Roundtable to discuss research revealing the stark impact of lockdowns on the mental health of children leaving care opens up to public this today (Wednesday 17 February)Findings will be discussed by a panel of care professionals ahead of Voice of Young People in Care’s (VOYPIC) sixth annual Care Day, which is the world’s biggest acknowledgement and celebration of children and young people with care experience
New research published by Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC), in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, has documented the difficulties facing those local young people leaving care during Covid-19.
‘The Voices of Young People Leaving Care During Covid-19’ study unveils the additional challenges faced by those young people, aged between 18 and 25 years old, as they set out on their journeys to adult independence but with social restrictions in place.
These challenges were discussed at a virtual meeting on Wednesday 17th February between 10.30am to 12.30pm, just days before the charity celebrated its annual Care Day.
The roundtable discussion saw practitioners and decision makers identify strategies for better supporting young people leaving care. This includes looking at solutions to combat the negative experiences faced by those young people leaving care during the Covid-19 pandemic including isolation, a lack of face-to-face contact and routine, and mental health concerns.
A recording of the event can be found below.
Among those interviewed as part of the survey of 24 young people was Bronagh,18. She said: “The contact wasn’t supposed to reduce as much, but as soon as Covid hit, there was no contact… I didn’t see X [relatives] again until… July.”
She added: “You can’t see anybody, nobody can come round and see you really… You don’t want to risk bringing anything in from anybody else’s house.”
Maxine, 23, said: “So, for me it was difficult in that sense that I was that busy before that I didn’t think about all the things that happened before. But then the five months of lockdown gave me a lot of time to reflect.”
Alicia Toal, Chief Executive of VOYPIC, has called on policy makers and professionals working with young people leaving care to take account of the findings to better support young people during the current period of restrictions.
She said: “It is essential that, in every part of our work, we ensure we are listening to the individual young people, hearing what they need and want, and taking steps to ensure their needs are met. This approach to supporting young people with experience of care has never been so important.
“While it is clear that some young people had the resilience and support to weather the lockdowns, the report clearly shows that many would have greatly benefited from more help to navigate the significant life milestones they were passing during that difficult period. Sadly, we have heard of too many young people who felt lost, who lacked the support they needed and who were left to face these challenges alone.”
“The publication of our research and this discussion comes as we prepare to celebrate the sixth annual Care Day, to highlight the experiences of those who are and have been in care this Friday. Both events will be very important in the social care calendar and we hope to send a message out that support for the young people in care is as vital as ever.”
Professor Berni Kelly, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, one of the authors of the report, commented:
“This research gives voice to the experiences of young people leaving care during the pandemic, highlighting what worked well but also how services need to improve to offer care leavers more consistent support during lockdown and to address their mental health needs. We urge practitioners and policy makers to use the ten key messages from young people in the report to develop more effective supports for care leavers during the ongoing pandemic.”
VOYPIC Chief Executive, Alicia Toal, also highlights the impact Covid 19 has had on the number of children coming into care. She said agencies should now prepare for “an expected rise in the number of children and young people coming into care following current lockdown”.
This comes after recent reports of a drop in the number of referrals to Gateway during the first Covid-19 lockdowns, followed by an increase following lockdown. Last month, members of the Stormont Health Committee heard how the average number of referrals between May and December 2020 was consistently higher than pre-Covid levels.
The roundtable event will take place two days before VOYPIC’s annual Care Day, which takes place this Friday 19th.
Leaving Care During Covid-19 – Full ReportLeaving Care During Covid-19 – Young People’s Report