Valuing young people’s voices – from research to policy

New reports highlight what young people experience, fear, and hope for during and after the pandemic

06 July 2022
Friends embrace
UNICEF/UN0483566/Majoli/Magnum Photos
In June 2021, Anna, 14, embraces her friends Clarissa and Chiara. "We explore nature around our village to be safe [from contracting COVID-19]. It's a place where we can take off masks and feel confidence between us. We had a lot of fear during this period, so we try to make the choices that make us feel better," says Anna.

Florence/Toronto, 6 July 2022 – Today’s adolescents will face the consequences of the pandemic throughout their lives, according to reports under a UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti coordinated project.  

It’s Difficult to Grow Up in an Apocalypse: Children’s and adolescents’ experiences, perceptions and opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, led by the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement, launched today alongside the Italian Life in Colours, translated from its original Italian “Vite a Colori”, are qualitative and participatory studies aiming to understand diverse children’s and young people’s perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, how it affected their lives, and their opinions on how future crises could be better handled by adults and decision-makers in order to respond to younger generations’ feelings and needs.

Commenting on her experience of participating in a research project that affects her as a young person, Italy Young Advisory Board Member Elisabetta de Francesco, 11, said, “I enjoyed being listened to and being able to share my views on things that are close to my heart.” 

To ensure that the distinct experiences of the pandemic and its policy decisions on children and young people are given more visibility in decision-making, the reports stress the importance of involving young people from diverse backgrounds in policymaking and research design and processes by incorporating the voices of young people who experience inequities amplified by COVID-19, including LGBTQI+, Indigenous, and racialised youth, as well as unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) and young people living in disadvantaged socio-economic contexts.  

The intersectional approach to the studies has highlighted, for example, the need to provide support for independent living as especially important for LGBTQI+ youth who might be at higher risk of unsafe living situations compared to non-LGBTQI+ youth. It has also identified the anxieties that UASC have about receiving their documents, that have consequences for inclusion in society, and participation in the formal job market.  

Despite the difficulties that came with COVID-19, young people have found that it also presented an opportunity for society to collectively work on these structural issues and improve the ways in which we coexist, and they are a key resource in designing this future. “The pandemic was challenging for all youth,” said Katie Yu, age 16, of the Canadian Young Advisory Board, “but it’s great to see our experiences and opinions being used to develop concrete recommendations that prioritize our well-being.” 

Some of the recommendations that UNICEF makes to decision-makers based on the evidence aimed at improving the well-being of young people in these unprecedented times:  

  • UNICEF recommends centring youth’s developmental needs and seeking regular input from them when designing policies. The involvement of young people in the process of decision making is key for adequate policy response to crises like COVID-19, because they, with their diverse identities and lived experiences, know best how the pandemic and policy responses to it affect them. The reports also recommend that decision-making is accompanied with transparent rationale based on evidence from experts, with resources aimed at educating and informing youth. 

  • Improving the access to data and digital infrastructure to ensure that students can engage fully in their education. Across the world, young people have been affected by school closures. In Canada and Italy, it has brought new opportunities for digital learning but highlighted gaps in access to technology and other school resources that, if unaddressed, will deepen socio-economic and cultural inequalities. 

  • Although distance learning showed the potential benefits of technology in students’ learning, school closures have diminished young people’s social spaces and their opportunities to interact with their friends and their teachers. The role of schools as social spaces is undervalued, the reports find, but social networks play an important role in keeping young people safe in times of crisis. To enhance the social function of schools during the pandemic era, UNICEF recommends creating spaces for safe social interaction, and provide the opportunity for students to build relationships with their peers, teachers, and mentors with attention given to young people at transitional points in their lives.  

  • According to the research studies, this generation is highly concerned with mental health and the pandemic has contributed to deteriorating mental health among youth. UNICEF recommends promoting awareness of mental health issues among young people and providing culturally appropriate and easily accessible services that meet the needs of specific demographics, like LGBTQI+, UASC, and Indigenous youth. 

Recognising and thanking young people as key members of society for their insights are important lessons that the researchers have learned during the process. Teaming up with them is the best way to ensure that the best interests of children and youth are prioritised in a future that will affect them the most. 

These reports are the first of an international project in collaboration with various countries that includes a series of studies on the impact of the pandemic on children around the world. The other reports will relate the experiences of children and adolescents in Chile, Indonesia, Lesotho, and Madagascar. 

Media contacts

Yasmina Nuny Silva
UNICEF Innocenti, Florence

About UNICEF Innocenti

UNICEF Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. 

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