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Health and wellbeing

Creating the right environment for support

A father and his young son play together in the park. The father holds his son's hands as he walks along a fallen tree trunk.

Reports show that the climate emergency is impacting children across the UK both physically and mentally. In our latest blog, Sarah Parker, Research and Development Officer at Catch22, delves further into these statistics, the effects that climate change could have on our young people, and why Catch22 believes that action is needed.

Catch22 is unlike many charities. We operate as a social business rather than using the traditional charity model which is dependent on fundraising from the general public. We design and deliver a range of public services for children, young people and adults. When I explain what we do, people sometimes find it difficult to get their heads round:

“So, you work in prisons, and alternative education, and child exploitation, and employability?”

Well… yes! Our vision is a strong society where everyone has a good place to live, a purpose and good people around them – we call these our ‘3Ps’. We know that all of these things are necessary for people to overcome difficult events and factors in their life and move towards a positive future.

Creating the right environment for support

My work within Catch22 is specifically with services that support children, young people and families. These services are all about creating a better world for young people- safer, kinder, full of opportunities. These young people have usually been referred to us because they are undergoing difficult experiences right now. Our job at that point is holding hope for the future.

This means:

  • offering bespoke, trauma-informed support – support such as the mental health offer at The Hive, or Hampshire 24/7 young people’s substance misuse service, or The Wave which supports young people who have experienced care, as well as support like our child exploitation services from Kent to Merseyside or our national County Lines Support & Rescue Service,
  • developing appropriate educational provision to meet children’s needs, like our Include provision for young people facing a wide range of complex barriers to education, and
  • focusing on young people’s future prospects, providing the training and skills they will need to secure meaningful and fulfilling employment through programmes like the ClickStart creative digital programmes in Bath and Durham, or our Manchester Career Hive service for care-experienced young adults.

It also means working at policy level to effect systems change, such as our Catch22 manifesto – ‘Reimagining Public Services’, our work highlighting online harms, or our call to government alongside the children’s coalition for a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation

And, it means ensuring young people’s voices are at the heart of everything we do through groups such as our Young People’s Benchmarking Forum.

Changing climate

That said, there is one (endangered) elephant in the room… one more element that we seldom think about in our sector: the climate emergency.

Even if we were to succeed in creating systems change: in radically improving the support for children and families; in securing world-class mental health provision; in realising the ambition of ‘Stable homes, built on love’… What kind of world would the next generation inherit?

Without urgent action, large parts of the globe will be almost uninhabitable, leading to vastly increased migration and consequent political instability and conflict.

Climate change and health: what is the link?

Some of these numbers and facts are hard to take in, so let’s also look at the personal impact on children in the UK.

A report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found that:

  • 49% of survey participants aged 16 to 25 were either very worried or extremely worried about climate change.
  • More than half of all the young people questioned felt that humanity was doomed.

The RCPCH press release talks of ‘a staggering rise in eco-anxiety among younger generations.’ Little wonder that about 1 in every 5 children and young people aged 8 to 25 years had a probable mental disorder in the UK in 2023 if this is how they feel about their world.

And it’s not just their mental health that is suffering. The former president of the RCPCH, Dr. Camilla Kingdon, states air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health – something to which children are especially vulnerable.

The structural inequalities of climate change

Dr. Kingdon also points out that the effects of the climate emergency are not experienced equally:

“Every child is at grave risk of the effects of our changing climate, but none more so than children in lower-income families. These children are facing an increased mortality risk from extreme weather events, exacerbated respiratory conditions from dirty air and even increased rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity.”

If we are really offering these children and young people a brighter future, surely we need to address every aspect of the disadvantage, risk and harm they are experiencing? Climate change is contributing to these. As a charity, our mission is to tackle structural inequalities, so I don’t see how we can ignore climate change.

A journey

It can be hard for organisations, who are already dealing with a challenging funding landscape, shifting political priorities, and the multiplicity of social and technological issues young people face, to accept we need to tackle yet another thing. But without thinking about the environment, I believe the positive impact we can have for young people will be significantly diminished.

At Catch22, we are on a journey towards becoming a more sustainable and environmentally-aware organisation. We have a growing portfolio of services preparing young people for careers in the green sector. We have just recruited a Sustainability Coordinator to help us reduce our carbon footprint, and our service audits involve considering our environmental impact.

And if we take it back to our 3Ps…

  • Working to combat environmental degradation will most obviously help create good places to live.
  • It will also give young people a greater sense of hope and purpose.
  • And, in showing we care about them and every aspect of their future, we can be the people who support them to a more positive future.

– Sarah Parker, Research and Development Officer at Catch22