people of the same background or living in similar circumstances. This is understandable, but the aim of all youth work should be integration. You and your colleagues must decide how to approach this; how to set up activities and when to mix groups. Talk to the young people when planning this. Consider setting up a 'buddy' system, in groups of 4 rather than pairs, for young people of different backgrounds to work together.


If your current group is quite ‘mono-cultural’, it can be beneficial to prepare them before introducing new members, and involve them in planning for this change. You should explore the needs, interests and own cultural awareness of your group. This will mitigate the potential for tension when faced with diversity. Young people may have dual or various 'identities', especially those of minority ethnic backgrounds; explore this in the group. It is important that every individual is encouraged to be aware of and proud of their own heritage and background.

Good Practice in involving young people…

Young people will be drawn to a youth organisation that offers activities which they are interested in. When working with young people from a minority ethnic background, the activities you offer can be especially important. Consult with the young people to see what they would like to do. Many minority ethnic parents will want to see their children doing activities which develop their life-skills and education, and young people themselves are often motivated by activities that develop their talents and abilities. (See Step 7 ‘Activities’)

Identity work is important for all young people. Even if you don’t work with a group containing minority ethnic members, identity work should still take place, especially if you are planning on introducing newcomers to a group. Young Irish people may feel that they don’t have a ‘culture’. But feeling secure in your own cultural background is crucial for integration within society in general.

“I did find that the older Irish guys – well they actually said this – that they were put off by more and more Africans joining and they did begin to fade away from the club. And then when I met them on the street they said that actually the youth club wasn’t for them anymore, they wanted pool and they didn’t like doing the activities where I “forced” them to interact together. But they had got what they wanted from it and in all fairness I see them hanging out with the African guys from the club. So there is integration. I like to think it was because I “forced” them, as they say. Actually the best present I can get is when I see them all – all the nationalities hanging out together”. (Tyrrelstown youth worker)

Youth workers are often unsure of whether an integrated or targeted approach is best when working with young people from a minority ethnic background. In the experience of the youth workers interviewed for this resource, it is important to work based on the needs and wants of the young people themselves. The SPARK project (Youth Work Ireland Galway) began with targeted youth work but provided more and more integrated group sessions with the SPARK members and other young people who attended the Gaf Youth Café, Galway. However, SPARK continuously provides a targeted service to the SPARK group through ‘Comfort Zone’; a specific support group for teenage refugees and asylum seekers to discuss issues related to their status, in a safe environment. In Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative (Foróige), the group had a minority of young Irish people involved at first, but the youth worker undertook active initiatives to try to get more young Irish people on board as well. Apart from one specific project, there was no need to separate the young people coming to the club, and approximately half of the young people coming to Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative were Irish, many of whom were young Travellers. In Localise, some young people join a mixed group but some prefer to have their own programmes after school with others from their own culture and language group. Group work and individual support are often both necessary and complementary. YMCA Cork describe their ‘psychosocial space’ whereby team workers ‘float’ during the ‘Ninos’ homework club in order to be available to young people. Young people are invited in turn for private one-to-one chats – a few are seen each week to check on how they are doing.

“It’s not that the group wasn’t integrated before, but I think the emphasis was on individual work until 2-3 years ago. I don’t think there were any groups that were not ‘mixed’, it was just that the individual work took priority. Once the young people were ready for group work, it was just logical for it to be integrated. I don’t think there was any point for groups happening with people from other countries and everybody else was out.”
(SPARK Youth Worker)

young people having fun

Some youth groups work specifically with immigrant youth.YMCA Cork runs a distinct project specifically for immigrant youth called ‘Ninos’. Young people in need of the service were targeted through local schools. A special aim of the project was to target separated children who live in two local hostels. However the project is by no means ‘mono-cultural’. There is huge diversity in ethnic background so integration is happening cross culturally in the group.

