In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. As a result the Scottish Youth Parliament, Young Scot and YouthLink Scotland partnered to deliver Lockdown Lowdown – a project to hear from young people during the pandemic.
What we did
In March 2020 the Lockdown Lowdown project began with phase 1, a survey of young people across Scotland to hear their concerns about COVID-19. The survey was completed by 2,500 young people (aged 11 to 26).
In recognition that the impact of lockdown will be long-term, the Scottish Government commissioned a follow-up survey and in September 2020, the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), Young Scot and YouthLink Scotland launched phase 2. This phase included another national survey which received over 6,000 responses. It also included a new in-depth study of seldom-heard young people's voices by conducting 5 focus groups with young people from the following groups:
- Young people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities
- Young people with disabilities and additional support needs
- Care experienced young people
- Young people with experience of the criminal justice system
- Young Carers
Around 40 young people (aged 14 to 24) joined in the discussions about the impacts of COVID-19 post-lockdown and the new measures and restrictions in their lives.
The focus groups were facilitated by staff members from SYP and YouthLink. Questions asked during the focus group sessions were proposed by SYP and agreed with the Scottish Government. In addition to the general questions posed to all groups, a set of specific questions relating to the lived experience of each group was also agreed. For example, young carers were asked how support or health services for the person they are caring for had changed during lockdown.
Online focus group sessions were scheduled on Monday and Thursday evenings, using Zoom as a platform. Participants used a SmartSurvey sign-up link to register their interest in participating. Relevant national charities agreed to put posts on social media to promote the opportunity to take part. Invitations were circulated among Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs), #iWill Ambassadors, Young Scot Hive Volunteers, and other partner organisations who work with young people in Scotland. It was also publicised on the SYP and YouthLink social media platforms. Young people and practitioners were also encouraged to circulate the opportunity.
In order to support as many young people as possible to get involved, participants were also offered a phone top up or a voucher as required. Participants were also encouraged to indicate any further support or access requirements they may have in advance of the session. Young people were able to sign up to as many sessions as they felt appropriate, so that they could partake in several conversations from more than one perspective.
A year on from the initial lockdown, a third survey was commissioned by the Scottish Government and phase 3 was launched. The survey received 2,404 responses. This timeframe coincided with all secondary schools re-opening in March, as well as changes to lockdown restrictions from April. This version included some of the same themes as the second survey, as well as new questions relevant to the landscape of coronavirus in Spring 2021. Survey questions were developed in partnership with the Scottish Government, YouthLink Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. The questions in the survey were primarily quantitative (responses that can be measured in terms of quantity), with a number of open questions included in each section. All responses were anonymous in order to eliminate response identification. Respondents were also asked if they would be happy for their responses to be anonymously quoted. Young people’s wellbeing was considered due to the sensitive nature of some of the topics included. In response to this consideration, young people completing the survey were signposted to support.
Responses to the surveys and from the focus groups have since influenced decision makers at a national and local level across Scotland.
What worked well
The national survey received nearly 11,000 responses over phases 1, 2 and 3. Survey results has given the Scottish Government a direct insight into the experiences of young people during the pandemic, and critically, where things are not working, where young people need more support, and where funding for projects and support has not always been reaching the people it needs to reach.
Using Zoom allowed participants to make use of features such as the ‘reactions’ which they could use to signal to facilitators when they wished to speak. The ‘chat’ function allowed participants to add to the conversation in a different way, which many opted to do. Overall, the use of Zoom was helpful in allowing the facilitator to keep track of the conversation, and to ensure that everyone was able to contribute. It was also important to have offered data top-ups for young people who otherwise would be excluded from participating.
Reaching out to youth organisations to reach young people was really helpful. There are so many brilliant organisations who work with young people from so many different walks of life, which such varied reach and expertise; making use of these networks and forming new connections with these organisations was really important, and something the team would definitely do again in future.
Participants were generally engaged in discussions. Something that helped this was really carefully considered questions for each group – a clear, well thought-out question makes all the difference in terms of enabling a young person feel comfortable in answering. There were also more questions than needed, enabling facilitators to skip any that weren’t engaging.
One young person emailed after the session to say it had made a big difference to hear the experience of other young carers, and know that they are not alone in how tough they are finding the pandemic.
Thank you for having me in the zoom call, it was very good to talk about how it’s been and hear that I’m not alone in the way I’ve been feeling and the way things have been.
Participant in focus group for young carers
If [SYP] weren’t so kind to give us a top up I wouldn’t have been able to make [this focus group]. [Without credit] you lose access to friends, family and support networks. I get 4GB of data to last a month. That’s one Zoom call and it’s gone.
Participant in focus group for young people with experience in the criminal justice system
In future, the team may reach out to even more organisations to help raise awareness of the opportunity. Although the focus groups were really valuable, they would like to have seen more young people represented.
Zoom doesn’t work for everyone. It can be scary for a young person to join a Zoom call with strangers. In future, the team may be more proactive in offering additional methods including phone calls, or written responses to questions in their own time.
The term ‘focus group’ can sound a bit too intense. It would be great to think of some more youth-friendly words that make it sound like a casual chat, which is really what the format was.
Kirstie Morrow, Participation and Training Officer, Scottish Youth Parliament
Image credit: Scottish Youth Parliament, YouthLink Scotland, Young Scot