The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for digital youth work: how has the pandemic shaped digital inclusion, safety and wellbeing?

 Five non-governmental organizations from Europe researched the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for young people and youth workers, within the AlwaysON for Youth Erasmus+ project. Between August 2021 and January 2022, 447 people from Europe shared their opinions and insights in the research process: 121 respondents took part in interviews and 326 people answered the public survey. To this, a virtual laboratory was organized in late March, with the purpose of testing the draft research conclusions.

The final form of the report is now available online and it provides a series of inputs to understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the youth workers and young people, in relation to digital youth work. The key findings from the interviews, the public survey and the virtual laboratory are the following:

  • More than 50% of the young people affirmed they have faced different challenges during the pandemic; around 40% of them said that they did not experience any challenge related to digital safety and wellbeing.
  • Digital fatigue was the most observed negative trend during the pandemic. The participants of the public survey also rated the impact of the pandemic on their mental health as negative.
  • The frequency associated with digital fatigue is worrisome, with 74.84% affirming that they have faced this situation sometimes or often. In addition to this, digital stress was experienced by 11% of the respondents.
  • Digital youth work gained traction during the pandemic, and we can affirm that is here to stay; a new spectrum of activities opens and others, more traditional ones, are becoming obsolete since working digitally needs a lot of training that must/will be used from now on.
  • While the formal education sector received government support to facilitate the transition to an online learning environment, the non-formal education sector (including youth work) has changed and adapted to the online environment but mainly due to the personal investment of youth workers.
  • In terms of the challenges and opportunities identified to digital safety and wellbeing during the pandemic, the respondents mostly reflected the challenges in the answers. This might be explained because the pandemic triggered a sudden change for the professional and personal patterns, thus requiring more effort to adapt to the new situation.
  • 1 in 5 respondents does not feel prepared to implement digital safety practices, thus making it a real need to invest in the related capacities of youth workers.
  • Working on inclusion is time-consuming and it needs a lot of other resources (skills, funding, etc.). It is a challenge for many organizations to reach out to young people with different backgrounds because of the limited capacity they have in their organization to invest in this work.
  • The answers provided show that most of the respondents are not familiar with digital trends and new technologies such as inhumane technology, deep fakes, Internet of Behaviors, Internet of Things and hyper connectivity. In the case of the metaverse, artificial Intelligence, facial recognition algorithms and working/interacting with robots, many respondents affirmed they are slightly familiar with these topics. The only two topics where 1 in 4 respondents evaluate themselves as highly familiar are artificial intelligence and facial recognition algorithms.
  • 6% of the respondents to the public survey affirmed that it is very important to have well-equipped youth workers that can empower and support young people in the post-pandemic world.

The full report can be accessed Shaping digital inclusion and safety in a post pandemic world – Report , and it contains a series of recommendations for non-governmental organizations and youth workers, tech companies and policy makers.