Supporting us during the pandemic

Charlotte O’Halloran, Participation Development Officer at the Council for Disabled Children, has been coordinating a series of conversations with children and young people about their experiences of the pandemic. Here she summarises their thoughts on receiving formal and informal support during lockdown.

Throughout lockdown, children and young people’s experiences of accessing support are extremely varied. In this blog, children and young people discuss the different types of support they’ve accessed, or have not been able to access, and what support they need from adults and professionals going forward.

Varied experiences of social work support

Children and young people’s experiences of support from their social worker offered during lockdown were varied.

One young person explained: ‘instead of receiving in person 1 to 1 support every 3/4 weeks, we would have a phone call every other week to check how we are doing’. Another young person highlighted: ‘I haven’t been able to speak to them as online is impossible’. They went on to explain that: ‘I have continued to have my personal assistant but no other support from any social worker or social care team’. This was summed up by another young person: ‘I think there could of been more support for people’.

The importance of local religious group and charity support

Support for children and young people throughout lockdown and the pandemic has come from multiple sources and services. A young person explained their ‘youth cabinet have been very supportive’ and another said ‘my youth cabinet came together and supported each other and ensured we were OK’.

One young person shared the importance of group chats twice a week set up by a local charity. They explained that ‘these activities were a huge boost to my day and gave me something to focus on, when everything seemed to be going against me’.

Local religious groups also provided support. A young person highlighted that ‘my church friends and I have met up on more than one occasion which has been fun and helpful at the same time’. Although not formal support, the importance of this contact to young people is evident.

Accessing support

For some, educational settings provided them with pastoral support. For example, young people explained they received support from ‘online/helplines or my worker or teachers’ and ‘form tutor, subject teachers, study support or the college counsellors’. For others, they would seek support from within personal circles, such as ‘my church friends, friends, family and neighbours’.

Services have had to innovate to meet the needs of young people, often through digital means. However, a young person explained that online video calls were inaccessible as they ‘were too stressful’. They explained ‘the online call was extremely stressful as she [support worker] was really difficult’.

However, despite knowing where to access support, one young person highlighted that ‘I think I would know where to go to ask for support but I don’t think I would necessarily get the support that I needed’.

Barriers for accessing support

Despite young people receiving support from different sources, there remain barriers to them accessing support. One young person explained that it is the ‘lack of clarity over who a young person could contact’ and that it is difficult ‘trying to find the most appropriate person’.

The demand for support is also an obstacle. For example, they explained ‘college counselling services were oversubscribed…this uncertainty and lack of resources was a huge barrier’ and that ‘the long waiting times on waiting lists for services’ prevents young people accessing these services. Reinforcing this, a young person explained ‘waiting too long for the support’ was the key barrier for them.

Additionally, not being listened to whilst accessing these services deters young people from returning to access support. A young person explained: ‘not trusting the service and not being listened to are big barriers…services brush us off or do not listen to us.’

Mental health support

The stigma around mental health is an additional factor highlighted as a hindrance. Young people explained that ‘being stuck in this has had a big increase with mental health’ but accessing support is difficult. They said: ‘there’s definitely a stigma around accessing mental health support’ and ‘people might not even know they need support – a lot of families develop a ‘get over it’ or a ‘others have it worse’ mentality’. This was reinforced when they explained a prominent barrier to mental health support is ‘knowing it is ok to use it’.

Future support recommendations from children and young people

Young people explained they would benefit from ‘emotional support from my teachers – it would have been so nice to have regular 1-2-1s with them to discuss how I am doing’. Additionally, they highlighted they would ‘like to have one key worker who can be a kind of mentor and help me to sort out the rest of my support’ and to have ‘1 to 1 with my worker’.

About this blog

Living Assessments is a five–year research project on children’s health and social care funded by the Wellcome Trust in a partnership between NCB, University of Cambridge and University of Kent. The Living Assessments project supported the development of this blog.

The John Ellerman Foundation supports organisations to create positive change, allowing organisations to come together to tackle disadvantage, divisions and inequality. The John Ellerman Foundation supported the development of this blog.