Written by: Del Graff, Child and Youth Advocate of Alberta
With the global pandemic dominating much of our attention, National Child Day is a time to take pause and focus on how young people continue to be impacted in these times of adversity. Now more than ever, we must turn up the volume on issues affecting young people, hear what they have to say, and help them any way we can.
We must remain vigilant about promoting and protecting the rights of children and youth on a systemic level through our advocacy to decision makers, so that we can create the brightest possible futures for our young people. However, there are also actions we can all take, on an individual level within our own lives and communities, to support the well-being of young people every day.
Ask young people what they need
Keeping the lines of communication open with the young people in your life is a crucial first step to providing them with much needed support. As COVID-19 has become what some call our “new normal,” the fact remains, none of what is happening right now is normal. Continuing to engage young people, even those who seem to be coping well, is critically important to understanding and supporting their needs as we collectively continue to navigate through this pandemic.
Serve as a mentor
Whether you are a natural mentor to a young person in your life as a teacher, neighbour, or extended relative, or you volunteer through a more formal community mentorship program, mentoring can have a great impact on the lives of young people. According to Alberta Mentoring Partnership, mentorship can improve mental health, lead to higher levels of educational achievement, and help reduce youth involvement with the justice system. It is clear that a small investment of our time can have a lasting positive impact in the life of a young person.
Have a conversation about safety
Across Alberta, young people’s educational and social activities have been disrupted by the pandemic. However, in the time of physical distancing the need for social connections remains and that has young people spending more and more time online. Relationships are fundamental to the well-being of young people, but it is essential that we as adults work to help them understand the particular safety risks that exist online. Kid’s Help Phone offers some tips for caring adults to help have this conversation.
Support young people’s mental health
Many young people are facing elevated stressors right now that may take a toll on their mental health. The BC Representative for Children and Youth recently released a report on COVID-19 and the Impact on Children’s Mental Health, which predicts we will see significant increases in the number of young people struggling with issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression. This is deeply concerning and we must do what we can to encourage positive mental health and provide support to those who are struggling. The COVID-19 Youth Mental Health Resource Hub offers many resources for young people and supportive adults to build coping skills, learn more about mental health, and get extra support if needed.
Learn more about the rights of young people
Respecting young people’s rights is critical to their well-being. The more we as adults are informed about the rights of young people, the better equipped we are to support young people who may not be having their rights protected.
I encourage you to learn about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which identifies the rights that all young people are entitled to.
My office also offers support for young people involved who are involved with the child welfare and youth justice systems to ensure their rights are upheld. You can visit our website to learn more about our work.
Throughout the pandemic, young people have quickly adapted to new ways of learning, living and being. They are incredibly resilient and resourceful, and we have much to learn from them as we continue to navigate these challenging times. In my view, whether you are a parent, a relative, a caregiver, a teacher, or a friend we need you to advocate for young people. We are on this new path together, and we must walk side-by-side with young people – offering a helping hand as we move forward together in this new reality.
Since 2011, Del Graff has been the Child and Youth Advocate for Alberta. Del has worked in the social services field for over 30 years, and has developed and implemented a wide range of social programs to improve the circumstances for vulnerable people in both urban and rural settings. He has significant experience with many diverse groups, including collaboration and partnerships with First Nations and Métis people.