During the Covid-19 crisis, the Maison des adolescents (Teenager House) in Strasbourg managed to keep in contact with young people. This organization, dedicated to helping 11 to 25-year-olds, recruited a brigade of ambassadors who took to social media. An experiment to be repeated!
Settled into her studio apartment Marine, who recently received a diploma in psychology, tells us about the project. “Adèle, who is 19 years old, subscribed to my Instagram account in mid-April, in the middle of lockdown. I soon noticed that she was following me closely, that she “liked” my stories and my posts…One morning, in a comment she made it clear that she was in a bad way. I suggested that we continue the conversation in private messaging and she was able to tell me her whole story in complete confidentially.” At 19, Adèle was obliged to move back in with her parents during lockdown. It didn’t go well, and reignited simmering conflicts. This led to her staying in her room and refusing to eat, to the point that she would faint. “We talked for a long time. I was able to make her understand that she wasn’t alone, and get her to go to the Maison des Adolescents (MDA), where a youth worker [took care of her/worked with her] via online video sessions.”
At 22 years old, Marine Meny, is not much older than Adèle. But their meeting was not by chance – Marine is one of MDAs “ambassadors.” Part of a team of 20 student volunteers, she maintained a presence on social media during lockdown, with the aim of informing and helping young people. The idea was put into action as an emergency measure during the Covid-19 crisis, but it had been in the works for some time. “Actually, we had been thinking about this challenge for a while: how to reach young adults who are suffering, yet invisible, sometimes in rural areas or not daring to approach organizations like ours,” explains Delphine Rideau, director of MDA. “The response was obvious – to go to where they are, that is, on social media! When the Maison had to close in mid-March, and all our services went to remote working and remote consultations…we had to take action very quickly.”
Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok: new spaces for sharing and being heard
With support from Fondation de France, MDA’s team recruited some 25 young people, students in psychology (like Marine), nursing and social work – all contacted via Facebook groups! They set up a framework that included creating and deploying profiles explicitly linked to MDA on the favorite networks of the 12 to 25-year-old age group: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Discord and TikTok. They also communicated regularly, posting content, exchanging with followers, joining groups – in short, developing a digital social life with their community. “These exchanges aim to both inform, entertain, and prevent, especially by making it easier to identify at-risk situations,” explains Claire Rieffel, psychologist at MDA and head of the project.
Be yourself to be with others
Sharing information about protective measures, organizing “lockdown challenges,” conducting polls on feelings and life in general under lockdown, sharing music, recipes, travel photos, beauty tips – the ambassadors made use of a wide range of content, depending on individual interests and sensibilities. “On social media, authenticity is the measure of success. So there was no question of industrializing the project with a uniform community management model,” notes Claire Rieffel. “Each ambassador expressed their own feelings. On the other hand, it was essential that the ambassadors to share their experiences. Each one was monitored by an advisor, and twice a week we would get together in groups of eight via videoconference to talk about our methods, our results, our feelings.”
Informal contact… and emergency situations
The project made it possible to reach out to over 200 young people, mostly in the Strasbourg region. Most managed to get through this period without major difficulties. They found the Maison des Adolescents and can tell others about it and come back in the future if need be. But some serious situations were also detected, “like two young girls who turned out to be victims of sexual abuse in their families, where we were able to alert the authorities,” recalls Delphine Rideau. “Without this program, it is possible that they would not have been saved. Thankfully, overall young people withstood the situation relatively well. But for some, lockdown, then the end of lockdown, revealed latent frailties, especially states of anxiety and stress about school.”
Since June, in-person services have progressively started back up and the team has reduced from 23 to 13 ambassadors. Yet the program proved its effectiveness and a new “class” of young ambassadors will be recruited in September to keep the project going until at least the end of the year. “And a new phase is starting, that of replication and dissemination of this experiment,” stresses Mélanie Hubault, head of the Young People’s Health Program, which followed and supported this project. “When it comes to helping young people, the issue of listening and giving carers an online presence applies everywhere! Today, with MDA Strasbourg, we are thinking about how to make this an ongoing project. For example, by integrating it into training syllabi, with nursing and social work schools and with the psychology departments of universities in the Grand Est region…and maybe beyond. This exemplary initiative must not be a one-time event!”
MDA, a multidisciplinary approach to adolescence
The Maisons des Adolescents are care facilities for young people. Created at the French Conference on the Family in 2004, the 84 MDAs spread throughout the country serve 11 to 25-year-olds and their families and respond to issues related to adolescence (early school leaving, questions about sexuality, addiction, etc.) A multidisciplinary organization, MDAs also offer spaces for discussion and resources for all professionals concerned, in the form of meetings, symposiums and training.
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