Connecting with young people during COVID-19

Monday, 1 June 2020 - 5:39pm

In this guest blog Hayley Wilson, Capacity Building Officer at CHP, discusses the themes and sentiments outlined in this resource and their current relevance to working with young people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, more than ever, we need to foster connection and provide hope to young people experiencing homelessness. Histories of trauma, disadvantage and social isolation mean that they are extremely vulnerable to the psychological toll of the Covid-19 crisis. We need to respond to any feelings of fear and uncertainty, helping these young people to feel safe and supported.

The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), the main body representing homelessness organisations and individuals in the state of Victoria in Australia, have developed a resource to support trauma informed and holistic approaches when engaging young people who are experiencing homelessness. It draws on literature, research and consultation with practitioners and consumers from the Specialist Homelessness Services.

In this blog Hayley Wilson, Capacity Building Officer at CHP, discusses the themes and sentiments outlined in this resource and their current relevance to working with young people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young people experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable during this time

Young people experiencing homelessness are still young people, regardless of the circumstances we are facing. Navigating adolescence can be challenging.  It is a time of life that is often marked by risk taking and experimentation, a desire for independence, and a shift in focus from parental relationships to peers – all behaviours that we are asking to be curbed during social distancing.

As the brain remodels to increase efficiency and integration, how we support young people to adapt to their changing inner and outer worlds is critical.

Offering young people safe relationships is vital

We know that young people exposed to ongoing toxic circumstances and trauma have a sensitised stress response, leading to more quickly heightened states. How we respond to each young person experiencing homelessness matters: safe, buffering relationships can assist to calm the storm inside, turning down the noise from the survival brain and improving a young person’s ability to cope and learn from their experiences. This in turn, assists the young person in developing emotional regulation, connection, empathy and perspective – all key components to thriving in this current crisis and more generally.

Being genuine

Modelling calming behaviours and providing opportunities to listen to young people’s worries and concerns without judgement, and remaining mindful of the trauma they have already experienced, will serve us well in understanding the more challenging behaviours they may present.

Having the courage to be imperfect and vulnerable ourselves can be particularly challenging at a time of such uncertainty. However, it is through transparency and honesty that we build trusting and safe relationships that will be integral to supporting young people who are homeless through the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

Be receptive, not reactive

Viewing behaviours as attempts to communicate unmet needs helps us to reframe behaviour and seek meaning and clarification. That is to be receptive, rather than reactive. This strategy leaves the doors of understanding and acceptance open, creating opportunities to connect.

These modes of thinking and behaving are supported by good and clear boundaries. Both dimensions are important. Young people need consistent, predictable people and routines in their lives and boundaries give us that. These boundaries should not be inflexible and rigid: rather providing a space that allows for safety, choice, learning and growth.

While the world changes around us, and we collectively navigate this journey, we can lean into our vulnerability and rise to the occasion with authenticity and empathy.  We can set a new path for the way in which we see and support young people experiencing homelessness.

Download the toolkit

CHP’s ‘Engaging young people experiencing homelessness’ toolkit is available on our Youth Homelessness Project resources page. It includes practical tips on building meaningful supportive relationships, engaging with young people and working with young people in distress.Now, more than ever, we need to foster connection and provide hope to young people experiencing homelessness. Histories of trauma, disadvantage and social isolation mean that they are extremely vulnerable to the psychological toll of the Covid-19 crisis. We need to respond to any feelings of fear and uncertainty, helping these young people to feel safe and supported.