The first attempts to define youth as a separate target group of the national policy took place in the mid-90s. Several conferences were held between 1995 and 1997 aiming to harmonize the activities of public sector and non-governmental organisations in the youth field. Whereas, targeted efforts to develop the youth policy in Latvia were launched in the late-90s, when stakeholders involved in the youth field began to realise that youth policy is not only related to the interest education but includes many other important areas. The non-governmental sector had a major role in developing youth policy during this time period. In March 1998, the Cabinet of Ministers took note of the State Programme on Youth Policy for 1998-2002, which can be considered as the first youth policy planning document in Latvia.
Calls for more attention to the youth policy and the need to put it forward on the political agenda were announced in the Public Council of Youth Affairs, which sought to develop the youth policy as an independent national policy area. One of the proposals of the Council was to establish a position of the minister for youth affairs. The need for the development of the targeted youth policy were also mentioned in the Latvian youth congresses. In the First Congress (in April 1999), the youth policy was highlighted, while in the Second Congress (in May 2001) general youth-related issues like youth awareness, opportunities for the development of youth organisations, crime, health, society integration, education were discussed.
In 2002, the leading role in the development and the promotion of the Youth Law of Latvia was undertaken by the National Youth Council of Latvia setting up the Coordination Council (uniting representatives of ministries, the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments, the largest non-governmental organisations) and the so-called “Shadow Cabinet” (ensuring the participation of young people in the development of the Youth Law). At the beginning of 2002, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the State Programme on Youth Policy for 2002-2003 and the National Youth Policy Concept, where young people are defined as a demographic group aged 15-25 years and the youth policy defined as an independent national policy area. In the following years, both broad public and more narrow working groups’ discussions were organised on the future Youth Law, in order to reconcile views and needs of different target groups. At this time, the Ministry of Education and Science was responsible for the development of the youth policy. In the second half of 2004, with the Order of the Cabinet of Ministers the youth policy area was placed under the responsibility of the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, establishing the Department of Youth Affairs. With Latvia’s accession to the European Union (on 1 May 2004), there was a need for the integration of the European Union’s common youth policy objectives into the national policy planning documents.
In 2005, the active work on the development of the Youth Law was taking place, which, however, did not yet succeed. According to the National Youth Policy Concept, the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs developed the State Programme on Youth Policy for 2005-2009. The programme aimed at creating a favourable environment which would help young people to start an independent life as a responsible member of the society. In 2007, a group of international experts designated by the Youth and Sports Directorate of the European Council conducted the international evaluation on the youth policy of Latvia, with in total more than 30 recommendations for the development and the implementation of the youth policy in Latvia.
On 8 May 2008, after almost ten years of elaboration and harmonisation the Parliament adopted the Youth Law (entered into force on 1 January 2009), where young people are defined as persons aged 13 to 25 years. The Law aims at improving the quality of life of young people, promoting their initiatives, working virtue and patriotism, participation in decision making and in public life, and supporting youth work. Shortly after the Law was adopted, the Ministry of Education and Science undertook the task of the development and the coordination of the youth policy from the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs. To ensure the coordination of the youth policy, the Youth Advisory Council was established aiming to promote the development and implementation of the coherent youth policy and to facilitate youth participation in decision-making and in public life. Representatives of public administration, local governments and youth organisations are represented in the Council.
Almost simultaneously with work on the Youth Law, the first long-term youth policy programming document – the Youth Policy Guidelines for 2009-2018 had been developed replacing the National Youth Policy Concept adopted in 2002. Consequently, based on the Youth Policy Guidelines, the State Programme on Youth Policy for 2009-2013 was developed. The programme is defined as the medium-term development planning document and it determines action directions of the youth policy and its performance indicators. In line with the programme and in the light of the priorities of the European Union Council Presidency in youth policy, the annual programme had been also elaborated envisaging activities to be implemented in one-year period. As youth policy planning documents have been developed in different time periods, they are only partly linked to the European Union level youth policy planning documents. For example, the objectives and thematic blocks defined in the EU Youth Strategy (2010-2018) are wider than those included in the Latvian Youth Policy Guidelines. In turn, indicators developed by the European Union in the youth field only partially overlap with the result indicators of the youth policy of Latvia. At the same time, the EU recommendations on youth policy are implemented as cross-sectoral approach (involving representatives of different line ministries, as well as local governments and non-governmental sector), as well as in particular emphasizing youth research and regular evaluation of youth policy results. Since 2008 the youth policy monitoring has been carried out every year, surveying young people and obtaining their assessment on the most pressing problems among young people.
