Keeping young people connected during COVID-19: the role of online groups.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on young people, disrupting education, routines, hobbies and peer interactions and there is concern for longer term effects on physical and mental health outcomes. Young people living with chronic health conditions face additional challenges including reduced or no face-to-face contact with medical teams, shielding and the increased stressors of being in ‘at-risk’ groups and social isolation. In a climate of social isolation and disconnectedness, online groups could provide a method of delivering healthcare and support that strengthens social connectedness and reduces isolation. Despite the technology being available, uptake and evidence for online groups is limited. This article shares learnings from a paediatric and adolescent psychology service delivering online groups for young people with chronic health conditions and their healthcare teams. Ideas for how to transfer group process to online platforms are considered, with examples and tips. With sufficient staffing, preparation, thought, creativity and innovation, it is possible for face-to-face groups to successfully be offered online. Caution should be exercised trying to run online groups without these provisions in place, as the safety, comfort and experience of young people could be jeopardised. Further research is needed to better understand group processes online and to consider what is lost and what is gained when comparing online to face-to-face groups.

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Authors: Halina Flannery, Sara Portnoy, Xeni Daniildi, Chandrika Kambakara Gedara, Gina Korchak, Danielle Lambert, James McParland, Lara Payne, Tania Salvo, Charlotte Valentino, Deborah Christie