Northern Ireland Youth Forum

Supporting young people

Northern Ireland Youth Forum

Uncertainty resulting from the pandemic will leave many young people wondering what their future will look like.

They have already seen a big impact on their education, which will leave many anxious about their career prospects in the long-term. The economic consequences of the lockdown have also hit young workers hard. The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that employees aged under 25 were about two and a half times as likely as other employees to work in a sector that is now shut down. The social distancing rules have also reduced their chances of maintaining important face-to-face social interactions with friends, which they may need now, more than ever.

The impact on young people who were already working hard to overcome adversity is also a big concern. This includes those who have complicated home lives, young people in care, and care leavers, and those who don’t have a safe place to live. Many have been affected by the reduced availability of the professionals who support them. A new survey carried out by YoungMinds found that 83% of young people with a history of mental health needs felt that the pandemic had made their mental health worse. Others are at increased risk of exploitation, both online and offline.

Prior to the crisis, around a third of our funding supported young people in some way. The grantholders who run these projects really know and understand young people and how best to support them. Here we look back at their previous learning and reflect on how they’re changing their approaches during this unprecedented time, illustrating these with examples from across the UK.

Safe from harm

With schools closed and many services operating remotely, some groups of young people are more vulnerable at this time. These are some of the pro-active, specific support measures charities have put in place to protect them.

  • Making sure they have a way out of a crisis. Liverpool Talent Match provides young people with mobile phones and credit and has organised a local taxi firm that can take them to their local police station if they receive notification of a crisis.
  • Supporting young people who are leaving prisons and young offenders’ institutions. Probation offices in the community are closed, so Talent Match Black Country have started to work with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure young people’s benefits are arranged before they come out. They also help them to find accommodation, food and financial stability, so they don’t feel unsupported, as this could lead them to re-offend in order to survive.
  • Making young people and their parents aware of the increased risk of online child abuse. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is one of the many charities that have published advice for parents on how to spot signs of abuse.
  • Ensuring professionals and volunteers providing online and telephone support are adequately trained and prepared to handle disclosures from young people. This includes disclosures of abuse, which are expected to happen more frequently at this time.
  • Preventive and supportive work with young people who are vulnerable to exploitation. This is critical, as mentors and key workers can help young people to understand the causes and consequences of crime and gangs. Our report on the prevention of serious youth violence talks about the important role of mentors in this space.
  • When restrictions are relaxed, we need to find safe spaces and ways to continue support for young people who can’t talk freely in their homes (due to living with a violent or abusive person, for example).

It’s important to ensure that adults working with young people are supported with their own mental health. Intercultural Youth Scotland run a weekly volunteer and staff online session, where participants reflect and exchange experiences of working in a new way and a new context.

The basics

The basic ingredients in our lives, like food, sleep and having enough money to live on, aren’t guaranteed for everyone. But they play an important part in building young people’s resilience, which will help them to cope with the uncertainty of the weeks and months ahead.

We’ve seen youth groups transforming themselves in a matter of days - from boxing clubs to soup kitchens, and homework groups to community hubs - to make sure young people don’t miss out on the basics, from food to emotional support. Valley Kids in south Wales do just that, providing anything from food, fuel, money and shopping, to just being available so people know they are not alone. Your Nature Adventure, in Sheffield, delivers food parcels and makes sure young people can get other essentials like toiletries.

Grantholders are also helping to identify and support young people who may be at risk, including those who aren’t already known to authorities. The Twyn Action Group, a community hub on the south coast of Wales, runs homework clubs and provides a safe place for young people to socialise. They’ve kept a skeleton staff who have mobilised expertise in the community to provide telephone advice, give wellbeing support over the phone and Skype, make referrals to crisis networks, and identify and flag people who are in need to food banks and the council.

Someone to turn to

All vulnerable young people need at least one trusted professional, like a social worker, mentor or teacher, who can check on their wellbeing and help keep them safe. By working together, social care, mental health services, schools and charities can make sure this happens. Here are some examples of what they are doing.

