Youth in the time of COVID-19: How is the pandemic impacting under 25s?

Youth in the time of COVID-19: How is the pandemic impacting under 25s?

Rocket Science’s training and support for young peer researchers has been an effective method for exploring this cohort’s needs. As the current pandemic causes fundamental shifts in day-to-day life across society, Dina Papamichael examines the current and potential impacts of COVID-19 for those under 25.

Rocket Science’s engagement with young people has shown the unique pressures they face relating to career success, mental health and social media. COVID-19 has disrupted day-to-day life for young people who must now access education and training online; are confronted with insecurity in future employment; and face an indefinite period indoors without their usual connections or routines.

Young people face uncertainty about their education and career prospects

Rocket Science’s pre-COVID-19 research with over 200 young people in one London borough showed that ‘doing well in school or exams’ and ‘getting a job or having a successful career’ were the most frequent areas of worry for 16-25 year olds. The current pandemic is likely to have increased these worries as education provision is shut down (or moved online), workplaces are closed, and recruitment is frozen across sectors. Beyond these immediate impacts, young people face uncertain futures while headlines warn of global recession resulting from COVID-19. Seven in ten 18 to 24 year olds now worry that the coronavirus will harm the job market and cause higher unemployment for a long time [1].

An April 2020 IFS study has highlighted that the current lockdown will hit young workers the hardest:  Employees aged under 25 are about two and a half times more likely to work in a sector that has now shut down (such as non-food retail or hotels) when compared to other employees, with young people who are not living with parents left particularly vulnerable through lost employment. Some at school or college are concerned that their hard work will go to waste as they are not able to sit exams, while others may experience relief from being able to avoid a stressful exam period [2]. There will be disruptions to graduate employment with many employers now reporting that they will be recruiting fewer entry-level employees as a result of COVID-19 [3].

Social distancing has disrupted regular social engagement and routines

Young people are being asked to stay at home for the foreseeable future, and while 83% of over 65s feel positive about their living situation at this time, only 56% of 18-24 year olds feel this way [4]. In an open letter to the Government, several youth organisations have outlined concern that despite the best efforts of youth organisations, young people at present do not have access to the range of sports, arts and social activities that they would usually have through youth services [5]. While many young people are staying connected through social media and video calling apps, not all youth have digital access, and this can leave the most vulnerable further isolated [6].

Rocket Science’s recent youth consultation demonstrated that 16-25 year olds do not generally see social media as having a negative impact on their lives. They described growing up with social media and feelings of knowing how to safely navigate online spaces. Despite this, over half of young people stated that they would want to spend less time on social mediaWhile social distancing measures are enforced, young people face unlimited screen time as their phones become their primary method of staying connected. In this context, young people are being advised to limit time spent checking the news and ensure that they are following positive online content to prevent low mood [7].

Existing mental health needs will likely be exacerbated in the current climate, but support is available

Mental health issues amongst young people are prevalent: one in 10 primary school children, one in seven 11-16 year olds, and one in six 17 to 19 year olds experience mental health difficulties in the UK [8]. Many young people with existing mental health issues including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, a panic disorder or eating disorder are likely to find the current pandemic particularly challenging. While access to face-to-face mental health support is limited, a range of online chat or text support services are available including The Mix, Shout and Beat Eating Disorders.

Young people are well equipped to navigate online spaces; however, it will be essential that services extend their offer to those who have previously relied on in-person support. Boosted funding to online support services will be important in light of increasing demand – for example, Beat Eating Disorders has reported a 30% increase in use of their services during the current crisis. Charities and funders have been quick to collaborate and respond to the crisis – for example, UK Youth have released a range of resources, #iwill are inviting organisations to share information about their responses to the pandemic and the London Community Response Fund has been made available to support organisations responding to the needs of communities affected by the current crisis.

How can youth organisations successfully adapt during the current pandemic?

