From zoom calls to virtual health support, what is it that young people need and want amid the COVID-crisis?

Rachel is an Employment Consultant here at Drive Forward Foundation. Her background in business development, training and hospitality, is perfect for providing our young people with top-notch support to enable them to successfully step into a career of their own. 

With the onset of COVID-19 and its implications on everybody’s way of working, the employment market and more severe impact on individual’s mental and physical health, however, we had to change how we support our young people. This meant zoom meetings and phone calls instead of intensive 1-2-1s, and ensuring young people get onto Universal Credit when they lost their jobs rather than helping them come off benefits and start employment. 

Today, Rachel shares her observations, questions and thoughts on six weeks of working with young people remotely. 

What’s my role?

The young people I work with are not big fans of Zoom or conference calls, as much as they like messaging and phone calls. ‘Why is this?’ I asked and words like “invasive” and “awkward” were used by young people to describe their experience. So I wondered, does this form of communication suit our young people? 

But first things first. As an Employment Consultant, the biggest question to ask myself amidst the COVID crisis is, ‘What’s actually expected of my role now?’ The one thing that appears most obvious to me is to make sure that our young people are supported, safe and have someone to rely on. 

A lot of my young people are keen to get a job, even now, but are they weighing up the risks? Is it even a viable or realistic option for them? And how do I reverse my previous thinking of supporting them into long-term employment, to having a serious conversation around the risks of finding work in this climate to their health? Not to talk about the lack of available roles for inexperienced workers aggravating the desperate financial situation some of these young people find themselves in. 

Effective Communication

How to effectively communicate with young people is another issue, in terms of meetings and even interviews if it comes to that. What effect does looking into people’s living space via a video call have on us and, more importantly, on them? We are barraged with views of luxurious looking homes and backgrounds on television; the theme seems to be vast bookshelves, awards and pictures, high ceilings and (for want of a better phrase) “middle-class” homes. 

The lack of these, for many of the young people we work with and who are living on their own, could just emphasise the class barrier. The lack of space and intrusion into a young person’s home might feel restrictive and marginalising. 

The unique issue that faces care leavers that might differ from other young people is the prevalence of lone living, and the lack of family support to tide them over during this period of uncertainty. For a young person this might lead them to confront existing issues that could otherwise be diverted by activitiesfriendship groups work or education. It has been my experience with the young people I am working with that they do not want to necessarily be overt about what it is they are feeling at this time or communicate their concerns or what they are going through in any way or form. This, of course, makes it even harder to find adequate means of providing the best support we can, but what is important then, is to reassure them that myself and my colleagues are still here should they decide to reach out to us. 

It’s not all doom

There are also many examples of young people who have left care that are really enjoying this down time, or have carried on working or studying from home. In some cases, the break from a frenetic lifestyle has enabled them to spend more quality time either on their own or spend time with their children for those of whom are parents. 

Lockdown has forced us all to become more reflective, and this can be both invigorating but also challenging if there is trauma to be dealt with. The one thing that I would want to encourage from all our partners throughout this time is the concerted effort to keep supporting our young people; to give them hope by maintaining your pledges to create opportunities and ring-fence work experiences and internships as well as jobs once this lockdown is over. Only then can we continue our work and create better futures for care-experienced young people. It will be even more important at the end of this period of isolation, to ensure that these young people still have hope in their future, that they can discover and actively pursue their career dreams, and build a better life for themselves. 

More than just Employment

To me, the past weeks have highlighted how much more there is to supporting someone into work other than just identifying the latest vacancies and helping them with CV’s and applications. It is about building on that existing relationship, listening to concerns, encouraging and conveying what is best for the individual as well as giving options that always keep their best interest in mind. It is about respecting the boundaries and not pushing anyone to feel something they do not or pre-suppose that any one experience is similar to any other experience just by virtue of the fact they are careexperienced. 

A little can go a long way in terms of support, and I have valued many conversations I have had at this time with the young people, and some great insights have come out of this experience – I have learnt a lot! 

Rachel Neuer

Rachel is passionate about social equality and mobility; eager to use her skills and expertise to further the abilities, aspirations and lives of those around her.

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