Recently we offered a facilitated space for our partners to come together, to share experiences, and challenges. 17 individuals from a variety of partner youth charities in the South East of England took part, all felt the lack of similar support forums locally or nationally and welcomed the opportunity to connect at what has been a lonely time.
Leaders reflected their concerns for young people:
- Whilst existing relationships with young people are generally transitioning well to online methods of delivery it has proved far harder to reach out to ‘new’ young people who may be being made particularly vulnerable by the lockdown. Establishing meaningful connections virtually is not a realistic prospect.
- Service delivery online is cheaper and more efficient way of reaching large numbers. There was some concern that the ease of transition could be used as a reason to squeeze funding pots or targets in the future.
- The most marginalised and vulnerable young people are not interested in scheduled video calling nor do they have the technology for it. The loss of a ‘front door’ makes them particularly hard to reach. Many young people are going nocturnal, making them even harder to reach.
- Partners reported their experience that some of the young people with the most problems at home are from families least likely to take up support from external services, leading to further isolation and safeguarding concerns.
- There is particular concern for the 18-24 age group – few services are targeted at them especially if they have not had formal mental health support in the past. Yet the virus is tipping many into extreme anxiety
- Attracting feedback from young people without face to face contact remains really challenging – a particular concern given their voices are so needed during rebuild.
Despite these and other challenges, there was also a positive and optimistic feeling about the meeting. Many expressed cautious hope that the lockdown could provide some kind of reset switch, both for young people as individuals, for their organisations, and for society as a whole. All of us expressed a firm commitment to ensuring young people have a seat at the table in the future redesign of services.
Here are some of the main reasons to be cheerful expressed:
- Working online has allowed many organisations to adapt their service delivery in creative and innovative ways that never before seemed possible. Leaders expressed hope that the best bits of this service delivery can be preserved meaning more young people can benefit in the future.
- For young people with existing relationships, the transition to online working has been generally smooth – even welcomed. Many young people, particularly those with communication difficulties, are actively engaging better and asking for more
- The reorganisation of delivery has meant a real change in the way teams are being run. Some partners were positive about this, saying that internal team communication had never been better, though others reported staff frustration with not being able to continue ongoing work with young people.
- The pause in service delivery that some organisations are experiencing has allowed some to take stock and is a potential space to plan for delivery once lockdown ends
In general there was a real awareness that the lockdown is affecting young people differently depending on their circumstances, and that services have to be flexible and agile to meet young people’s needs. Service delivery organisations are calling out for funders and commissioners to recognise this, not just now but in the rebuild and recovery phase as well, leading to a call for Covid-19 to act as a re-set switch for funding, and more funders to provide unrestricted grants.