While the social and economic impact of COVID-19 has been well documented over the last 3 months, take a moment to reflect on the specific challenges faced by young, vulnerable and disadvantaged people during this unprecedented time. Like all of us, SYFS clients had to very quickly adapt to a new way of life punctuated by social restrictions and heightened risks. When we then factor in existing issues such as family breakdown, mental health problems, unemployment and drug and alcohol use, the potential impact on this young group of individuals becomes so much more serious.
As the majority of our young clients don’t live with their families, being able to socialise and form bonds with friends becomes even more important to their overall health and wellbeing. Even just the ability to take in a change of scenery or go for a walk can mean so much to a young person, particularly one who may be doing it tough, potentially without a job, and suffering personal issues. While SYFS staff anticipated a degree of pushback during the COVID lockdown, our young people reacted positively and maturely in the most part, adhering to non-essential travel and social distancing restrictions.
Many were forced to study from home, abruptly robbing them of the positive social impact of attending school with classmates and also of the daily structure that they so heavily depend upon to stay on track. Many adults I know struggled in part with the self-motivation required to effectively work from home, yet our clients were focused and consistent. Many were happy to receive additional resources from SYFS such as laptops, along with extra one on one support from staff to assist with adapting to studying online. Regular group Education, Employment and Training programs also continued to be delivered online and over the phone and wherever possible one on one with clients who thrived with this more intensive and personalised approach.
Rather than dwell on the uncontrollable, the attitude of the SYFS Board and Senior Management was focused on finding opportunities to further engage and fulfil the lives of our clients, with the overall safety of staff, family members and young people of course remaining a priority. To this end a number of creative initiatives were introduced which received strong support from our clients, such as chef cooked meals delivered directly to Services. This greatly assisted Staff in moving away from communal meals therefore encouraging social distancing whilst providing something new and special. Our young people were also treated to visits from the chef who sometimes cooked in each residence, providing new recipes and meals for clients and Staff alike.
Clients felt very informed throughout this period, despite many of them understandably feeling unsure and nervous to begin with. Communication and updates around COVID-19, restrictions, financial support, best-practice hygiene and safety flowed down often daily from the top levels of the Organisation, through to Management, Staff, front-line Workers and ultimately clients to ensure they felt safe and cared for. Collaboration, discussion and feedback was strongly encouraged to ensure our young people had input and were personally engaged in the process. With clients at home more it presented a great opportunity for our Workers to engage more frequently and thoroughly. Some Services were even lucky enough to receive additional recreational resources like board games and DVDs to entertain and pass the time.
Further emphasis was also placed on the holistic wellbeing of our clients with gym Staff tailoring one on one sessions for clients and also posting weekly online workouts that could be accessed by our young people, their family and also Staff who were all encouraged to do these workouts at home to maintain their physical and mental health during lockdown. Group fitness sessions were even held with young people exercising on their verandas while our gym instructor ran the classes from the front or back yards of services!
The overall consensus from our Staff during this difficult and unprecedented time is that our young people adapted much better than what could reasonably be expected. For the most part, they were engaged, vigilant and committed to the continuation of their personal growth and development despite the extra hurdles that COVID-19 presented. In several instances it also encouraged them to become more interested in the news and socially aware of what was happening both here and abroad. I know personally this has provided me with an opportunity to have more in depth conversations with clients. Topics such as how the pandemic was handled by the government, differing regulations from State to State and also the position of Australia as compared to other countries were all enthusiastically discussed.
Subject matter aside, this new topic and opportunity for discussion has definitely provided me with a greater understanding and appreciation of the young people we work with, their intelligence, maturity and of course their continued resilience and determination in overcoming adversity.