This blog was written by Adam Peel, Research and Learning Manager at the National Youth Agency.
Since the start of the pandemic, NYA and the Centre for Youth Impact have been gathering together a range of the surveys focused on the impact of coronavirus on young people and the organisations that exist to support them. The data these surveys produce may be useful to researchers, practitioners and policy makers.
To date, we have collated nearly 140 surveys, of which 72 have data available.
We recognise that the sheer number means it’s unlikely that many people will get the opportunity to really dive into the findings and so will periodically be writing short and accessible blogs that will be looking at key themes across the surveys, and what they are telling us (and what they aren’t).
Most of the surveys captured ‘snapshots’ from different stages of lockdown. There are fewer ‘longitudinal’ surveys or ones concerned with ‘transitional’ phases for exiting lockdown or the reduction of other social measures, though this may change moving forwards.
For the first of our blogs, we looked at the mental health of young people during early lockdown, finding that although more young people were feeling more lonely, isolated or anxious than pre-lockdown; during the early stages most young people were ‘coping fine’ or ‘well’.
Many of the datasets pointed towards the fact that this was partially because young people had been developing or reinforcing positive coping strategies.
As we exit lockdown it is helpful to understand ‘the positives’, which may be useful for developing and responding through provision (including where temporary local lockdowns are enforced).
An overview of the data
The data are taken from responses of over 50,000 young people across the United Kingdom. However, it is important to note that the respondents were all – by default - able to complete surveys. We do not know about those without digital access, or those who may be suffering such adverse circumstances that they are ‘hidden’ from data collection efforts.
Nearly all young people represented in the surveys reported feeling very or extremely ‘safe’ and were ‘happy’ at least most of the time. The younger the respondents, the more pronounced this was, and whilst young women and girls reported feeling more worried, they are also experiencing more positive moments.
When focusing on what was most positive about lockdown, the strengthening of existing household relationships was the most frequently mentioned factor, and its positive effects rated highest. Respondents described enjoying spending more time together, doing activities together, trying new things and having more conversations.
For many in foster care, who had been adopted or who were young carers themselves, there were also significant improvements in the relationships within those household units, including where there was more than one fostered or adopted child, despite other pressures.
For some, having time to build relationships and avoiding stressors such as movement between contact centres and home and, in some cases, the face to face contact itself, was positive.
Another notable part of the reasoning given behind the strengthening of household relationships was that for many young people social pressures that occurred primarily in school, such as bullying and social anxiety, had been alleviated during lockdown. This was especially so for secondary school aged children.
Credit must also be given to the education provision that has been taking place in schools as foster carers with children who have attended settings commented positively on the experiences their child had, whether attendance was full or part time.
Comments suggest that by altering provision to accommodate ‘attachment’ and ‘play’ rather than solely formal learning, many young people who previously may have felt disengaged in formal education were encouraged to relax and enjoy school. In these scenarios it was often reported that children and young people were calmer away from the ‘stress’ of normal school pressures and the ‘anxiety’ of academic learning.
Relationships with Friends
For most young people, social media has provided the channel through which friendships have been strengthened, although for boys and young men there has also been an emphasis on digital gaming.
The data suggest that levels of positivity in friendships have increased where young people are better able to connect with others, and that young people with stronger friendships have more positive outlooks on what the future holds.
Where this is the case, young people are more likely to want to play a positive, responsible and social role in the response to COVID-19; especially with regards to environmental and social impacts.
Changes in behavioural patterns
Young people have reported enjoying being more creative and learning new skills. These trends have been somewhat age-dependant; younger children favouring creative pastimes, and older young people dedicating more time to learning new skills including cooking.
Across all age ranges, many of those who have responded have been more physically active, whilst reading, listening to music and watching TV have also been consistently listed as ways that young people have enjoyed spending their time.
There has also been some data showing that young adults’ spending patterns altered in lockdown to reflect this, from food, drink, travel and clothes towards more creative, time-consuming and artistic items such as books, music, games and art supplies.
Outside of education, young people’s experiences with statutory services and institutions is little explored, however there is some data to suggest that less formal approaches are proving more favourable.
For example, when asked from which services young people are most confident in receiving mental health support, young people were least confident they’d be able to receive it from services like school counselling or local mental health teams. Instead they were more confident in receiving support from teachers, websites and friends and family. (Note – youth or community services were not an option)
Similarly, when discussing their experience of policing during lockdown young people across England and Wales were far more likely to share positive experiences where police were engaged with the community.
The data show that strong household relationships hold the key to young people coping best, feeling more positive, and being more likely to engage in creative activities. Strong friendships and other inter-personal relationships are important too.
There are some other critical considerations for services and practitioners to support children and young people – but these are not ‘one size fits all’ learning points:
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