The Covid-19 Pandemic brought restrictions and measures that changed radically how we traditionally engage and deliver programmes to our participants in the Bridge Project. Pre Covid-19 restrictions, our work with Garda Youth Diversion Project participants, was conducted in-person with individual and group work happening at set weekly times. We were meeting a number of young people regularly, hosting an iScoil Blended Learning Centre in our premises in Leixlip and co-facilitating, with Leixlip Youth Project, a drug awareness programme in our local Youthreach.
In-person contact is integral to the connection and relationship that Youth Justice Workers have with our participants and their families. The impact of the project moving to online provision from March-July 2020, again in late 2020 and early 2021, meant huge changes for the staff team and the young people and families we work with.
Project staff had to move to zoom and whatsapp platforms to engage the young people we already had engaged. This was more successful for some young people than others.. All of our new referrals had to be screened and assessed remotely. Surprisingly our engagement with these new referrals has been very successful, as they knew no different!
Initially we engaged young people in daily and weekly challenges to motivate them to get some exercise and fresh air. They did things like a 2km walk or cycle, helped a parent or neighbour with shopping or called on elderly relatives and we asked them to forward pictures of their activities. We were able to reward this engagement by posting them all one4all vouchers.
As much as we could, staff focused on supporting project participants as usual. Normally an integral part of our work is that participants are supported in relation to managing their behaviour in an educational/training environment. Even though our formal support ceased when schools closed, staff continued to support parents and young people remotely in relation to any difficulties with engagement in homeschooling. This was really important for when they were able to return to school in September 2020.
Our contact with parents/guardians is normally done through home visits or visits to the project on a regular basis. This was reduced to phone conversations to provide support in relation to participants. Support mainly focused on the changes in the family dynamics due to everyone being stuck at home and the increased stress that this brought to all families.
For our remote work we used programme resources such as Life of Choices, Putting the Pieces Together, Mind Out etc. to explore individual morals and values, negative behaviour patterns, peer relations etc. In as much as they could, staff adhered to the work that they would normally do face-to-face by posting worksheets in advance and working through them with participant’s over weekly video call.
As part of our remote work project staff also delivered parenting programmes. One team member delivered the NVR (Non-violent resistance) 9 week programme and two delivered the Parenting Plus Adolescent Programme, also 9 weeks. Although this was a very new and different experience for the staff and parents engaging, it was very successful and parents really benefited from their engagement. We plan on rolling out both remotely again in September 2021.
The project also delivered a remote driver theory programme to young people and we were able to visit Mondello and drive around the track when restrictions eased in July.
When restrictions allowed earlier this year staff met with young people face-to-face as much as they could. This work took place in coffee shops or outside. Due to the uncertainty of Covid restrictions the focus of our work has been on building, re-establishing and maintaining our relationships with young people and providing support and encouragement for them to return to “normal” things such as school or sports.
Although we have only been able to work outside until very recently in 2021, we have had really good engagement in our summer programmes and have had lots of fun rebuilding our face-to-face relationships by going kayaking, mountain biking, Go karting etc.
We’re looking forward to everything getting closer to normal in September and continuing to engage young people in face-to-face activities.