Thousands of children and young people who are most at-risk in society have missed out on vital services during the coronavirus pandemic, according to research published by the published by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).
The most marginalised young people became the most disconnected from youth services and supports as a result of Covid-19 the report, A Review of the Youth Work Sector Response to the Covid-19 pandemic, found.
Of 256 services surveyed for the report, 14 per cent were unable to provide a service during lockdown, impacting on approximately 6,900 young people.
A further 59 per cent 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, a drop of 70 per cent. Only eight projects saw an increase in engagement in “virtual activities” through the use of technology during the pandemic.
Access to virtual services was most problematic for children most at risk. Youth workers interviewed as part of the research highlighted the challenge of trying to connect with younger age groups where these young people might be reliant on going online via a parent’s device and might be below the legal age limit for social media platforms.
The report indicated a high level of concern over the negative impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. The sudden withdrawal of school and youth work provision was named in several interviews as a key factor on mental health, with young people left at home all the time increasing their isolation and loneliness.
“For some young people who were already vulnerable or at a disadvantage the pandemic has only served to compound existing mental health problems,” the report said. “Some already vulnerable young people became even more susceptible to unhealthy influences.”
The youth sector needed to get into a stronger position to meet current and emerging needs NYCI chief executive Mary Cunningham said.
“Youth workers have been thrown into the deep end, yet have stepped into the gap and embarked on a steep learning curve to support young people and their families in whatever way possible within public health guidelines.”
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the research shows youth services had “gone above and beyond” to maintain contact and continue to provide supports to young people. “I know this has not been easy, and I know challenges will remain in the aftermath of Covid-19. But I would like to commend the youth work sector on their responsiveness and commitment to date.”