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  • Writer's pictureDavid Whewell

Federation for Detached Youth Work position statement on COVID-19 - also see this link:

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

18th March 2020

The Federation for Detached Youth Work recognises that COVID-19 demands a re-assessment of the health and safety implications of undertaking detached, outreach and street-based youth work. As in schools and other children and young people-focused services, workers must absent themselves from work if necessary, to protect themselves, those they normally work with and the wider community. This will have an inevitable impact on service levels. Implicitly, then the work of detached youth workers will likely take on an even greater importance in coming months. Certainly, young people will need continued support from professional and knowledgeable staff; but it is essential these staff remain healthy.

The focus of practice must be on helping young people make sense of what is going on at home, in their schools, communities and wider society. Young people need accurate information, advice, guidance, and opportunities to ask questions and discuss their feelings and anxieties. Facilitating their continued social interaction, in carefully managed environments or on-line, will be important in counteracting the negative effects of the social isolation that will inevitably follow from constraints on young people’s movements. It’s probably reasonable to argue staying indoors constantly will have a significant negative effect on their health and well-being. Indeed, being indoors with others can be more risky, especially when there are many people in close proximity to one another. So there is great value in being outside, as a protective factor, and as an environment where young people can continue to take exercise and be active. Going for walks and bike rides may be ‘just what the doctor ordered’ and will support young people’s health and wellbeing. Try not to be negative or contribute to the stress they may be feeling; indeed, there may be many other positive responses to the current situation. For example, there may be opportunities for detached workers to support young people in social action projects that help older, elderly and vulnerable members of the community. Clearly, such work must be done with due regard to wider potential health and safety implications in order to safeguard young people in any voluntary endeavours they might wish to undertake – but think about how helping young people take action resonates with what we are about as youth workers. Likewise, detached workers may also be able to play an enhanced role in community and family support.

The Federation for Detached Youth Work also recognises that some centre-based staff will be asked to do detached work. The Fed can advise them, and so can you. All who undertake this work must prioritise health and welfare considerations and make changes to their work practices, as appropriate:

· Follow governmental and Public Health England advice, and that of the local authorities or organisations you work for, especially on public gatherings and social distancing. This must include detached, outreach and street-based settings. Remember that the younger the group, the more likely they are to be in close contact with one another. Think ahead when planning activities; if you are playing games choose those with fewer opportunities for physical contact. Some, like Frisbee for example, feel perfectly normal and sociable at distance. Clean any equipment you use thoroughly. Talk to young people about the activities they can do at home; organise on-line engagement. Crucially, remember there is a distinction between social distancing and physical distancing; we want to minimise the risk of being close to others, whilst at the same time doing even more to keep people socially connected – this is as important for young people’s health and wellbeing as the biological dimensions.

· While work in public and other open spaces has fewer risks than indoors, risks exist nonetheless. Even though these environments are typically well-ventilated, maintaining a safe distance from others is essential. Young people should be strongly encouraged to do the same and follow wider hygiene advice such as avoiding physical contact, and ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ practices in relation to coughing and sneezing. Here the detached worker’s kit bag may need to be supplemented to include tissues and hand sanitiser. Remind them to wash their hands when they get home. Model good behaviour.

· Workers should review and update as necessary practice guidelines and policies in this new context and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, dynamic risk assessments are essential; you should consider the location in which you are working, the size of the group you feel it is safe to work with (frankly, the smaller the better), proximity to other members of the public, and be vigilant and responsive to any symptoms those present may display. Any young people displaying COVID-19 symptoms should be told to go home; advise them to contact health services as appropriate. Ultimately, you may need to withdraw from the situation and advise young people to do the same.

· Workers should maintain a commitment to professional practice; they will need to up-date their knowledge constantly and support each other as best they can. Supervision and reflective practice will become even more important; you will need to process and understand a lot of information over the coming months if you are to use it in the service of young people. Risk assessment will have a greater significance; remember though you will not be able to eliminate all risk, triangulate this with potential benefits. Shift your discussions to street-based settings and on-line, as appropriate. In addition, continue to encourage organisations and employers to value your expertise and provide whatever support is needed to undertake this most important work. Contact the Fed about your experiences and to share good practice, or simply if you need to talk to someone.

· The following links provide useful reference material; they should be visited often, as good practice guidance is subject to regular and frequent change:

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