Youth workers without youngsters – youth centres in Antwerp struggle to reach young people.

No time for street football – Photo by The Humantra on Unsplash

Young people are affected especially by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their mental health and social life. Youth workers in Antwerp try their best to alleviate the situation. But the pandemic can make it difficult to reach out and help.”

“A youth worker without youngsters – that is really weird.”

Fried Aernouts from the youth and media organisation Stampmedia says that he and his colleagues had a hard time adopting to distance working and trying to reach the young people online.

The numbers of infections in Belgium have decreased. Nonetheless they are still higher than during the first wave and Belgium remains in lockdown. Everyone 12 years and older has to wear a mask and in public only 4 people are allowed to meet, with an excaption made for under 12 year olds. Every person is allowed one „knuffelcontact“ or cuddle contact with whom they can form a bubble and don‘t have to wear masks or keep a distance.

This means that many teenagers have only limited options to hang out with many friends or to play sports for example. In Antwerp this concerns a lot of people as over 40% of inhabitants are considered youth, according to the youth workers network J100 which aims to connect youngsters, youth workers and the municipality.

Usually many young people especially from less privileged households would go to youth centres to meet peers and to socialise. Moving things online does not quite work the same way, says Aernouts: “they have so much homework and so much school and they are like, I just don‘t wanna do Zoom any more.“

Stampmedia aims to give a voice to youth by teaching them journalistic skills and giving them opportunities to publish but they are just as much active as social workers. When the government allowed youth organisations to hold one-on-one conversations with vulnerable youngsters, the organisation immediately took the chance.

Many young people are now coming, simply to have someone to talk to.
“They come by to talk and it usually starts with something trivial,“ says Aernouts.
But then it often becomes clear that they have deeper problems they want to talk about.

Nonetheless he feels that some youngsters are beyond the organisations reach at the moment and they will have to work hard- to re-connect with some of them after the lockdown.

He is really happy about the cooperation with the municipality and regional government, which worked together closely with youth organisations to take the needs of young people into account when it comes to for example rules around going outside and using public spaces.

An extra problem that he sees is that a group that has been left out are the young people older than 18. They are legally adults and often don‘t benefit from support and exceptions for youth.

The Flemish minister for youth, sport and Brussels affirmed his ambition to ensure that by the summer there should be more normality for young people in the province. In an interview with the tv channel of the Flemish parliament he said that his “ambition as minister of youth is to ensure a summer vacation that is at least as good as the last.“

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