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Participation of children and young people overshadowed by pandemic management in the Nordic countries

COVID-19 and the restrictive measures taken to curb the pandemic brought children and young people’s daily lives to a standstill, limiting their ability to influence their choices in schooling, leisure time and welfare services. The new report, published on Thursday March 9, examines how Nordic national and regional authorities managed to ensure children’s and young people’s right to participate and to have a say in all matters concerning them during the pandemic. The report explores the consequences on both education and leisure time.

The study was based on experts interviews in spring 2022, as well as online searches and documents from public authorities across the Nordic countries, including Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.. The study focuses on school-aged children and older youth up to 25 years of age. Particular attention was paid to groups of children and young people in vulnerable life situations. 

The Finnish Youth Research Network carried out a study with VIVE – The Danish Center for Social Science Research (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.). The aim of the Nordic cooperation was to identify different measures to promote the participation of children and young people particularly in the areas of education and leisure at the time of a crisis such as the pandemic. The study, commissioned by the Nordic Welfare Centre (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.), aimed to shed light on on the right of children and young people to participate and have influence, and their opportunities to do soat the time of the pandemic. Key studies have been identified in a second report, which will be published in late spring 2023. 

According to expert interviews, the pandemic has posed challenges for children and young people. The crisis highlighted the importance of parental support, and this led to a range of equity issues. For the already vulnerable, the pandemic was particularly difficult. Long periods of distance learning have been challenging for secondary schools and higher education pupils. Although the Nordic countries have a good digital infrastructure, not all pupils had the necessary equipment for distance learning. For students in vocational training, it was difficult and sometimes even impossible to do their training remotely. Social services for children and young people were undermined when staff were deployed to manage the coronal epidemic. Restrictions on hobbies also had a major impact on children’s meaningful leisure and development.

Crisis preparedness was often weak for children and young people. In the acute phase of the pandemic, decisions often had to be made quickly and behind closed doors. Young people were often consulted only after decisions were already made. During the crisis, children and young people were talked over and decisions were often taken without much assessment of the impact on children. The crisis was handled with health safety first and without taking into account other rights of children and young people.

Crisis can be a opportunity for learning

The pandemic era taught us the importance of listening to children and young people at different levels of decision-making. There is a need for a diversity of consultation methods, including different forms of participatory and creative consultation. Child-centred hearing can take the form of looking, for example: it may be easier for younger people to express their views, for example through pictures. Young people should be reached in conducive environments, such as social media. Press conferences and hearing sessions for children and young people were organised at different stages of the pandemic, for example in schools. There is also the possibility to make young people’s voices heard through the youth councils. Vulnerable children and young people can also be reached through various associations.

The pandemic has shown the importance of listening to children and young people and involving them in decision-making. The report concludes with a summary of the measures identified in the study to increase the involvement of children and young people in times of crisis. The project will publish a second report in summer 2023. The results of the study will be presented at the Nordic youth – voices on wellbeing webinar (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.) on 27 April 2023.

The project is commissioned by the Nordic Committee for Children and Young People (NORDBUK). The Nordic Council of Ministers’ strategy for children and young people in the Nordic Region (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.) (Lapset ja nuoret Pohjolassa in Finnish) aims to create good living conditions for children and young people and to empower them. In line with the strategy, this project promotes the right of children and young people to participate and be heard in all matters that concern them.

Publication details

Children and young peoples participation -kirjan etukansi.

Children and Young People’s Participation During the Corona Pandemic – Nordic Initiatives
Alix Helfer, Sinikka Aapola-Kari, and Jakob Trane Ibsen (eds.)

For more information on the project, see the Nordic Welfare Centre’s website: Nordic Cooperation on Children and Young People’s Opportunities for Participation and Development During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.).

More information

Researcher Alix Helfer

Research Director Sinikka Aapola-Kari

Alix Helfer

Master of Social Sciences
+358 44 493 1441

Profile of the researcher

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