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 on Monday by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).
The report was produced by researchers Lorraine Thompson, Regional Director of the Donegal Youth Service and Deborah Erwin, an Independent Youth Engagement Consultant from Belfast.
A number of youth groups in Donegal participated in the stakeholder interviews and ‘check-in’ sessions that informed the report. Five young people from Strive Donegal, Include Youth also participated in the focus groups that informed the report. The LOFT Letterkenny, Donegal Youth Service/Foróige also took part in the stakeholder interviews as part of this research.
The report notes how a new organisation was established in Donegal in the midst of the lockdown period. The Strive Programme operated by Include Youth got a new group up and running in St Johnson. Eleven young people were recruited to the group who went on to engage in a number of online workshops before meeting face-to-face for the first time after restrictions eased.
“The youth worker’s description of how the group was recruited via smart usage of the networks of young people they had previously worked with and via text, email and telephone was impressive,” the report said.
While Donegal youth groups and young people were active in the research that informed the report, consultation took place with youth-sector representatives nationwide. Overall, 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.
There was a significant issue around access to technology in terms of broadband and connectivity, including latency issues as well as digital poverty whether a lack of access to devices or credit to reach services.
One youth worker in Donegal said the lack of access to equipment/devices and poor broadband restricted young people’s opportunity to engage, saying: “While the digital technology was there for the young people, the infrastructure for internet access throughout Donegal is limited.”
The report noted that digital youth work during Covid-19 was greatly affected by technology, digital poverty and marginalisation.
One survey respondent put it, “those most at risk were most disconnected during the pandemic.”
Commenting on the report, Mary Cunningham, CEO of NYCI said: “The pandemic exposed a whole range of inequalities and exacerbated vulnerabilities in the youth sector. While, undoubtedly, youth workers in Donegal – and throughout the country – showed their creativity and flexibility in numerous ways, it does not make the marginalisation experienced by young people any less challenging. 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.
“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. Youth organisations need to be ready to change at a moment’s notice and prepare to offer a ‘blended’ approach to youth services combining digital and face-to-face methods. In the coming months, funding and investment for the youth sector will be vital, as will technological innovation and ICT infrastructure, training for digital skills and on various digital platforms, and Covid-19 compliance.”
For more information visit: https://www.youth.ie/