New research shows Covid-19 pandemic is impacting ‘at risk’ youth most severely

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New research shows Covid-19 pandemic is impacting ‘at risk’ youth most severely

Young people who were already deemed ‘most at risk’ became the most disconnected from youth services and supports as a result of Covid-19. 

That’s according to a research report, ‘A Review of the Youth Work Sector Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic’, published today by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).

The findings show thousands of young people missed out on the supports they would normally receive from local youth services as a result of Covid-19. Of 256 services surveyed for the report, 14% were unable to provide a service during lockdown, impacting on approximately 6,900 young people.

The report, produced by researchers Deborah Erwin and Lorraine Thompson using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research tools, highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic made it more difficult for youth services to engage with ‘at risk’ or marginalised young people. 67% of youth workers surveyed cited this as a key limitation of the move to online models of working.

The challenges of delivering youth services digitally are highlighted in the research report, with key findings including:

  • Almost one in four youth projects surveyed experienced difficulties with the switch to digital youth work because young people did not have adequate digital access.
  • Similarly, 24% found staff lacked the requisite digital skills.
  • 17% of survey respondents expressed concerns about safeguarding mechanisms not being in place for digital service delivery.  Safeguarding concerns were a particular issue in relation to work with younger age groups, with youth workers highlighting the challenge of trying to connect with younger age groups where these young people might often be reliant on going online via a parent’s device and / or might be below the legal age limit for social media platforms.
  • 68% of survey respondents cited young people’s reluctance to engage digitally as a major challenge.

Commenting today, Mary Cunningham, CEO of NYCI, said: “Over the past six months, youth workers have shown their creativity, flexibility and commitment in numerous ways. However, the research shows clearly that – despite the strenuous efforts of youth services – young people who were already most at risk became the most disconnected during the pandemic. Young people already experiencing poverty, for example, became even more isolated.”

While highlighting the challenges faced by the youth sector, the report also points to “good-practice examples” of youth services that responded proactively and effectively in the face of the pandemic. Examples cited include:

  • Foróige’s ‘Feed Your Body, Fuel Your Life’ initiative, which was launched as a social media campaign to encourage young people to focus on mind, body and soul, addressing self-care through music, art, craft, design and food.
  • BelongTo, which conducted an ‘LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown’ survey, in which almost 300 LGBTI+ young people from all over Ireland participated.

“What youth workers and projects have managed to achieve in the midst of a global crisis is highly impressive and commendable,” said Mary Cunningham. 

“What is important now is for the youth sector to get into a stronger position to meet the current and emerging needs of young people in the face of challenges arising from the pandemic.”

The NYCI research report was officially launched at an online event today by Roderic O’Gorman TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. 

Commenting on the report, the Minister said: “The youth work sector plays a vital role in supporting young people nationwide – particularly young people who are ‘at risk’ and marginalised.

“This research clearly shows that youth services throughout Ireland have gone above and beyond to maintain contact and continue to provide supports to the young people with whom they work. I would like to commend the youth work sector on their responsiveness and commitment to date.”