There is a need for “significant investment” by the Government to combat the issues facing young people post-Covid , the head of the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) has said.
hief executive Mary Cunningham says research has shown that young people have been adversely impacted by the pandemic over the past 12 months, with a loss of connection, isolation, disrupted relationships and education and a lack of opportunity.
While a report published by NYCI last week shows youth work has “helped mitigate that impact” by maintaining relationships with its users, Mrs Cunningham says more must be done.
“There is a need for tailored responses and significant investment in youth work as we prepare again to emerge from significant restrictions,” she says.
The report, entitled At the Threshold: youth work through the Covid-19 pandemic, found the continuous presence of youth workers had a “significant role” in mitigating some of the effects of the pandemic, such as isolation, poverty and the potential mental health impact on young people.
Respondents to the survey articulated the need for flexibility and self-care strategies from their employing organisations during the pandemic and in the future.
Mandi Tighe, manager of Gorey Youth Needs Group, which works with up to 800 young people each year, says it has been “hugely challenging” for the Co Wexford-based organisation.
“We’ve had to deliver all of our services online and the biggest issue we have found is the digital divide.
“People are presumptuous these days thinking all young people have access to digital technology, but they don’t,” she says. The continuous lockdowns have been a “novelty” to many young people, explains Ms Tighe, “but as it moved on it became boring for young people”.
And while those who suffered from anxiety found those periods a little easier to deal with, the consequence of that could be a “huge increase in young people refusing to go to school, and young people dropping out of school”.
“We will see a massive increase in those issues because of this pandemic,” she says.
Another cohort of young people who have been affected over the last year, says Ms Tighe, are children and teenagers who are residing in Direct Provision.
“Throughout Covid and the period of the lockdown they were the group we were most concerned about because of the lack of technology and how they were severely impacted by isolation.”
Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne, who has been highlighting the issue with the Government, believes young people “have missed out on so many rites of passage”.
“The Leaving Cert and the completion of school; the first year in college; 18th birthdays; 21sts; meeting friends; going out; building relationships.
“These events shape our lives. We can’t get them back for young people, but we do need to ensure that we provide as many opportunities as quickly as possible to give young people a new deal,” he says.
He’s now part of the sub-group of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party which is focusing on how to make sure that the National Recovery Plan is “youth-proofed”.
With youth unemployment “off the charts”, Mr Byrne says he doesn’t want a lost year for young people to “turn into a lost decade”.
“We need to listen to young people’s concerns and their dreams,” he says.
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