Recent years have seen a greatly enhanced focus on youth work in the political and social policy agendas of many European states, including Ireland . Much of the “official” interest in youth work stems from a concern with social order and stability and an expectation that it can help to alleviate pressing social problems such as, in recent times, youth unemployment . On the other hand, the youth work sector also includes social movements with a strong focus on social change and on combating social inequality . There is, however, little empirical research on how these contrasting impulses are reflected in the activities and programmes of youth organisations or the discourse and practice of youth workers . This paper draws on two sources. One is a national study of volunteer-led youth work in Ire-land . Based on a documentary analysis of reports and application forms prepared by youth groups (n=1111) seeking state funding for their work, the paper explores the range of terms in which such groups describe their aims and objectives as well as their activities and programmes . In particular it focuses on the extent to which, and the ways in which, various dimensions of inequality (e .g . gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability) feature in this discourse, and whether they do so in terms compatible with, or in tension with, “official policy”. The other source is a qualitative case study designed to explore the tacit and explicit “explanatory frameworks” that inform the professional practice of youth workers . This paper presents an integrated analysis of both sources that highlights some key opportunities and challenges for youth work in addressing social inequalities .