In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science initiated the development of the youth policy implementation index and conducting the first pilot study. The youth policy implementation index was conceived as a multidimensional indicator that provides an opportunity to evaluate results of the implementation of the youth policy in eight thematic blocks defined in the Youth Strategy of the European Union. However, two years later it was decided to cancel calculations of this index due to its complexity and restrictions for applying it. In 2013, by request of the Ministry of Education and Science a mid-term evaluation of the Youth Policy Guidelines for 2009-2018 was carried out. The evaluation identified significant shortcomings in this planning document, and therefore it was recommended not to continue its implementation, but to develop a new planning document.
In 2014, the work on the development of a new youth policy planning document was launched and in 2016 the Youth Policy Action Plan for 2016-2020 entered into force. It aims to improve the quality of life of young people by achieving the implementation of the coherent youth policy and its coordination at all levels, identifying priority actions and policy results. The plan defines fundamental principles, values, key challenges for the youth policy, identifies actions, main tasks and achievable results for the next years. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education and Science has been pursuing an annual contest “Youth Capital City of Latvia” with a view to promote youth work in municipalities. There are extensive and multilateral events of the youth field with participation of young people taking place in the winning municipality. So far, this status has been awarded to: Jelgava, Liepaja, Madona, Ikskile and Olaine municipalities. Since 2017, increased attention has been paid to the development of the youth policy at local level – within the framework of the state programme on youth policy, based on project calls funding is available for local governments for implementation of the youth policy at local level and for creation of a system of the youth work at local level.
After regaining independence in 1990, subdivisions of international organizations as well as many youth organizations that operated in Lithuania before the World War II (Ateitininkai, Scouts and other) were established or re-established. Therefore, a number of competing political parties entered the Lithuanian political field and the first youth organizations were established in partnership with political parties. The establishment of various youth organizations was an important change because of the ideological diversity that was unthinkable in the Soviet times. In order to promote dialogue among youth organizations and represent interests of young people, the Lithuanian Youth Council was founded in 1992. The Lithuanian Youth Council is a non-governmental and non-profit umbrella structure that unites national youth organizations and regional unions of youth organizations.
The first legal act of youth policy was the State Youth Policy Concept that was approved by the decision of Seimas in 1996 (Official Gazette, 1996, No. 65-1537). The State Youth Policy Concept established the definition of youth, the main principles of youth policy as well as governmental institutions and bodies that were responsible for its implementation and funding sources. In the above-mentioned document, youth was defined as a group of young people aged between 16 and 29 years. Furthermore, the main principles of youth policy such as participation of young people in society as well as their responsibility for personal and collective activities were formulated and recognized. It was approved that governmental institution such as the State Council of Youth Affairs under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania would be a responsible institution for control of implementation of the State Youth Policy Concept. The founding of the State Council for Youth Affairs was a very significant development in youth policy in Lithuania. It enabled a structured approach by the Government/NGOs in fostering of youth policy formulation and youth work. The State Council for Youth Affairs was made up of the representatives of state institutions and youth organizations according to the parity principle. The representatives of youth organizations were delegated by the Lithuanian Youth Council.
The projects of youth organizations in line with the State Youth Policy Concept were funded by the Youth Fund. The Youth Fund under the State Council of Youth Affairs, that received contributions from the state budget but was also allowed to accepted private contributions, was a source of funding necessary for the implementation of the State Youth Policy Concept. The Youth Fund is estabished and managed by the State Council of Youth Affairs.
The first State Youth Policy ProgrammeYouth for Lithuania was elaborated and approved by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania in 1998 (Official Gazette, 1998 No.100-2783). It aimed to implement the State Youth Policy Concept in six fields such as civic education, development of personality in the learning process, prevention of suicide, crime, drugs, alcoholism, prostitution and AIDS, support for persons who have experienced physical and psychological abuse, military service from 2000 to 2001.
