Disadvantaged children face ‘profound, long-term impact’ from pandemic – report

Mental health problems are outstanding issue, intensified by isolation and inactivity

Those in challenged environments are exposed to particular risks in relation to mental health, education drop-off, antisocial behaviour and criminality, the Irish Youth Foundation says. File photograph: iStock

Those in challenged environments are exposed to particular risks in relation to mental health, education drop-off, antisocial behaviour and criminality, the Irish Youth Foundation says. File photograph: iStock

 

Children and young people living in disadvantaged circumstances face a disproportionate impact from the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research.

Data produced by the Irish Youth Foundation (IYF) has suggested those in challenged environments are exposed to particular risks in relation to mental health, education drop-off, training and employment opportunities, antisocial behaviour and criminality.

Its report, Generation Pandemic: Futures are on the Line, published on Tuesday, showed that more than a third of youth workers say years of support work have been wiped out by the pandemic.

The survey of more than 300 youth workers, supporting more than 35,000 young people in disadvantaged communities, found four out of five (82 per cent) predicted the impact of the health crisis would have a “profound long-term impact” on those they help.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) were concerned about long-term mental health, half (52 per cent) about an absence of crucial social skills and resilience, and almost the same (48 per cent) about an increased risk from rising antisocial behaviour and criminality.

The study was carried out by the IYF in partnership with Amárach Research last April and May.

“What we are looking at here is a potential generational time bomb that has and is ticking away out of sight, behind the headlines about the health crisis and the daily Covid-19 numbers,” said IYF chief executive Lucy Masterson.

“This report tells us that the last year of isolation, latent trauma and long periods without direct interaction with school or other community supports has magnified problems that many children in disadvantaged communities already faced.”

Mental health

Mental health problems are considered the outstanding issue, intensified by extended periods of isolation, inactivity and a lack of structure and safe spaces. The report also noted the problems faced by those living in overcrowded and often chaotic housing situations.

“We are particularly concerned about the quiet kids . . . [those] who are doing what they can to continue on in school, against difficult circumstance, who may be facing bullying or antisocial behaviour from others, who are dealing with overcrowding or digital poverty, but under the radar,” Ms Masterson said.

Youth workers said they are extremely concerned about the effects of a year of lost schooling. Many regard school as a safe space for children at risk.

About half of the surveyed youth workers said they were concerned that a high proportion of young people “now feel that they have fallen too far behind and are disengaging from school”.

Employment and training opportunities too were an issue, with 57 per cent of workers stressing that programmes are no longer fit for purpose. One youth worker noted that “the future is about green technology but we are training baristas”.

At least one in five children and young people are living in poverty, according to the report, which said 8,000 more people were born into disadvantage during the pandemic.