Teens more at risk as they face COVID-19 realities, youth workers warn

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WATCH: Educators and parents have been warning about the distress kids and teenagers face as they continue to adjust to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, youth workers are now cautioning that the problems could get worse – Nov 6, 2020

Youth workers are cautioning that the distress that kids and teenagers face as they adjust to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic could get worse.

Staff at L’ancre des Jeunes, an organization in Verdun that partners with schools to help teens who have either dropped out of school or who are having difficulty, say this year they are getting significantly more calls for help.

“A lot of increase about whether we have places available,” said administrative director Glenn Rubenstein.

Read more: Quebec boosts mental health funding for youth, opposition calls for more help amid COVID-19 crisis

He blames the pandemic.

Staff at the YMCA in Pointe-Saint-Charles say the needs are great.

“For example, the need for mental health support, the need for more resources and referrals,” explained Katrina Heyde, who heads the organization’s school perseverance sector in the province.

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“Kids are really struggling.”

At L’ancre des Jeunes, Rubenstein said other youth organizations he works with are also worried.

“There does seem to be an increased risk of dropping out,” he told Global News.

He added that some kids began quitting school during the COVID-19 lockdown in the spring.  Educators like Stéphanie Paquette, a behaviour management specialist with the English Montreal School Board, say the pandemic has created a greater instability for students, with worries about the virus, reduced social contacts, unfamiliar class schedules, poverty and crowded living conditions.

“We’re also seeing a lot of apathy from our teenagers,” she said.  “A form of, ‘what’s the point.'”

Youth workers like Rubenstein see this anxiety manifested in different ways, like increased drug use or even suicidal thoughts, and he said he’s seen a difference in some of the teenagers this year.

“Kids who seem to be more isolated, who don’t seem to have the same connection with the other kids that are here,” he pointed out.

Read more: Quebec unveils $100M for mental health earlier than planned after deadly Halloween attack

He said on top of that, he can’t accommodate as many teens

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“We’ve had to reduce the number of young people here because of the requirements of social distancing,” he noted, adding that they’re seeing just over 25 per cent fewer clients in their teen programme alone.

At the YMCA in the Pointe-Saint-Charles, Heyde said groups there have been cut by half, meaning more work for staff.

“We’ve had to add hours to our offers to be able to welcome kids frequently enough to meet their needs,” she stressed.

Last week, the Quebec government announced it will invest $25 million in mental health initiatives for young adults and teens.  Some of that money will be to hire more counselors.

Rubenstein stressed that there’s no easy fix, but like the schools, they are making adjustments where needed to make sure kids don’t give up.