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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Education Authority survey finds food poverty one of main teen concerns in NI

Food poverty is among the main concerns listed by young people in a far-reaching survey carried out by the Education Authority.

Speaking at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council”s Community Planning Committee on Monday evening, Francis Loughlin, senior youth officer, told councillors the survey involved 520 teenagers from the borough and 1,100 overall.

Other issues highlighted, he said, include self-image/fitting in; sexual gender identity; drugs and alcohol; vaping; pressure to achieve at school; under-achieving at school; emotional health and well-being; employment opportunities, accreditation opportunities and training.

There were also concerns over feeling unsafe in certain areas; pressure to get involved in drugs and alcohol; peer pressure; social media and paramilitarism.

Environmental factors were reported such as fly-tipping, litter and food waste; vape smoke; trees being felled and traffic noise.

The  regional assessment of need, regional youth development plan and funding opportunities are to be launched on November 25.

Youth Service says these issues will be addressed through programmes or services to deal with mental health issues; relationship programmes and support with “positive coping mechanisms”; self-care events and days away, trips and residentials with emotional health and well-being to feature in all programmes.

Other initiatives include career guidance and support with school work/homework; resilience development and life and employment skills training and provision of safe places to relax with friends.

Antrim and Newtownabbey has the highest number of referrals to children’s mental health services in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

Board members heard recently that one in eight children and young people in the Northern Trust area has an emotional disorder such as anxiety or depression which is 25 per cent higher than in England.

One in six children and young people in the Northern Trust has an eating disorder.

In July, there were 689 children on the waiting list with the Trust receiving referrals at a rate of 112 per month with a “majority” from the Antrim and Newtownabbey area and Rathcoole, “one of the highest areas” of referral.

Commenting on the current financial situation, Mr Loughlin said although the Youth Service budget is “ring-fenced”, it can still be impacted by spending in the education sector.

However he stressed the Education Authority’s priority at this stage is to “support and protect core youth services that will focus on providing safe spaces for children and young people”.

He advised: “Anything that is added value or targeted is additional and will not be considered in the funding round until a budget position for 2023-2024 is established.

“In order to ensure EA Youth Service is agile and responsive to emerging need, there will be ongoing stakeholder engagement to establish if funding opportunities are required.

“We will also continue to develop links with local voluntary groups to build their capacity to apply for and deliver youth services.”


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