Future HealthLeaders

How can young people make a difference in a global crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for the health and social care sectors, and new questions emerged about the sustainability of youth volunteering and social action, and how embedded it really is in the sector.

Young people are ready to help, with one Trust reporting 170 volunteers having registered

In their report "A balancing act: Youth volunteering in hospitals, in the context of Covid-19" IVAR, the ‘learning partner' for the Pears Foundation's #iwill Match Fund, offers some initial reflections on the network's response to COVID-19.

"In the early stages of the pandemic they found that much of the work on youth volunteering had completely stopped, especially when it came to the placements of under-18's in ward based activities. However, they did note that the situation is fluid and ever-changing.

As we move into the next stage of the response to COVID-19 many Trusts have been thinking about how to re-deploy their young volunteers, especially considering remote volunteering opportunities. IVAR noted in their briefing that young people are ready to help, with one Trust reporting 170 volunteers having registered as part of their Covid response, 60 of whom are aged 16-25.

There is much concern over the wellbeing of young people who have invested substantial time into their volunteering activities and for whom the loss of momentum in this current crisis could have significant effects - primarily for the young people but also the sustainability of future programmes in healthcare settings."

Is there more to be done to embrace the Power of Youth in health and social care?

Listen to four #iwill Ambassadors share their thoughts on what more needs to be done in the health and social care sectors to meaningfully involve children and young people. They include reflections on the mutually beneficial strategic and operational roles that children and young people can play on a number of shared strategic priorities. For example:

  • challenging systemic inequalities and the social determinants of health and wellbeing
  • promoting better mental health and preventing the escalation of problems
  • increasing diversity and enabling equity
  • tackling climate change and air quality
  • careers and leadership opportunities in healthcare, public health and social care
Why does youth social action in health and social care make sense?

The concept of embracing community centred approaches within local and national strategies for promoting health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities has a strong public health evidence base. Young people’s volunteering within communities helps grow and mobilise health assets. #iwill Ambassadors’ social action throughout the response to COVID-19 highlights the diversity of ways that young people’s creativity, intelligence, ideas and social connections can be engaged to positive effect. Strategic and operational examples include their volunteering and campaigning to: fight food poverty and food waste; increase health literacy about COVID-19; reduce climate change; combat isolation and loneliness;and strengthen personal support within care homes.

Young people have the potential to make an impactful difference with the double benefit of gaining invaluable skills, experience and increased wellbeing. At service level this can be summarised in five themes:

Improve Young
People's Health
Diverse Future
Increase Public
Improve Patient
Improve Young
People's Health

Improving the health and wellbeing of young people

Social action is shown to enhance wellbeing and good mental health1. It also has the capacity to combat social isolation, supports community cohesion and promotes being physically active.2,3 According to the National Youth Social Action Survey, young people who participate in social action report higher levels of life satisfaction than those who have never done any4.

Diverse Future

Developing a new generation of diverse health and care professionals

Involving young volunteers can help to develop the next generation of healthcare professionals. Some of those who gain an insight into the sector may go on to make it their career. Youth social action has the potential to introduce young people from underrepresented groups to careers in this area, as well as increasing their experience to qualify for a role. This would enable health and care organisations to recruit a more diverse workforce, through supporting young people’s early development.

Better Services

Services and campaigns can better reflect and engage their communities

Involving young volunteers from diverse backgrounds will ensure that young people’s voices are heard and listened to as services are shaped and delivered, ensuring that services are relevant and accessible.

Increase Public

Increasing public understanding of services and healthy lifestyles

Involvement in and around health settings enables young volunteers to develop an understanding of key health issues and the health and care system. Through this they will learn how to keep themselves healthy (‘self care’), navigate and access services appropriately and be advocates for others to do the same. Social action can improve not only the health literacy of young people but also that of their peers, families and wider communities.

Improve Patient

Offering added value and an improved patient experience

Young people have the capacity to take on some of the tasks that salaried staff may find it hard to prioritise. Comforting patients, making tea or befriending the chronically ill are vital elements of good health and social care provision. This kind of quality human interaction is shown to significantly enhance the patient experience, through programmes such as Helping in Hospitals5.