With the reform of local government in 2002, the protection of children’s and young people’s rights were transmitted from the jurisdiction of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania to municipalities (Law on Amendments to Articles 7 and 8 of the Law on Local Self-Government, Official Gazette, 2002, No 96-4171). These amendments had a great effect on the development of youth policy on local level. It created preconditions for establishing positions of coordinators of youth affairs, funded from the state budget in all municipalities.
The Law on Youth Policy Framework (Official Gazette, 2003, No 119-5406) came in force in 2003 and at the same moment the State Youth Policy Concept was no longer valid. The law establishes lower and higher age limits of young population as well as more specified principles of youth policy and authorities responsible for youth policy formation and implementation. According to the Law on Youth Policy Framework (Article 2, Paragraph 1), youth policy is targeted at young people aged from 14 to 29. The Law on Youth Policy Framework provides definitions of a youth organization and a council of youth organizations and recognized their contribution to development of personality of a young person. The important part of the Law on Youth Policy framework is focused on the establishment of organising and managing institutions of youth policy on national (State Council of Youth Affairs) and local level. It establishes the role of local coordinators of youth affairs, municipal councils of youth affairs and councils of youth organizations in youth policy.
The Law on Youth Policy Framework was revised and updated in 2005 (Official Gazette, 2005, 144-5238). The amendments to the Law on Youth Policy Framework were adopted providing for the reformation of the State Council of Youth Affairs under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania to the Department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of Social Security and Labor. Additionally, the Council of Youth Affairs to perform the advisory function was founded. The Council of Youth Affairs functions under the Department of Youth Affairs. It was established on the basis of equal partnership between the state institutions and non-governmental organizations to link the activities and interests of ministries, regional bodies and nongovernmental organizations that directily or indirectly contribute to the shaping of youth policy. In order to create conditions for successful implementation of the Law on Youth Policy Framework, provisions on youth policy were incorporated in the programs of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. The chapter on youth policy for the first time was included in the Program of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania for 2004-2008 (Official Gazette, 2005, Nr. 40-1290). The provisions of this program aim to enhance youth participation in the civil society, youth local self-government as well as improve policies in the areas of youth education, employment, housing, leisure, social and health services, sports and crime prevention.
The Program of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania for 2008-2012 (Official Gazette, 2005, No 40-1290) and the Program of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania 2012-2016 (Official Gazette, 2008, No 46-1728) also had chapters on youth policy aimed to enhance active participation in the society, supporting young families, strengthening entrepreneurship, encouraging cohesion among youth organizations, increasing funding of projects provided by youth organizations. In order to implement the provisions and measures provided in these programs, the National Youth Policy Development Program for 2011-2019 (Official Gazette, 2010, No.142- 7299) was approved by the Government. The Ministry of Social Security and Labour is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the National Youth Policy Development Program for 2011-2019. The Ministry implemented the National youth policy development program for 2011-2019 through the Action Plan for 2014-2016 and the Action Plan for 2017-2019. Specific objectives, actions, terms of implementation and budget allocations as well as responsible institutions for its implementations are indicated in the above mentioned two Action Plans. Because of the cross-sectorial approach, a number of ministries (Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of National Defence, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Interior Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture) and agencies (the Drug Control Department under the Government of Lithuania, Lithuanian Labour Exchange, Department of Youth Affairs) are responsible for the implementation. The 2014-2016 Action Plan of the National Youth Policy Development Program for 2011-2019 was reviewed and more focus were given on youth employment and volunteering as well as the development of youth centers and open spaces, regional youth policies and non-formal education. The 2015-2017 Plan for the Regional Youth Policy Strengthening (Official Gazette, TAR, 2015-01-13, No. 578) was approved and implemented. It focused on strengthening the relations among NGOs, state and municipal institutions by the use of support from the EU Structural Funds and financing provided under relevant programmes.
The Law on Youth Policy Framework underwent major revisions adopted in 2018 (will enter into force on January 1, 2019). One of the key objectives of the revisions was to establish official definitions of youth work, open work with youth, open youth center, open space, non-formal education and quality requirements for youth work by law. A special chapter on youth work is included in theLaw on Youth Policy Framework, where principles of youth work as well as quality requirements for activities of open youth centers and open yout spaces were established.