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24/10/2021

'At risk youths' excluded from supports during pandemic - report finds

'At risk youths' excluded from supports during pandemic - report finds

Many young people did not have adequate digital access

Young people who were already deemed ‘most at risk’ became the most disconnected from youth services and supports as a result of Covid-19, according a new report on the youth work sector.

The 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), finds that thousands of young people missed out on the supports they would normally receive from local youth services due to the pandemic restrictions.

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Of 256 services surveyed for the report, 14% were unable to provide a service during lockdown, impacting on approximately 6,900 young people.

A further 59% of the services surveyed had experienced a reduction in the number of young people with whom they engaged, with figures falling from 59,822 to 18,391, equating to a drop of 70%. Only eight projects saw an increase in engagement in virtual activities during the pandemic.

The report 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.

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.

“The pandemic exposed a whole range of inequalities and exacerbated vulnerabilities in the youth sector. Covid-19 had a compounding effect, whereby online engagement was significantly hampered for young people already experiencing marginalisation in various ways. The drop in engagement levels paints a stark picture and demonstrates just how important face-to-face youth work is, particularly for those in marginalised and vulnerable situations.”

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.


 

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