Welcome to week 12 of lockdown and the final week of the 3x3!
Three months feels like a good amount of time to have run this weekly survey, so we’re going to call it a day here. It’s not because the next weeks and months are less significant, or because our curiosity has dwindled. We’ve got some other research we need to focus on, other surveys we are going to be asking you to be involved in and we don’t want to wear you out with all our questions. In our final week we asked about how you feel as a youth worker in week 12, your youth work highlights, and what messages you would share with the wider church and others, as we look to the future. We had 28 responses so, as ever, this can’t be generalised to the wider youth work community.
1. Well-equipped but not always confident we're doing a good job
Doing youthwork in lockdown has been tough. Over the last 12 weeks you’ve told us about all sorts of challenges you weren’t prepared for when this all began. So, we asked you a few questions that might give us a sense of how equipped and supported you are, and the impact you think you’re having. Most people appear to feel equipped with the tools they need to do youthwork in lockdown. However, there is less consensus about whether people feel they are doing a good job, with nearly half (46%) saying they don’t feel this is true. Although a majority feel well supported in their youth work role, a significant number (40%) don’t feel this is true. It was encouraging to see that, even where people felt they weren’t doing a good job, many still agreed that they were making a difference to young people's lives at the moment.
“Feelings tend to fluctuate...I've had some really low weeks, when I don't think I'm doing a good job and making no impact, doubting my purpose and the point of all this. But then I might have someone thank me for something specific, or a zoom call might feel really deep and pertinent and then I'm more stabilised. My youth team have supported me well, but my leaders/line managers have barely check in.”
2. Lockdown highlights: Moments on the doorstop and making a difference
We asked in a previous week whether anything positive had emerged from lockdown, when it came to your work with young people. There were a range of really interesting responses, but they were general. So, in this final week we decided to ask you to look back and choose a highlight momentof lockdown. Some themes cropped up a number of times. For example, you talked about the significance of seeing young people or families on the doorstep while dropping off care packages and hearing from parents that what you do is making a difference. Many of your highlight moments centred on young people doing new things, whether that was learning to cook, leading within a youth group, reading the Bible or finding faith for the first time.
What comes through in reading your responses is the beauty of small moments. The ‘wins’ that are deeply meaningful in the context of the relationships you have been building with individuals. Here is a small selection.
“One of our young people joined our small groups for the first time since lockdown started!”
“A bit of feedback from a parent that her daughters are always 'smiley' after group meetings.”
“It was a zoom call today. I haven't laughed that much since lockdown started.”
“A parent telling us that our support of her son who has mental health difficulties was really helping him manage his anxiety during lockdown.”
“We asked our older youth to take it in turns running sessions based on their favourite Bible verses/passages that encourage, challenge and inspire them. For six weeks we had young people just pouring into each other. It really grew them.”
“Young person making me a clinical mask to wear.”
“A young person opened up through the zoom chat feature about her mental health, in a way that she never had felt comfortable to do before at our drop in. She’s now signed up for weekly mentoring with me and feels like a really transformative moment.”
3. Messages from youth workers to the church, parents, society & government
As month three of lockdown comes to an end, it seemed like a good moment to ask you guys if there were any messages about young people or youth work that you wanted to send to the following groups. Settle in – there were some things to say.
Many messages implored the Church to keep young people in mind; to value them, trust them, pray for them and “think of them first as we go back”. Some people translated this into pleas not to cut youth work posts but rather to invest in supporting young people. Interestingly, although there were one or two requests for volunteering, more of you said ‘get theminvolved’ than ‘get involved yourself’. There were calls to make space for young people to serve, contribute and be part of decision making in particular. This reflected the final theme, which was a desire for churches not to “retreat immediately back into the old way of doing things” but instead “Ask what 'new' is rising up?” Youth workers want to encourage the wider church not to go ‘back to normal’ or force young people “into an outdated model of church” but take this opportunity to find “better ways of doing and being Church”.
These youth workers wanted to tell parents that they are “doing a brilliant job in very hard circumstances, and you and your young people are amazing”. There were lots of messages of encouragement, with calls to “keep on going” and “hang in there!”Youth workers also encouraged parents to recognise the validity of their teenagers’ emotions and not expect too much from them (as well as having grace for yourself, parents). There were suggestions to not “rush back into the old normal”of intense routines, but to continue to make space for investing in young people’s spiritual development.
“Go easy on your kids. Give them space, don’t push them too hard. They’re gonna hear it from every angle, people telling them what they ought and should do. Just be there for them and communicate you approve of them.”
You wanted to send a very clear message to wider society to listen to and value young people. To recognise that they have been disproportionately affected by lockdown and are not ‘a problem’. You want adults to think about young people, be compassionate and to see beyond labels. There were requests for people to support individual teenagers in the short to medium term as they manage the effects of the pandemic on their mental health. Finally, some of you appealed to the wider community to remember and value what youth workers do, and to get involved if you can.
“Listen to young people’s voices. They see the new society we need to create much easier than we do. Typically, we wait for them to learn how to adult, but I’d love us to learn how to youth!”
Finally, government. You wanted government to know that young people matter and they should be remembered and listened to. More specially, a number of you appealed to the government to recognise the impact of lockdown, and how well young people have coped with it. But your main messages were a) fund youth work and mental health services, and b) rethink policy toward well-being. You wanted government to fund universal youth work and voluntary sector youth work and to “Create and fund spaces for young people to reflect on what has happened.” Finally, there were a number of calls for government to invest in and reshape services around emotional and mental health, with repeated calls for the government to “prioritise young people's well-being over academic achievements.”
Thank you so much for engaging with these micro-surveys. It’s been really helpful to highlight some of the experiences and perspectives of the Christian youth work tribe, and we hope you’ve found it interesting.