The research also found an overall 62% reduction in the number of youth groups – a loss of more than 1,000 groups and clubs, while 63% of those who continued operating did so with a reduced service.
A further 61% of the services surveyed saw a decrease in volunteer involvement, with figures falling from 11,102 in 2019/20 to 3,951 in 2020/21, equating to a drop of 64%.
Data produced from interviews and focus groups conducted for the report also revealed the resilience of youth work sector, and showed how they adapted and collaborated in response to the challenges presented by the pandemic. An online games night, a pen-pal initiative and an online Shakespeare Festival were just some of the examples of activities planned and facilitated by youth groups to keep young people connected. The report also highlighted young peoples’ appreciation for their youth leaders’ efforts in facilitating groups, encouraging a sense of connection and their willingness to go above and beyond.
Commenting today, Mary Cunningham, CEO of NYCI, said: “This report exposes the devastating impact caused by Covid-19 to youth work services and young people, particularly vulnerable, marginalised and at-risk young people. It is worrying to see the continued disengagement of thousands of young people from youth services across the country, despite the easing of restrictions, and reemphasises the importance of face-to-face meetings and activities for young people to keep them involved and connected.
“The decline in the number of youth work volunteers, as a result of the pandemic, is also something that we urgently need to address. Volunteers play a vital role in supporting young people through what are very pivotal years of their lives. This work is essential, and we hope that as we start to rebuild and live with Covid-19, youth work can bounce back – stronger and more resilient that ever. To achieve this, we will need increased and sustained investment in workforce development, greater recognition of the value of youth work, as well as increased strategic collaboration amongst key organisations and agencies.”
Among the many other key findings highlighted in the report are the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on:
- Fallout from the ‘digital divide’
72% of youth service manager respondents and 71% of youth worker and volunteer respondents reported young people not having adequate digital access and young people who are reluctant to engage digitally as being the two principal limitations to the delivery of youth work during the pandemic.
Many respondents were concerned about young people whose families could not afford the necessary equipment and wi-fi or provide private physical space in the home to continue engagement online. There was unease among respondents about young people who already face exclusion or marginalisation not being able to get online such as those in the Traveller community, those with a disability, those in Direct Provision, or LGBTI+ young people who aren’t out at home. Some youth workers observed a false perception of the level of young people’s digital literacy and how this can be a barrier to engagement. Several referred to connectivity issues particularly in rural areas. One young person suggested there should be spaces in communities, for example within a youth centre, where young people can join Zoom calls for college.
- Mental health challenges for young people, youth workers and volunteers
57% of the youth workers and volunteers surveyed cited concern for young people’s mental health as one of the key challenges they have faced since the pandemic started. Almost two-thirds of managers (63%) who responded to the survey stated that staff mental health was negatively affected, while this was true for just under one-third of youth worker and volunteer respondents (32%). 56% per of managers who responded to the survey said their staff experienced burnout, while 46% of the youth worker and volunteer respondents reported having experienced burnout. Some respondents reported a concern around this increasing the risk of youth workers leaving the role altogether.
In response to a question about the limitations to delivering youth work during the pandemic, 29% of youth service managers, youth workers and volunteers cited reduced income generation opportunities, 26% cited reduced fundraising opportunities and 13% cited reduced funding from external sources.
The report was produced by researchers Deborah Erwin and Lorraine Thompson, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research tools, including a comparison of data from March 2019 to February 2020, and March 2020 to February 2021, as well as interviews, focus groups and surveys conducted with youth service CEOs and managers, youth workers and volunteers and young people.
The full report can be accessed online here.
Contact: Maisie Lynch / Niamh Breathnach, Alice PR & Events, Tel: 086-8966298 / 085-1461231, Email: email@example.com
Notes to Editors:
The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) is a membership-led umbrella organisation that represents and supports the interests of 55 voluntary youth organisations and uses its collective experience to act on issues that impact on young people. Further information is available at www.youth.ie or by following NYCI on Twitter, @nycinews.
View the full report online
The full report ‘Youth Work and Covid-19: 2021 Review of the Youth Work Sector Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic – National Youth Council of Ireland’ is available to view online here.
Youth worker and young people case studies are available to the media on request.
- Case study – Joseph Bourke │ Age 22 │ Attendee of Youth Organisations: Youth Work Ireland (national), Youth work Ireland Galway, Youth Work Ireland Ballinasloe and County Galway Comhairle na nÓg. Read some of Joseph Bourke’s story here.
About the Research Report
In May 2021, NYCI commissioned Deborah Erwin and Lorraine Thompson to conduct a second independent review to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the youth sector and to capture the sector’s response 12 months on from their first review of its response to the pandemic.
The review involved:
- Desk research: a literature review of reports and articles examining the impact of the pandemic on youth work and a review of NYCI online ‘check-in’ sessions with youth workers.
- Surveys with stakeholders: 3 surveys aimed at different cohorts were distributed through the NYCI mailing list and promoted via social media. The young people’s survey attracted 70 valid responses. The survey for youth workers and volunteers attracted 240 responses of which 129 are paid members of staff and 111 are volunteers. There were 54 valid responses to the youth service managers’
- Semi-structured interviews with stakeholders: 12 interviews were carried out with 3 CEOs, 6 youth service managers, 1 youth worker and 2 young people.
- Focus groups: 2 youth workers’ focus groups (7 participants), 1 volunteers’ focus group (3 participants) and 5 youth focus groups (20 participants) were facilitated.