UNICEF Australia delivers report on the impact of COVID on the young

Sydney, 20 June 2021 – A year on from the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in Australia, our youngest generation has emerged more resilient than ever despite enduring lockdowns, job losses and substantial interruptions to their education, according to a new report from children’s charity, UNICEF Australia.

Bouncing back from a year like no other, young Australians say they want a more active role in addressing some of the biggest concerns for their generation including climate change and managing the mental health crisis.

The final of a three-part series of UNICEF Australia’s Young Ambassador Reports during COVID, the survey gathered the opinions of 4,078 young people aged seven to 20 years old from around the nation, over a 12-month period.

The Young Ambassadors for UNICEF Australia will present the report to parliamentarians in Canberra this week. Among the cohort, Young Ambassador from Melbourne, Frank Hooper, said, “Through the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, Australia showed it could adapt and make change quickly, which has motivated young people to demand to see the same approach applied to other major issues that we as a nation have been wrestling with for some time.

“Young people need to see climate change action and we want more peer-to-peer infrastructure to address the mental health struggles of thousands of children and young people. These issues cannot be delayed,” he said.

The report highlights concern that mental health frameworks for children and young people are centred on medicalised treatment, which is stigmatised among young people, and in some regions has long wait times for services where children may be seen by a different counsellor at each session.

“Over the past year, many young people have come to accept hardship as a normal part of life and this needs to be acknowledged in mental health supports,” Mr Hooper said.

“It is fantastic to see recent Government investment in mental health programs, but many of these are clinically based, which takes courage for young people to access, due to stigma, especially in smaller communities. We are calling to implement safety net measures that can be used in schools and between friends and families before medical consultation is needed. Easy to access mental health resources designed for children and young people would really help them navigate day-to-day challenges.”

“Investment in infrastructure that supports young people’s basic needs such as housing, education, health, food, employment, family and identity services are also critical to the prevention of mental illness and to reduce the strain on current mental health services.”

The Report found that over the course of 2020 people aged 13-17 years of age said their ability to cope had improved, with two thirds (65%) now saying their ability to cope is good compared with less than half (45%) of those surveyed in April 2020.

Oliver White, Head of Policy and Government Engagement for UNICEF Australia said while young Australians feel more positive than negative about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, they are still facing major challenges in the recovery, and they want to be included in finding the solutions.

“Seventy three per cent of young people said their level of hope for the future is good, but in this report they have articulated issues they see as the greatest threats to their future wellbeing and livelihoods, and called for reform of decision making processes that currently exclude them.

“Young people told us they are deeply concerned about a range of environmental issues and two thirds (63%) believe Australia should be taking the lead on climate action.

“It is critical that we include young people in decision making and planning for issues that affect them now and that will become their responsibility in future,” Mr White said.

The findings from participants aged 13-17 years of age about decision making processes include:
- Close to a third (31%) want more polling of young Australians;
- More than a third (39%) would like more opportunities to talk to political leaders;
- 38% think there should be more education on parliamentary processes.

The ‘Children in a changing world’ report combines findings from nationwide face-to-face consultations of 3,263 children and young people aged seven to 20, and an online survey of 815 young people aged 13-17 years and consultation from 21 December 2020 to 6 January 2021.