The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a range of inequalities and exacerbated the vulnerbilities experienced by many young people, according to new research published today.

A review of the response by the Youth Work sector to the Pandemic found that "those most at risk were most disconnected".

The report, commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland, found that access to technology and digital poverty were amongst the challenges faced, along with safeguarding concerns as many services moved online.

Speaking at virtual launch this afternoon Mary Cunningham, CEO of NYCI, said " 12 March will be forever etched in my brain, the day life as we knew it would never be the same".

She said youth workers were thrown in at the deep end and embarked on a steep learning curve to support young people and their families.

The NYCI commissioned researchers Deborah Erwin and Lorraine Thompson to review the response of the youth sector to the pandemic between 12 March and 12 June.

The research found that young people who were already deemed 'most at risk' became the most disconnected from youth services and supports.

Of 256 services surveyed, 14% were unable to provide a service during lockdown, impacting on approximately 6,900 young people.

The report found there was a drop of 70% in the number of young people accessing the services.

59% of the services surveyed had experienced a reduction in the number of young people with whom they engaged, with figures falling from 59,822 to 18,391.

Only eight projects saw an increase in engagement in virtual activities during the pandemic.

Mary Cunningham said the huge effort made by those in the sector came at a significant cost.

"In terms of exhaustion, emotional labour, stress, unhealthy work/life boundaries, isolation from colleagues, challenges with regard to poor broadband connectivity and digital poverty, and safeguarding concerns.

She said: "What is important now is for the youth sector to get into a stronger position to meet the current and emerging needs of young people in the face of challenges arising from the pandemic."