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Students can be vulnerable adults too

News reports this week confirmed the tragic deaths of four young people in the North East, reportedly as a result of drug use. Last week the news was dominated by the impact of Covid 19 lockdowns on student communities, and speculation that they themselves were the cause of it through partying behaviour. Some young people are beginning to question whether the whole university experience was worth the effort, and whether they are getting value for money as ‘customers’ of higher education. A regular topic for this column is how young people can quickly become unfairly blamed or demonised for the various ills of society and the current campus Covid environment has produced a perfect storm for those who feel that this was all too predictable.

Leaving aside Government policy, and the emotion generated by headlines that suggested at one point that students might be prevented from returning home at Christmas, how can we as a church community support young people who arguably find themselves as ‘vulnerable adults’ if only for a short period and in a general sense? Our safeguarding advice and guidance references how we can all be vulnerable at various critical points in our lives although the threshold for statutory intervention will normally preclude referral unless the concern is sustained and places the adult at potential high risk of harm. So being prevented from mixing or partying, spending time in quarantine, receiving food parcels and being taught online may not in themselves seem to be that significant to many but the collective impact on emotional wellbeing may be more profound if the situation continues for some time, and will we see more deadly consequences of over-indulgent behaviour? We pray not.

Sadly this column cannot provide an instant menu of practical advice and guidance to anxious parents or educational institutions, but the compelling community narrative ought to be more about support, engagement and understanding the context of young adult aspiration and ambition being temporarily impeded. Child psychology theories stress the importance of strong early attachments to promote wellbeing. If our young people become disconnected with the norms of student life at this early stage, the long term consequences may be a future challenge.

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