At-risk youth and children were significantly impacted by the coronavirus crisis in 2020, with increased reports of violence and welfare, mental health and educational issues, according to an internal report by 360° – Israel's National Program for Children and Youth at Risk, Haaretz reported on Sunday.
The percentage of at-risk youth who reported a new incident of violence, sexual assault or negligence by their family almost doubled between 2018 and 2020, rising from 3.5% in 2018 to 6% in 2020.
The coronavirus lockdowns, social distancing and the closure of the education system significantly increased the distress of the children and youth, according to the report.
The percentage of at-risk youth suffering from new welfare and mental health issues also doubled, with reports of issues including anxiety, trouble sleeping, overeating or undereating, rising from 6.8% in 2018 to 14.2% in 2020, according to Haaretz.
New familial issues, including aggression, difficulties in the relationship between the child and parents, and the parents' ability to meet the child's needs, among other issues, were reported by 14.6% of youth in 2020, compared to 7.9% in 2018.
New educational issues reported by at-risk youth also nearly doubled in 2020, with 12% of them reporting new issues in 2020, compared to 6.7% in 2018. The educational issues covered in the report include behavioral issues, underachievement, including absences, involvement in studies and homework preparation, according to Haaretz.
Some 10.6% of at-risk youth experienced new issues in the social sphere, including relationships with their peers and environment, compared to just 6% in 2018. The researchers asked questions about loneliness, alienation and verbal or physical harassment. The most significant increase was noticed among adolescents.
Dr. Tal Arazi and Anna Gerasimenko from the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute based the report on questionnaires sent to professionals treating youth in the National Program for Children and Youth at Risk, collecting data from about 17,000 youth representing the approximately 60,000 youth in the program, according to Haaretz. The questionnaires were issued from November to December in 2019 and June to July in 2020, as well as in the same months in 2017 and 2018, at the points of entry into and exit from the program, to judge improvements or declines in the condition of at-risk youth.
Last year marked the first time in years that a decline in the effectiveness of the national program was reported, with 36% of youth reporting an improvement and only 12% being no longer classified as at-risk in 2020, compared to 48% who reported an improvement and 21% who were no longer classified as at-risk in 2018.
"The coronavirus has affected us all dramatically, and even more so the at-risk children and their families, as the risk has been doubled for them in all aspects. The consequences will be severe," Ahya Kamara, 360° director, told Haaretz. "In these days, the Israeli government, the partner ministries, the local authorities and all of us need to think about the day after: how to combine forces to help those children who were at risk even before the coronavirus cope with the severe aggravation of their situation in the past year."
The National Program for Children and Youth at Risk is a partnership of five government ministries led by the Labor, Welfare and Social Services Ministry for at-risk youth that operates in 185 localities with low socio-economic status and neighborhoods with low socio-economic levels in cities with over 100,000 residents.