Community Supports to Assist Children & Youth During COVID-19
Pitfalls, successes, and necessary next steps
The prevailing expectation of child and youth resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously undermined the distinctive ways young people have been, and are continuing to be, harmed by the pandemic. These are harms that community support workers, including five of the authors on this piece, have witnessed and have been attempting to help youth face. LOVE (Quebec) is one community organization that has been continuing to provide support for youth throughout the pandemic by continuing as a social development program that supports youth to thrive in various facets of their lives. LOVE also has other branches across Canada.
While all young people have experienced losses during the pandemic, the manifestation of more serious harms seems to depend on the situation the young person is living in. For some, the biggest challenge has been staying inside all day, whereas others in more precarious situations have been engaging in more risky behaviors during the pandemic. LOVE coordinators have also seen various school-related impacts due to the pandemic. In many instances, these challenges are not new, but the pandemic has exacerbated these concerns while simultaneously making it more difficult for youth to find adequate supports. For some youth, the pandemic has also brought a wave of psychological trauma that has led to questions about their futures and suicidal thoughts, highlighting the urgency of these concerns. Providing virtual support, in these instances, has been particularly challenging and distressing for community support workers.
While LOVE has found ways to ‘pivot’ to provide support through online methods, many youth have not responded to these tools and communication has been more uni-directional. For LOVE program coordinators, various constraints have made it professionally and emotionally challenging to virtually support and provide information to youth who are struggling during the pandemic, as these community workers — with impressive relational skills — do not have previous experience or specialized expertise with adapting their crucial role to virtual spaces or methods. As such, these experiences indicate that youth are not only not doing well, but that they cannot receive the supports they need to do better as the organizations supporting youth have also been impacted.
Despite the challenges of diversifying the connections provided, LOVE has continued to serve young people and remain an important part of their day-to-day lives. LOVE community workers have turned to social media and other platforms as a vehicle for support to remain present and attentive to the youth they serve. Online approaches to share information with youth have worked well and youth have continued to join non-mandatory meetings when hosted by LOVE coordinators online. The pandemic has also allowed LOVE to have a wider outreach through their virtual pivot and to offer supports to more youth. Throughout the pandemic, LOVE program coordinators have worked diligently to be a resource for youth and to let youth know that LOVE was still there. However, there is much more that needs to be done.
Drawing on these experiences, we make the following recommendations and calls for action:
· Implementation of training programs for community support workers to provide supports in new, virtual spaces and training for modified supports when in-person meetings resume.
· Engagement of multiple stakeholders (e.g., community support workers, youth, policy-makers) to collaboratively establish strategies to ensure a sense of normalcy can be maintained for youth served by community organizations, like LOVE.
· Considering the incredibly important and distressing work that community support workers do, it is essential to ensure these workers are supported in their jobs by being thoughtfully recognized and supported by their organizations (e.g., group debriefs, adapted retreats) as well as their communities.
· Including more stories of young people and of community organizations, like LOVE, within public media to draw attention to the various impacts of COVID-19 on these groups.
Youth supported by community organizations have indicated the ongoing issues they are facing and their need for adapted supports, while community support workers have demonstrated their own challenges. These concerns highlight the need to consider infection transmission management as only one part, amongst many, within a comprehensive public health response.
Sarah Beydoun, Audrey Brunette, Charlotte Hoblyn, Cedric Joseph, and Alexandra Wotchinski work as program coordinators with LOVE Quebec. Sydney Campbell, MA, is a research assistant with the VOICE (Views On Interdisciplinary Childhood Ethics) team at McGill University and a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Franco Carnevale, RN, PhD (Psych), PhD (Phil), leads the VOICE Childhood Ethics program at McGill University and works with LOVE.