Youth organisations can adopt a range of approaches to best meet the needs of under 25s during and after COVID-19 including:

  • Moving face-to-face services online utilising the apps and software that young people are comfortable accessing, ensuring appropriate safeguarding arrangements are in place
  • Promoting and facilitating peer support (particularly in light of increased demand for services and limits to youth worker staff capacity)
  • Collating and sharing updated resources as they become available (for example, government guidelines or advice on wellbeing)
  • Engaging directly with and empowering young people to co-design adapted youth services and content
  • Providing additional support in translating policies that will impact young people into language that is easy to understand, for example benefit changes and legislation relating to housing
  • Encouraging the use of this time for skills development, for example promoting online learning opportunities and providing templates for young people to plan their next career steps
  • Gathering feedback and recording learning points throughout this period to support post-COVID-19 service improvements, for example around the types of online content most frequently sought by young people and the extent to which face-to-face services can be effectively provided online.

Dina is a Senior Consultant at Rocket Science. For more info about our research with young people, please get in touch at [email protected]

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Can trauma informed practice transform the criminal justice system?

Can trauma informed practice transform the criminal justice system?

In this blog, Dina Papamichael explores the relationship between experience of trauma and involvement in the criminal justice system; and outlines the emerging approaches from Scotland which have potential to transform justice outcomes across the UK. 

Links between childhood adversity, trauma and involvement in the criminal justice system are well evidenced. Those with four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are significantly more likely to be a victim of violence; perpetrator of violence; and be incarcerated during their lifetime. Experience of prolonged stress in childhood can disrupt healthy brain development and lead to risk-taking and offending in adulthood. Amongst those in prison in Scotland, just under half report personal experience of violence in their home as a child and 80% of those in prison in Wales report at least 1 ACE.

Links between adversity and offending can be broken

The association between childhood adversity and involvement in the criminal justice system informs two essential types of initiatives:

1. Recognising the impact of ACEs and trauma on individuals to prevent initial experience of the criminal justice system

2. Providing trauma informed interventions to those who already have experience of the criminal justice system to ensure risks of re-traumatisation are minimised.

In implementing these approaches, there is a need to ensure that those with ACEs are not stigmatised through implications that childhood adversity is inevitably associated with involvement with the criminal justice system.

There is a need to prevent initial involvement in the criminal justice system

Criminal justice processes such as being arrested, going to court and being imprisoned are often traumatising in themselves and should be avoided altogether wherever possible. Several innovative approaches which seek to understand the behaviours associated with adversity and reduce the likelihood of offending can be pursued:

Ensuring that at risk young people are not excluded from early crucial support: The Interventions for Vulnerable Youth (IVY) project is based at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice at Strathclyde University. It seeks to prevent offending amongst high risk youth by acknowledging and addressing traumatic experience, and providing risk assessment and treatment

• Extending support to the children of those with mental illness or problem alcohol or drug use: Having a parent with mental illness or problem alcohol

or drug use are types of childhood adversity. Health and care professionals can adopt holistic approaches which consider the whole family’s needs and extend support to children

Finding innovative ways to access those who may not be already linked in with support: Violence Reduction Unit Scotland’s Navigators reach out to those with traumatic injuries in accident and emergency departments to explore which support is needed to reduce the impact of violence on their lives.

Developing safe environments, promoting resilience and avoiding re-traumatisation are crucial for those with experience of the criminal justice system

When supporting those who have past or current involvement in the criminal justice system, services can be mindful of traumatic experience and take steps to build trust, reduce barriers to access and avoid re-traumatisation:

• Developing supportive, safe and trusting environments: Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow is a multi-agency centre which provides a wide variety of services to address the needs of women involved in the criminal justice system. The centre’s approach is trauma informed in that it prioritises safety, collaboration and trust for those accessing it. Services are offered in a low security environment which is important for supporting women to feel at ease and has not led to any increased risk for staff or other clients

• Equipping individuals with strategies to cope with the effects of trauma to support their resilience: Courses such as Survive and Thrive which explain the effects of complex trauma and provide coping strategies can be adapted for use in prison settings. This approach has been shown to lead to reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression amongst clients

• Supporting staff to be mindful of trauma when interacting with clients: Staff working in criminal justice and related services can be provided with training on the behaviours associated with trauma, creating trauma informed environments and avoiding re-traumatisation.

Overall, the current climate of growing recognition around the impacts of adversity and trauma provides an opportune moment for innovation and collaboration in approaches to criminal justice. A growing body of evidence from trialled Scottish initiatives can be drawn on to inform trauma informed approaches across the UK.  

Dina is a Consultant in our London Office. For more information about our work in trauma informed practice and criminal justice, get in touch on 020 7253 6289