This snapshot report presents how COVID-19 is affecting the Victorian youth sector. For a snapshot of how it affects young people in Victoria, go here.
The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on young people’s lives due to disruptions to education and employment, and restrictions on socialising, are having a dramatic impact on Victoria’s youth sector.
A survey conducted by Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) of 50 different organisations and services which support young people in Victoria aged 12 – 25 revealed that 89% of state-wide services have seen increased demand.
“COVID-19 is exacerbating existing issues for young people, including mental ill-health, unemployment, family violence, discrimination and homelessness. It is also forcing some young people to seek support from services for the first times in their lives,” says Katherine Ellis, YACVic CEO.
“Youth workers have important skills in providing crucial engagement, support and guidance, especially now when young people are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty and social isolation.”
Other major concerns raised by the youth sector organisations include the difficulties of maintaining service quality and engagement with young people, while also dealing with a rapid transition to online service delivery.
Case study worker: Alice Gomez, CMY
Alice Gomez is Team Leader in Youth Leadership at the Centre for Multicultural Youth which works across the entire state.
“A key challenge has been ensuring that we are still able to deliver programs that respond to the complex needs of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, and that are safe and accessible online” says Alice Gomez, Team Leader for Youth Leadership at the Centre for Multicultural Youth, which provides specialist knowledge and support to young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
“With all these new tools and platforms popping up, we want platforms to be both safe and user-friendly for young people, as well as to support them to stay connected and navigate their boundaries online.
“But not all young people have access to technology or data, particularly if they’re newly-arrived or experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. It’s a privilege to have access to digital technology, especially to have multiple devices that don’t need to be shared across the household. Any disadvantage that existed before has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
“Further to issues of access, there are often other challenges young people face when trying to connect online at home, such as overcrowded households, a lack of privacy or space, and supporting siblings with remote learning or parents to navigate online sites. Digital literacy is a significant issues for many families.
“Some programs have been more transferrable to online spaces than others. Sports programs have obviously been difficult to adapt so we’re exploring alternatives to those programs, whereas group meetings and volunteers are still meeting in the online space.
“Young people are definitely craving that engagement, they are wanting and willing to stay connected. It is actually more crucial than ever, given the negative effects this period of isolation can have upon a young person’s mental health – that feeling of connection and belonging is really critical to their wellbeing.
Case study: Sarah Dobbie
Sarah Dobbie is Manager of Youth Services at Taskforce Community Agency in Melbourne’s south-east.
“The inability to deliver our services face-to-face has reduced our meaningful engagement with young people and increased their risk in the community,” says Sarah Dobbie, Manager of Youth Services at Taskforce Community Agency, which supports young people who are directly and indirectly affected by alcohol and substance use.
“There are several barriers our young people face in engaging with online services, the most prominent being our homeless young people who do not have access to a mobile or internet and who usually rely on attending other service providers to keep in contact.
“Other barriers include not having an appropriate space in the home to discuss their substance use, with family/others being present, and increased levels of anxiety in using different platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime and Skype.
Complex case management is now having to be done over the phone.
“Newly referred young people have to complete assessments and sessions over the phone with workers they have never met.
“Prior to COVID-19 we were able to support young people in court, provide them with food support and assist with engagement to mental health and housing services. As we are no longer able to do face-to-face sessions we can only do this as a very reduced capacity.
“Moving to phone and internet based counselling sessions has helped some young people engage more meaningfully, without the same levels of anxiety they had coming into the Youth Hub. For others it’s the other way round and they are really missing that physical connection to talk in-person with staff.”
While many services have experienced increased demand, one in four services have also had to stand employees down, or reduce the number of hours worked. Alarmingly, more jobs are expected to be lost if additional funding is not forthcoming.
“With funding insufficient to meet increased demand, we are fearful that young people will fall through the gaps in service delivery and lose vital support. Youth services also do a lot of the early intervention work that can prevent young people from needing acute services,” says Ms Ellis.
Services are particularly concerned about increased social isolation for young people due to COVID-19 restrictions, especially if they are experiencing family violence or mental-ill health. Additionally, with so many young people losing work, youth services are grappling with how they can support them to find new jobs or access income support.
“The biggest concern for our young people who use substances is the level of COVID-19 isolation from services, friends, family and others, which increases their risk of mental health issues and therefore an increase in substance use and possible overdoses,” says Ms Dobbie.
“And with the youth unemployment rate increasing we have a significant amount of young people who have lost their jobs, and with no one hiring at the moment we are unable to assist them in obtaining new employment.
“For young people disengaged from education, the current unknowns about how schooling is going to be delivered create another barrier for reintegrating young people back into the education system.”
Ms Gomez says that CMY’s main focus right now is ensuring young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds aren’t left behind during this COVID-19 crisis and beyond, in the recovery phase.
“We need to ensure their voices are heard, and their unique needs are responded to. Some of our key areas for concern are: education, digital inclusion, employment, mental health, housing and homelessness, family violence, and racism and discrimination.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining event which will have long-term effects on young people.
YACVic is calling for long-term, secure funding for the youth-focused organisations and services which support young people in Victoria.
“We must recognise the value that youth services bring to ensuring that every young person is valued, supported and connected in their community, during and beyond this pandemic,” says Ms Ellis.
“With increased social isolation, unemployment and disengagement from education due to COVID-19, youth workers and organisations which support young people matter now more than ever.”
Thomas Feng, YACVic Media and Communications Manager, 0431285275. Katherine Ellis, YACVic CEO is available for further comment.
About Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic)
Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) is the peak body and leading advocate for young people aged 12–25 and the youth sector in Victoria. Established in 1960, YACVic advocates for the rights of young people in Victoria to ensure they are active, visible and valued in their communities.