  • Checking in regularly. HeadStart Kent have mobilised staff who are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid to support young people over the phone and online. Where possible and appropriate, it’s important to work around what young people want. Humber Talent Match has adopted a case-by-case basis approach to phone and online support, recognising that not everyone wants frequent contact - young people with anxiety have found too much exacerbates their mental health condition.
  • Ensuring young people have a way of communicating with professionals and their peers. Learning from home isn’t possible without access to the right technology. It’s also essential to be able to keep in touch with school, peers and other professionals. The Online Centres Network and DevicesDotNow have launched a campaign to invite businesses to donate old technology and tools, which they then securely distribute to those without access to tech. Charities can contact the network and refer people who could benefit from the provision. The campaign is supported by DCMS and Good Things Foundation.
  • Continuing open access youth work by mentors and key workers. Charities are taking this work online and provide mentoring, counselling, support groups, youth clubs and even virtual training. Intercultural Youth Scotland run a virtual youth club every Tuesday evening with facilitated discussions and open mic sessions. They’ve continued their one-to-one mentoring and counselling; and also give all school leavers mentoring and group support, and train young people in design and multimedia through a virtual internship.
  • Organising supported, monitored peer mentoring. The young people’s steering committee in the Black Country has set up an online peer support group for young people who are feeling isolated and who have low confidence/self-esteem.

Mental health and wellbeing support

Mental health problems often begin in childhood or adolescence. Preventive measures and early support can help to prevent long-term issues. So we might be able to prevent or reduce long-term negative effects of the crisis, by supporting young people's mental health and wellbeing right now.

Grantholders have started to:

  • Provide crisis support. Your Nature Adventure in Sheffield has introduced a phone counselling service for young people with poor mental health who are in crisis. HeadStart Kent use a clinically-supervised platform for young people where they can speak to qualified counsellors or chat to their peers in a monitored setting.
  • Keep young people connected. This will help to reduce the negative impacts of social isolation: a YoungMinds’ survey found that 72% of young people believed face-to-face calls with friends have a positive impact on their wellbeing at this time. The Brunswick Centre, a youth and sexual health centre in Huddersfield, has set up online support for LGBT+ youth, including quiz sessions and singing workshops, as well as bringing young people together to just chat. They're also continuing their pre-existing support groups during the lockdown.
  • Help young people follow a routine. Grantholders tell us that many young people, especially those with hidden disabilities and underlying mental health conditions, struggle with the lack of routine. Talent Match projects help participants to build new routines which imitate some of their old ones, for example by replacing a daily bus journey with a walk.
  • Encourage young people to maintain existing interests or hobbies. We know that these activities help build self-worth and prevent or decrease troubling feelings and behaviours. Monkstown Boxing Club in Northern Ireland use video-sharing sites to encourage participants to share and demonstrate new boxing skills.
  • Create opportunities for young people to help their communities. Helping others gives life meaning and can reduce the risk of loneliness. We’ve just funded a youth-led proposal in the North East of England to train and mobilise young people to help support their peers and look after vulnerable, isolating members of the community. They will also be trained to help at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.
  • Use exercise and physical activities to maintain or improve mental wellbeing. Edinburgh City Youth Cafe, a youth service supporting young victims of crime, have set up a new 'Zoom to 5k' running initiative.
  • Share techniques to build and boost resilience, including ways to manage difficult thoughts and behaviours. Talent Match Liverpool has developed a self-isolation psychology wellbeing pack, alongside a guide to living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty to support mentoring sessions.
  • Support parents to cope at this difficult time. Our grantholders have seen an increase in demand from parents since the crisis, who want to be there to support their children. Challenging Behaviour Support CIC is a group in Pontypridd, Wales that works with 1,400 parents and carers of children with challenging behaviour. They’ve found the number of parents and carers looking for help has increased significantly. They’ve continued their existing one-to-one sessions, and started new ones, using phone and Skype. They’ve also hosted live expert-led webinars on Facebook and sessions where staff are on hand to offer advice, support and chat.

What will they need next?

Based on what we know about young people, here are some early ideas of what might be needed in the months to come.

We’re making sense of what we’re seeing and hearing from our grantholders at pace, so there’ll be things we’ve missed, haven’t noticed yet or, perhaps, misinterpreted.

We welcome comments or challenge, so that we can continuously improve and develop, and make this work practical and useful.

Please send feedback and suggestions on this content to knowledge@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk

This page was last updated: 17 April 2020