What’s in a Name: Defining Unconnected Youth and the Issues They Face During the Pandemic
As a COVID-19 cloud descends, we as an organization who believes that every child, youth, and family should have the resources not only to survive, but to thrive, are committed to furthering this mission and set our sights on a brighter time.
Unconnected youth are one of the groups that has been hit hard by the pandemic, and not necessarily due to the physical illness. According to Mike Watkins’ article in The Omaha World-Herald, there are 8,000 unconnected youth living in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area.
“Unconnected youth” refers to young people between the ages of 14-25 with prior involvement in any of the following systems: foster care, juvenile justice/probation, homelessness and/or trafficking. These youth are not connected to family or community support.
COVID-19’s impact provokes a compounded sense of isolation and loneliness that this group of young people may already feel.
Sara Riffel, Vice President of Connected Youth Initiative, said for these young people, the loss of income due to the pandemic is the most significant and immediate issue, with housing insecurity not far behind.
Sara said, however there are other complicated peripheral issues for these young people.
“Unconnected older youth are often socially isolated and disconnected from their families, their community, and permanent support systems. The COVID pandemic made that social isolation so much more threatening to their well-being because now they are physically isolated as well as experiencing a loss of social connectedness,” said Sara.
“There is a concern that it will lead to an increase in anxiety, fear, and depression for young people, compounded with a loss of income and threat of losing housing or getting sick,” she said.
As we search for light in dark corners, we must acknowledge the struggles, strengths and triumphs of these youth. Each one has a different story; each one is capable of being remarkably successful, sometimes with a little support from CYI’s resources.
Recently, one young mother’s story arrives at a welcome time. Although her experience was not easy, and was perhaps exacerbated by the coronavirus, we are glad that she was resourceful and resilient enough to ask for assistance, and that CYI was there to help.
Dark Meets Light: Portrait of a Young Woman and Domestic Abuse Survivor
A young mother of three children was trapped in a domestic violence situation. As a result, she had no control over the income she was earning.
To complicate matters, she was unable to save money to try and get a place for herself and her children because of this ongoing abuse. For those unfamiliar with different forms of abusive behavior, a common practice may include withholding monetary funds as a form of control over the victim.
Amid this trouble, the young woman had tried to reach out for help, but during COVID-19, she kept coming up empty and was initially overlooked, like so many others in her position, while the rest of the world scrambled to make sense of pandemic-related chaos.
Luckily, she was strong enough to ask for support and Project Everlast, one of the CYI initiatives at Nebraska Children responsible for connecting youth with a variety of initiatives and resources, was caring enough to reach out.
Project Everlast (PE) had originally contacted to this young woman for a check-in; a regular practice for central navigation, which occurred exactly 120 days after she had been referred to the program. Project Everlast had worked alongside this woman throughout this time, reaching out again at 60 then 120-days to ensure she was faring well and see if she had partaken in any of the services.
During these times of social isolation, we emphasize the importance as exhibited by Project Everlast, of creating and maintaining these contacts with youth, especially with those who already may be unconnected due to no fault of her own.
During the 120-day check-in, the young woman and Central Navigator discussed her strong desire for her own housing and employment. Several texts and a few days later, the woman revealed her abusive situation, its destructive nature, and that she had nowhere to go.
A generous local hotel management company and Project Everlast were able to cover this young lady’s hotel stay for a week. We are grateful to KAJ Hospitality, the hotel management company who was half the heart and brains behind the operation.
The company offered a reduced community response rate at two of their hotels for those currently unsheltered and needing safe, temporary housing after either fleeing domestic violence situations or are college students that need to move off campus due to COVID-related closures.
In that time, the woman managed to find another stable, safe housing option with a family friend until the pandemic subsides. Even better still, she regained control of her finances and started saving money and providing for her children.
With the help of programs such as CYI and the assistance of local establishments, we can all help youth, families, and children when they need support most. In those moments when our young people may not be visible, we can help our them to be seen, then emerge from the dark and move closer toward the light.