Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island (BBBSWI) issued a September 8 statement on the impact it has so far observed of COVID-19 on kids as well as that which it is anticipating. As a result, the organization is officially launching a recruitment campaign for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
The organization ran an assessment leveraging three main sources: A meta-study of what has been shared by other youth organizations, data and observations from partner organizations and internal stats and experience.
The objective of this punctual study was to gain perspective on the state of kids’ needs as they have started to emerge from COVID-19 restrictions. BBBSWI gathered a number of interesting statistics and observed trends, some surprising and others expected out of which three aspects are pointing towards a delayed but likely important impact on kids.
“Organizations geared towards helping children are, by their very nature, barometers of how kids are generally doing in a country or a specific area. Although a number of formal analyses will eventually be run, it’s important to gather early input and signs to anticipate needs in order to reduce or ideally eliminate painful delays. These delays in support can have a long-lasting and sometimes deep impact. We need to plan ahead, as much as possible, to avoid any long- term issues,” said Megan Semenchuck, Executive Director of BBBSWI.
During the most important COVID restrictions, when schools were closed, there was a significant decrease in child abuse reports to youth watch agencies such as the DPJ here in Quebec. During the same period, the Kids Help Phone shared that across Canada its call volume increased between 50% to 350% depending on the province and the area. Adding to these two opposite trends is the fact that in a survey done by Kids Help Phone, 77% of kids stated they wanted to speak to no one other than the volunteer at the other end of the line. “The fact that they wanted to talk to someone they don’t know and no one else is an important indication of how stranded and in need they felt,” said Semenchuck.
The social crutch
AMCAL, a youth organization based in Pointe-Claire that offers services and support for families with troubled teens, also saw an expectable drop in activity given confinement. They shared a key perspective: Although school-related anxiety dropped significantly with the measures taken due to COVID-19, another important one arose. The social substitute quickly converted to an increase in screen-time activity. “In the case of teens, social media use has shot up with all of its good and bad sides. The ability to stay connected with friends is certainly a large positive. But many kids aren’t supervised online - either because parents can’t or don’t know how to – and the self-comparison, bullying, exclusion and artificial nature of what you see others doing doesn’t get re-balanced with real-life and that’s just one of the challenges that requires mentor support”” said Jeff Andrews, Outreach Family Counselling Coordinator at AMCAL.
These observations obviously bring an immediate concern. However, for BBBSWI it’s the combination of those with the increasing number of kids waiting to be paired with a big brother or sister that raises an important red flag.
The core reason is again COVID-related but this time in a different way: It induced an important drop in mentors stepping up to become Bigs. Health concerns combined with restrictions in mobility and access to basic things such as grocery shopping has had the insidious impact of steering away the awareness and initiative mentors-at-heart usually exercise when they become volunteers. This is entirely understandable, of course. However, at the same time, kids’ needs have risen to levels where it has become important to make a plea to those essential leaders to please enter the fray.
Beyond those observed, new challenges are expected to emerge for kids in the upcoming months including families dealing with job loss, returning to school in an unknown format and expectations, restoring balance and routine with being ‘off’ school for 6 months, dealing with the consequences/outcomes of a virtual social life (conflicts, bullying, exclusion) etc.
“We know how key the role of mentor is in kids’ lives. We have wonderful people in our program that literally helped turn a child’s life around. If you’ve ever come across a situation where you’ve felt 'All this kid needs are support and to feel some love,' know that there is a boy or girl that raised their hand and is waiting for you," said Semenchuck. "There’s a big need right now and everything indicates it’s going to grow before things return to normal. We call upon those who can give some balance to these kids who otherwise may never get relief during this important period of their young lives.”
— Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island
— Video link — http://bit.ly/BBBSWIBigImpact