What can we do to give young people hope?
2020 was a devastating year and there is so much concern for what comes next for our young people. To provide them with hope, we have to ensure that we know how to support their mental health, fight for youth services and all contribute to a comprehensive approach to end child poverty.
The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were already struggling with their mental health, because of traumatic experiences, social isolation, a loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support. Understanding the full impact of the pandemic on young people and youth services is missing from a conversation in which all age groups and demographics are vying for attention, financial support and resource.
For many young people, life was difficult before Covid-19. What is clear is that we need to mobilise to give a vision for their future that is one of hope and ambition. We need to believe in a better future for our children and young people, and ensure that we instill that vision in them. This is challenging at a time when fear and misery dominate and the inadequacies of this country are so prominent. But there is light at the end of the tunnel and we will find ourselves in a post-Covid world and that world has to be one in which our young people believe they can achieve their goals, succeed and thrive.
The Office of National Statistics reports that young people (aged 16-29 years) who were worried about the effect the coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their lives, their main concerns were the effects on schools or universities (24%), their well-being (22%), work (16%) and household finances (16%). Other than being unable to attend their educational establishments, most young people who reported an impact on schools or universities expressed concerns about the uncertainty over exams and qualifications (58%), the quality of education being affected (46%) and a move to homeschooling (18%). Young people who reported that their well-being was being affected were much more likely than either those aged 30 to 59 years or those aged 60 years and over to report being bored (76%) and lonely (51%); they were also much more likely to say the lockdown was making their mental health worse (42%).
In the last ten years, the number of young people presenting at A&E with urgent mental health needs has tripled in the last 10 years according to a recent Guardian article, which also reports that suicide is the single biggest killer of boys and young men. Too many young people end up in crisis before they get the help they need so we need to find a way of encouraging early access to support. This is easier said than done.
Alarmingly, the Guardian reports that, “The youth sector has suffered year-on-year funding cuts of nearly £6bn. We know that when services are in place for many young people their youth worker is the only person they openly talk to, and their youth club is the only safe space they feel they have to be heard and to explore their character on their own terms.” It cannot be underestimated the importance of community youth spaces and the vital for they do for providing a touch point - someone to speak to or a safe space to be.
Layered on top of this crisis is the state of child poverty. The charity, The Children’s Society reports that, The number of children in poverty is set to reach five million this year. These young people have to work extra hard to stay happy, motivated and focused on the future.” The long-term effects of the crisis will become clearer in time, but there are some incredible charities there to support young people and families as best they can - there is a list at the bottom of this blog.
2020 was a devastating year and there is so much concern for what comes next for our young people. To provide them with hope, we have to ensure that we know how to support their mental health, fight for youth services and all contribute to a comprehensive approach to end child poverty. One of the most important and immediate actions we can take every day is to provide our young people with hope - hard to do when we may not feel too hopeful ourselves. We need to show our children and young people that we believe in them, that life has not stopped moving forward and that there is a future for them in which they can thrive. Our conversations with them need to be framed not in fear but in opportunity, taking moments every day to reflect on what we can be grateful for and encouraging hopes and dreams.
Here are some charities providing support for young people:
Child Poverty Action Group
The Children’s Society
Save the Children
The Childhood Trust