Eurodesk organised a panel discussion at its network meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on young people and youth information services, on 20 April. The Presidents of the three youth information and support networks - Eurodesk, Eryica and Eyca - as well as the DG Education and Culture of the European Commission shared views on the challenges and opportunities related to the crisis and on how best to support young people.
Use the research
Ioannis Malekos, head of the youth unit at the European Commission, shared that EU institutions have different tools to investigate the situation of young people. Three main aspects impacted young people: employment, education and mental health. It’s important to have a good understanding of the situation of young people to design solutions.
Indeed, this is why Eurodesk's new Youth Information & Mobility Survey will look at the impact of the crisis on young people's perceptions of mobility and their relations to information added Ingrida Jotkaite, President of Eurodesk.
Jaana Fedotoff, President of Eryica, reminded that the Youth Information Charter calls for evidence based services and that services should be based on young people's information needs. The positive impact is that we have now more than ever new data about young people. We should use it to benefit young people and youth workers. We should also look closer at what has been challenging but also what worked and share it.
Be there for young people
Jan Peloza stressed that mental health is a crucial element, and EYCA is working with the Council of Europe and the International Youth Health Organisation on a seminar on this topic in 2021. It is about ensuring the mental health of young people.
Ingrida Jotkaite added that many young people feel forgotten in the crisis, and it’s our responsibility to remind them that they are not. Some opportunities were postponed or replaced by virtual activities, while those connected with a particular status, for example being a student, could be lost forever. It is important to offer perspectives.
Indeed, many young people have lost trust in society, and it is our role to connect with them, highlighted Jaana Fedotoff.
Combine digital and grassroots outreach
Jaana Fedotoff stressed some positive effects of the crisis such as the digital jump made by youth workers, and the increase of cross sectoral cooperation. We should build on those positive effects.
The rapid move to a digital environment could have led to poor user experience, but Ingrida Jotkaite noticed that Eurodesk multipliers managed to transition while keeping quality support services, partly thanks to the support provided by National Coordinators. The Eurodesk Awards showcased this with high quality projects submitted in 2020. She added that multipliers and grassroots organisations in local communities played a huge role throughout the crisis, offering offline service and face-to- face consultations. It sends a message that we need to invest in people: youth information workers need the capacity to work with young people in those difficult times.
The crisis also showed that we are not as digitised as we thought, as some young people struggled to access online education for example. So another message in this crisis is that it's possible to replace face-to-face with digital solutions, but we will miss out on those groups of young people.
Jan Peloza added that the EU is launching new EU programmes with an emphasis on the digital dimension, it is important to have the opportunity to organise face-to-face activities as soon as possible because it will never replace the informal interactions taking place when events are live.
Build a vision and action plan for the future
Jaana Fedotoff pointed out that things can change very quickly. It requires working with partners, members and new actors in the youth field, and young people, to build a vision and an action plan. This will allow us to be better prepared to reach out to young people in such challenging situations, that affects so much their well being and socio-economic status. Youth workers should have a shared action plan to know where to start in such a situation.
Ioannis Malekos concluded by reminding that young people are not forgotten by the EU. The new programmes Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps have inclusion as a horizontal priority with the ambition to engage young people with fewer opportunities and digitalisation, that helped us to keep afloat in the current context. The legal acts have not yet been adopted by the European Parliament, but the calls are out to already offer opportunities to young people.
At the same time, the Commission cooperates with the Member States to analyse the impact of the crisis on young people, how to address them and design solutions for the recovery. A concrete example is the Youth Guarantee that will be expanded.