Through this winter lockdown, the most vulnerable children risk becoming isolated. Schools have moved back to online learning. Restrictions have made it harder to meet face-to-face. We need to make sure that children stay connected to the support they rely on.
Last year, children charities, youth services and voluntary organisations did an exceptional job. They adapted their work so that vulnerable children could access their support. I’ve been proud to work with many of them. The Youth Endowment Fund’s £6.4m investment helped agencies across the country to reconnect with children most at risk of becoming involved with crime and violence.
We didn’t just want to provide funding. We wanted to make sure that others could learn from their experience. Services want to know - at a time of social distancing, bubbles and school closures - how they could maintain the relationships between trusted adults and vulnerable children they’d worked so hard to build.
That’s why we commissioned a team, led by Dartington Service Design Lab, to speak to over 100 of our grantees and find out what they’ve learned. Their wisdom forms the basis of our first Insight Briefings, offering practical advice on how to best adapt to ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic.
Be flexible and use existing relationships
Two common principles emerged: be flexible and use existing relationships.
Being flexible means combining different ways of engaging with children, personalising responses to their preferences, starting small by piloting new activities and learning by doing.
For some organisations, flexibility has meant moving sessions online.
But that doesn’t always work. If the activity you’d planned face-to-face has to be significantly changed to be delivered online, it probably won’t be as successful.
As one grantee told us: “It hasn’t worked that well for us online. We’ve got a big building where we do lots of physical activities… it’s this sort of thing they come to us for, so it hasn’t been a brilliant medium for us, we found we lost a lot of people quite quickly… In terms of advice: make sure you understand what your relationship with them is based on. Online isn’t always the best way.”
As an alternative, working with local sports clubs - to provide outdoor activity that meets social distance restrictions - can be the perfect hook to make sure children are still getting time with mentors or other trusted adults.
Using existing relationships means collaborating with others who these young people know and trust. That might mean partnering with other community organisations or statutory services. Or it might mean engaging more than before with families. For many, working with whole families has been vital to keep in touch with children over lockdowns – particularly if they’re already at risk of going missing or being criminally exploited.
We can all see that the pandemic continues to place an enormous strain on many young people, adversely affecting their mental health, limiting opportunities and affecting most those who are most vulnerable. For many the end of the pandemic will be other risks – with the risk of exposure to or involvement in crime and violence increases as the economic fall-out of the pandemic sets in.
That’s why we hope this guidance will be useful. We hope that it will help to make sure children stay engaged with the services they need. We’ve seen some incredible work as projects have revised existing approaches and created new ones to continue to reach children most at risk.
As the latest lockdown brings new challenges, organisations will continue to adapt. That means our learning will adapt too. As long as this crisis continues, we’ll carry on sharing what we know to help you support the children most in need.
The Youth Endowment Fund’s Insights Brief: Engaging young people during the Covid-19 pandemic can be downloaded here.
Jon Yates is executive director of the Youth Endowment Fund