- IVAR, (2014)
Current policies largely focus on statutory services – for health and in schools – yet the benefits extend into other practice areas and community settings.
Relational youth work helps young people with depression and anxiety, in particular when long waiting times for clinical interventions still persist; and through one-to-one or group sessions and social action can be used to address many psychologically based issues such as self-harming, body image and eating disorders.
The need for multi-agency approaches and professional networks is apparent for mental health. How youth work is embedded in services and how youth services are included in local partnerships is critical. Right Here by the Mental Health Foundation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation (2014) focused on young people’s mental health (as opposed to mental illness) and involved young people in the development and delivery of youth services in accessible community settings.
Right Here mainstreamed youth participation across other services; building mental health awareness into young people’s courses as standard; embedding youth-led evaluation for statutory mental health services and continuing to pursue gains made in efforts to influence local public sector commissioners and providers.
Activities were delivered across a range of contexts, including rural, minority ethnic groups and high poverty areas. Activities were both broad and more universal such as, rock climbing, film and drama groups. Some focussed on specific groups such as young mothers, specialist LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) support and anger management courses. There was also a blend between one-to-one work and group work. Ultimately the activities included an element of reflective practice around mental health awareness and were defined by input from young people in each locality and their specific needs. Best practice was that young people set the parameters and focus of activities and for youth workers to operate within those parameters.
Cross-sector working was a stipulation of Right Here between the voluntary and community sector (VCS), local authority and health bodies. Some places had existing partnerships and others had to form them. The evaluation concluded that stipulating partnerships on a programme basis was often not helpful, but that in those areas where partnerships already existed, and organisations had a history of joint working to fall back on the programmes had a better resilience to external circumstances. Partnership working was also improved due to the funders and partners being committed to a long-term approach and working together.
Having a partnership brought the specialism of each sector to the table with distinct benefits. Critical to the success was having highly experienced and skilled youth workers who were conversant with practice and theory and could therefore interpret mental health approaches and take forward the initiative’s ambitions. This allowed youth workers to apply a new lens through which to understand the needs of young people by assimilating these approaches into their own reflective practice.
It states: “When young people described a transformational experience… the magic ingredient had been the quality of the relationships the young people had made with the youth or other key worker.”
The benefits were numerous including raised mental health awareness, self-confidence and handling distress and anger. Responding to the challenges and opportunities, there were strengthened relationships with family and friends through reflection on mental health, as well as feeling more connected to society and pursuing wider opportunities in education.
Implications for practice
- A local youth partnership between sectors can ensure a stronger offer to young people; partnerships already in place should be supported. Where such funding and partnerships are well developed, it can help shelter a programme from challenging external circumstances.
- When young people help create a service, it has a better chance of achieving its aims by being relevant to their context and needs. Skilled youth workers are better able to adapt their practice according to need.
- An honest relationship between funders and providers offers a solid basis for implementing change during the lifetime of any programme. The longer the period of funding the more flexible and resilient the programme can be.
- Best practice was that young people set the focus of activities and for youth workers to operate within these parameters.