The following article was written by four Pathways alumni: Nivethine (Scarborough Village, 2013), Aiman (Regent Park, 2012), Yvette (Kingston, 2016), and Maddy (Kingston, 2014).

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of young people, and concern for potential long-term consequences has sparked conversation about how youth-serving organizations can adapt to continue supporting youth and their families during this crisis.

For many young people across Canada, this pandemic has amplified existing barriers to basic needs, such as food and housing, while presenting new challenges like distance learning and disrupted social supports. Young people that are providers for themselves and their families are commonly found working stressful essential jobs that put their physical and mental health at risk. Additionally, many summer jobs and other opportunities for personal and professional growth are currently inaccessible, making it difficult for students to gain experience and save up for tuition. Students are disappointed to be missing out on graduation ceremonies and important milestones. Now more than ever, young people need our attention and access to reliable supports in their lives.

With physical distancing in place, many marginalized and underserved youth are further disconnected from the services they rely on due to a lack of internet access and devices. As a result of this digital divide, supports that have been transitioned online have a limited reach. To bridge these gaps, it is important to speak to young people themselves. Through youth engagement, organizations can work with young people to create the effective short- and long-term solutions they need.

Youth-Adult Partnerships

Research demonstrates that quality youth engagement involves youth-adult partnerships. Youth-adult partnerships reflect an understanding that both young people and adults have something valuable to learn from each other. In this time of uncertainty, being a supportive adult and offering a listening ear will be instrumental to supporting young people and understanding their emerging needs. Information gathered through informal conversations can equip organizations to effectively modify existing programming and direct new resources in the community.

Youth Engagement Requires Adaptability

Like every other aspect of society, the modes of youth engagement during this pandemic will necessarily change. A simple gesture such as a phone call or direct message will maintain relationships and remind youth that they are valued and heard. If normal programming is suspended, an organization’s youth engagement may shift to help young people understand accurate information about COVID-19 and navigate emergency financial assistance available to them.

Listen and Respond

The perspectives of young people are often accessed by organizations through formal structures, such as youth advisory committees. While sustaining such mechanisms during the pandemic may not be realistic for all organizations, a respect for youth voice should not be circumstantial. This pandemic will fundamentally shape the lives of people in Canada for years to come, and it will be important that youth have a say in what this future looks like. Whether it be short- or long-term change, youth voice will bring valuable insight to decision-making.

Without intervention, the negative impacts of COVID-19 will affect young people and their families for years to come. But with the proactive inclusion of youth voice and through investment in youth engagement, we can collectively ensure that young people are supported throughout this pandemic to best ensure their future success.

To learn more about how we are supporting young people during this pandemic, click here.