Working with young males and females together can be a barrier for some ethnic and cultural groups.Your youth organisation will need to decide whether or not to provide single-gender activities. Segregation based on gender may be necessary, for instance in activities such as swimming. In the case of Bishopstown Youth Project (Ógra Chorcaí), all of their activities work well in separate groups, and there is no call for them to be mixed. This made it a lot easier to introduce young Travellers into their project as there were no gender barriers to be overcome. Segregation based on gender may also be determined based on the type of activity on offer. A health course run by Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative brought a group of girls from Eastern Europe and Ireland together

When working with young people from a minority ethnic background, trying to find the right ‘terminology’ or what many regard as ‘politically correct’ can seem very difficult. When in doubt, it is best to ask the young people themselves. For instance, the SPARK group asked youth workers not to refer to them as ‘asylum seekers’, due to negative coverage they had seen and heard in the Irish media. The coordinator of VSI’s (Voluntary Service International) youth programme also stated that it is crucial to make an effort to get the young person’s name right from the start, and always ask them what they prefer to be called – first/second name, nicknames and so on.

Flexibility is generally very important when working with young people, and this is also true of young people from a minority ethnic background. When working with young Travellers, Bishopstown Youth Project found the best approach was to keep a young person’s place open to them, even if they had not attended for some time. Follow-up with any young person to see why they have stopped attending and make sure that they know they are welcome back at any time. Bishopstown Youth Project has also chosen to keep some places in reserve for marginalised young people, and young Travellers in particular. The CastlebarNeighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), Foróige,and VSI also felt it necessary to keep places open for young people from minority ethnic backgrounds.  Many of VSI’s projects took place abroad, and since asylum seekers cannot travel, specific places in the projects taking place in Ireland were reserved for them.  YMCA in Cork also adopts a flexible approach - if someone doesn’t show up for several weeks they are contacted. Nevertheless, participation has peaks and troughs depending on the school year; the club just runs with who is there and now knows the rhythms to expect. 

You need to ask yourself if your organisation is the most appropriate for the minority ethnic young person you meet. Many youth organisations in Ireland work with young people at risk and those experiencing personal, social or educational difficulties. Some minority ethnic young people are at risk in the same way that other young people you work with are. Others will be at risk based on their legal status in Ireland. Projects like No. 4 drop-in centre, Galway Diocesan Youth Services (GDYS) found that minority ethnic young people who used the drop-in centre required the particular assistance that their service was providing; a drop-in centre catering for the daytime needs of homeless and other disadvantaged young people in Galway city. For VSI it is important to refer a young person onto another organisation, if one specific youth organisation does not meet the need of the young person who wants to become involved in youth work.


Waiting listsare a feature of many Irish youth clubs, projects and services. Very often popular activities have waiting lists of several months or years. As a result they can indirectly discriminate against a young person who has not lived in the area for long, and therefore has no chance to participate. Referring someone to a waiting list can be interpreted as a polite rejection, especially if someone comes from a country which doesn’t operate a system of waiting lists. Why not consider a lottery by putting all names from the waiting list in together and pulling names from a hat as places arise?

Above all, all youth workers interviewed agreed that involving young people from minority ethnic communities was worth the effort and positively transformed the work they were doing.

“It’s really just transformed the youth programme. In some ways we went into it in a naïve way. We just saw them as young people who wanted to get involved. We opened the doors to them”…”For us it just seemed like a really organic thing for the organisation.”
(VSI Teenage Programme Coordinator)

Additional Resources/Training on how to involve young people:


How would you rate? /How is your organisation doing?

  • Are minority ethnic young people represented in your youth organisation? YES   NO
  • Does your organisation portray a range of young people in advertising?YES   NO
  • Does your youth organisation reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity locally?  YES   NO
  • Are minority ethnic communities, parents and young people consulted and involved in planning activities?  YES   NO
  • Have you assessed whether targeted or mixed groups are more appropriate? YES   NO
  • Have you assessed whether single gender activities are required? YES   NO
  • Do you check-in regularly with young people using your organisation? YES   NO
  • Do you refer young people to other relevant youth organisations as needed? YES   NO
  • Does your organisationhave peer/youth leaders who come from a minority ethnic background? YES   NO

Projects featured:


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