Young Australians have been disproportionately disadvantaged by the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response and urgent support is needed, a new report says.
Children and young people are the “forgotten heroes” of the pandemic and while many aspects of their lives were significantly impacted, including education, social development and mental health, they were not adequately supported.
A University of Sydney taskforce has called for a review of pandemic response plans and how moves such as school closures affected the young.
“Children and young people have sacrificed enormously to keep their parents and grandparents from harm for over two years now,” taskforce co-chair Mark Rigotti said.
“Their lack of a public voice meant their needs were often placed second to those of adults, robbing them of important life experiences and development opportunities, with potentially long-term costs to their welfare. This must not be allowed to happen again.”
In a report titled The Great Australian Renovation, Mr Rigotti and other experts and leaders from across business, academia and society identified areas of concern and possible solutions.
The major cause of “neglect” of children and young people was their lack of inclusion in public policy decisions that affect them, with experts saying a review is needed to determine whether school closures were effective or necessary to contain the pandemic.
“The pandemic has shown us that we must give young people a louder public voice,” Taskforce Co-Chair Tim Soutphommasane said.
“We must also make more significant investments in their needs.”
The report found trust in public health advice in Australia during the pandemic was highly variable between different segments of the population. It suggests greater transparency and discussion around public decision making to improve this.
Broad patterns of unequal treatment at the height of the pandemic were identified, based on occupation, race, ethnicity and socio-economic class.
The needs of Indigenous communities, newly-arrived families, international students, those in casual employment and others were overlooked.
The 12 recommendations include establishing a youth fund to invest strategically in children and younger Australians, focusing particularly on mental health.
A review of the role of school closures – with analysis of the educational and health costs of such decisions on children – is also suggested, along with renewing multiculturalism and anti-racism campaigns to promote social cohesion.
A 2020 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 42 per cent of people aged 13 to 17 said the pandemic and response negatively affected their social connectedness.
Psychological distress also worsened in April 2020 for those aged 18 to 24.
Additionally, the proportion of young people not in education or employment rose from 8.7 per cent in May 2019 before the pandemic to 12 per cent in May 2020.