Adapting to new challenges: Lessons from a pandemic

2020 was a challenging and transformative year for Khulisa, the young people we work with, and the charity sector as a whole. 

Covid-19 compounded an already critical situation for young people, bringing into focus inequalities that existed long before the pandemic between children from different backgrounds, as well as a worsening situation for young people’s mental health. Despite an increased demand for our services, social distancing measures meant that we could no longer deliver services in prisons and in most schools. 

Even with these challenges, we took swift action to mitigate further risks and to adapt our delivery model to ensure we can continue to reach young people. 

Supporting young people digitally

Given young people’s growing need for support during the pandemic, we moved quickly to adapt our programmes to online delivery, developing new digital safeguarding and privacy protection processes, as well as a suite of digital programmes and supporting toolkits. 

Through these services we provided support during lockdown to 50 young people and over 2,000 professionals (6 times more than we reached in the entirety of the preceding twelve months). 

"It was a fun and enjoyable experience that allowed all of us to express anything we might want on the topics discussed with no fear of being judged" - Ruby 16

The first suite of resources we created was a five week series of webinars for young people. At a time when they could not access support elsewhere, we gave young people:

  • A trusted professional to talk to: Relationships with trusted adults are critical and the most protective factor for a young person's mental health. When young people needed us most, our facilitators were there to support them.
  • Access to a safe space: At a time when young people were unable to access much needed support, we were there to give them a space to share, create and actively process thoughts, feelings and concerns that might otherwise turn into inappropriate or challenging behaviours.
  • Support using creative techniques: Arts based activities help improve young people’s capacity to communicate effectively with others, exercise empathy and work in collaboration with others in group settings.
  • An opportunity to connect with others: This support was especially important for young people who sustained trauma, felt excluded, had disorganised attachment and felt very vulnerable at this time. Group sessions allowed them to understand their unmet needs, fears and hopes, and enabled them to self-regulate more effectively.

When we asked young people what our webinars helped them most with they said:

  • 50% said our webinars helped them develop their communication skills.
  • 54% said the webinars helped them feel more connected during a time of lockdown.
  • 63% reported it increased their confidence in their ability to bounce back from problems.

During the pandemic we have found the content of our programmes more relevant to young people than ever. The importance of being trauma informed has never been more essential, as all young people (and the adults who support them) have now experienced a period of significant adversity.

To support our webinars, we created a suite of digital toolkits containing practical tools for improving wellbeing during lockdown and managing the transition back to school. As our participants in prisons were unable to access our wellbeing webinars, we also sent these self-guided toolkits to help them look after their wellbeing.

Creating nurturing environments around young people

Our extensive experience has taught us that unless we create nurturing environments around our young people, (to which trusted adults are key), the long term effect of our intervention will be limited.  

The pandemic meant that education professionals, who were already under pressure, were facing bigger challenges from the crisis, whilst being even more concerned with the welfare of their vulnerable pupils. 

To support the professionals around the young people we work with, we also developed a suite of digital webinars aimed at equipping them with the tools and knowledge to improve their personal resilience and wellbeing, while supporting the wellbeing of the young people they work with.

“This course gave me a greater understanding of how individuals respond to stress and the suitable courses of actions I could adopt. I found the discussion on what we could do [as teachers] to help students deal with their anxieties upon their return to school most helpful.” - English teacher, Rooks Heath College, Harrow

Outcomes from the resilience webinars: 

  • 94% of professionals reported that the resilience webinars helped them recognise the thoughts and feelings that indicate they are losing resilience;
  • 96% of professionals said the webinars helped them identify how to shift their thoughts and feelings to gain a greater sense of control over their own state;
  • 94.2% said the webinar helped them recognise and validate their own strengths.

As with our resources for young people, we also created a resources hub for parents and professionals to help them manage their own wellbeing, and learn new ways of expressing emotions safely with young people. These resources were accessed more than 2,000 times by parents and professionals across the country. 

Challenges with online delivery

At a time when young people were unable to access other forms of support, our webinars made wellbeing support more accessible. However, digital delivery is not without its own challenges. 

The digital exclusion of our target demographic was one major challenge we experienced. Many of the young people we typically work with were unable to access our online webinars due to lack of internet or hardware access. The young people we work with in prisons were unable to benefit from the webinars at all. 

Other young people struggled with space as they often shared their rooms with siblings and other family members. This made it difficult for them to fully engage with the programme. 

Another development we noticed was that we were engaging with a different participant profile. The majority of participants referred to our face to face programmes are done so because of their disruptive behaviour. Young people who joined our online programmes were more likely to struggle with anxiety and low self-esteem, and sometimes be neuro-diverse. Our digital programmes allowed us to better support this participant group.


Despite this, moving forward, digital content will likely support our face to face work with young people rather than replace it completely. We believe that young people, and the therapists who work with them, get more out of support that utilises more direct human contact, as well as interactive methods to help young people to express their emotions and learn how to look after their wellbeing. However, we are excited to take away key insights from our digital programmes, and use them to enhance our future programmes.

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