Lots of youth workers, churches and organisations have been doing brilliant creative youth work online in the past few weeks. Given the popularity of this, and of the prominence of social distancing regulations, you’d be forgiven for thinking that physically working with young people in our real-life communities is dead, or at least, temporarily on hold.
However, from my conversations with our local authority over the last week, I’ve come to realise that "offline" youth work is potentially far from dead. Local authorities everywhere are going to be faced by some desperately difficult problems to solve when it comes to young people, and we could be part of the solution.
Of course, we should be observing all of the guidance around social distancing, hygiene and safety. But with those things in mind, here are five things that we’re looking at doing in our context. All five are potentially things which youth workers could get involved in all over the UK, which would put them in front of children, young people and families:
The most important thing to remember first is: get in touch with your local authority. They know the needs and may be desperate for help – but they may also not want your involvement, or already have it covered.
1. HOLIDAY HUNGER
We are mobilising the local church to help deliver free school meals and ensure they are placed in the hands of those who need them most. If you’re reading this during the Easter holidays, you’ll know that young people who experience holiday hunger are likely to suffer to a greater extent, as projects like Make Lunch aren’t able to supply food in the same way. When holiday hunger is mentioned we often think of primary school children, but it’s just as real for teenagers.
Could you set up a free hot meal delivery service during the Easter holidays? Create a sign-up page on your website, email your local schools to let them know about the service, and get your local authority involved; they might even tell their social care team. For the young person, it’s just like ordering a pizza, but you’re the delivery guy, and the food will go to a vulnerable family who needs it the most.
2. EASTER HOLIDAY PROVISION
Our local education providers have asked if we would be able to go into schools over the Easter holiday and run fun programmes for the young people who are still in school (either because of vulnerabilities or because their parents are key workers). We’re also in talks with a local school about the possibility of them using our drop-in centre during the holidays so their young people at least get a change of scenery during this time, even if they don’t get a break from their teachers. In Luton, the numbers in school vary between 5-25 each day. Could you offer activities and games, or a venue to a local school during Easter?
3. TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF FOOD BANKS
Food banks are struggling, or at least they are in this part of the world. Most of the volunteers are over 70 which means they aren’t able to volunteer, and the demand for support has increased significantly. However, where food is being supplied, young people are often attending with their parents.
Why not create some care packs for young people: sweets, games, and info about what you are doing and your organisation, and give them out alongside food bank parcels? You would need to partner with your local food bank, but we have set up a similar scheme here in Luton with 500 packs going out to children and young people, with resources provided from a partnership of local charities.
4. THERAPEUTIC WORK IN SCHOOLS
Our local authority has asked us to consider whether or not we would still be able to go in and deliver our range of therapeutic groups with students in schools in the summer term. Ensuring young people have good quality emotional well-being and mental health support has never been more necessary. Of course, we are to take every step to be safe and observe protocols, but we are also going to say yes – these young people need us right now.
5. SPEAK TO YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL
We are very fortunate to have excellent relationships with a number of local headteachers and have asked if there is anything we are able to do. They are often able to identify young people who ‘fall through the gaps’ and who need support but aren’t currently receiving any. A local headteacher yesterday asked us if we were able to pay for a grocery shop for a family of a child we have been working with. It’s not what we would normally do, but in this case, we said yes! Tomorrow one of our team will be delivering it to the families doorstep and will make time to have a brief chat at the front door (at a safe distance). Another family needs educational resources, and while we don’t provide these, we know a local charity that does, so we will pick up a pack and deliver these to the young person’s door.
The needs and the methods required to meet them might be different in your area, but the principle remains the same. Not all young people will be safely and adequately cared and provided for through a tech-heavy approach to youth work. We may also need to learn in this time to safely navigate retaining a face-to-face involvement in our communities to ensure that no young person is forgotten when lockdown places their needs out of our immediate sight.