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Taking a youth-led approach to evaluating community based mental health services

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By SYP’s Mental Health Investigation Team – Alannah Logue MSYP, Amy Winter MSYP, Felix Schofield MSYP, Kaydence Drayak MSYP, Millie Wright MSYP, Sam Webster MSYP, Ellie Craig MSYP, Beau Johnston MSYP and Abbie Wright MSYP.

Children and young people in Scotland are undoubtedly facing a mental health crisis, which has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this issue, and reduce the pressure on CAMHS waiting lists, the Scottish Government made a commitment to improve the support available for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. A key way they did this was by allocating £15 million per year for local authorities to deliver community mental health and wellbeing supports and services for 5-24 year olds and their families. This funding began in January 2021.

In April 2022, SYP was asked by the Scottish Government to carry out an independent evaluation of the supports and services that received this funding. The aim of this evaluation was to determine how effective this investment was in supporting children and young people’s mental wellbeing, and to identify areas where change may be required to better support children, young people, and their families across Scotland. To carry out this evaluation, the Scottish Youth Parliament set up a Mental Health Investigation Team made up of seven MSYPs.

We had our first meeting, in person, in May 2022, where we participated in team-building activities and information sessions which helped us understand the scope of the evaluation. We also worked with Steven from Evaluation Support Scotland to develop the research aims and objectives, and did training with Elaine from Children in Scotland to explore our approach to engaging with children and younger young people.

We met online weekly between June and August 2022, where we were supported to create an evaluation framework, develop survey questions for the survey we sent to service users and their parents and carers, and design plans for the focus groups we carried out with the children, young people, and families who used the community-based supports and services. A second in-person meeting took place in late July, where we received child protection and staying safe training, took part in a wellbeing workshop, finalised the focus group plans, and practiced skills we would need to prepare for visits to services around Scotland.

We then moved on to the focus group period of the investigation. Between 18th August and 3rd September 2022, members of the Mental Health Investigation Team facilitated eleven focus groups and interviews with children, young people and parents and carers in six different local authorities across the country. As well as leading each session, we were supported to take notes and reflect on the sessions afterwards, to ensure what we had heard could be used in the data collection and analysis phase of the evaluation.

Following the data collection period, we met in Aberdeen on 3rd September 2022 to carry out a thematic analysis of the survey and focus group findings, where we categorised the responses into groups of similar responses to find what the frequently occurring themes were. During this session we received training on coding and identifying important information to help us write our initial recommendations. These were presented to the Scottish Government in autumn 2022, and then we worked together to finalise our report, which we are excited to publish today.

From our analysis of the data we collected, we identified recurring issues reported to us by the service users and providers and used these to form the recommendations in our report. These recommendations are actions we hope the Scottish Government will take to make sure children and young people, and their families receive a consistent level of support for their mental health and wellbeing across Scotland.

As is the case with of all our work at SYP, Article 12 of the UNCRC was at the core of this evaluation.

Article 12 states that all children and young people have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them, and those views should be listened to and taken seriously by decision makers. The Mental Health Investigation Team was a perfect example of how this right can be well respected.

The users of these community based mental health supports and services are children and young people so, in accordance with Article 12, it should be young people that lead the research on their effectiveness and make decisions on how they should be improved. This allows for authentic youth voice and ensures that adults will not inaccurately represent the views of young people.

The MSYPs involved in this project led the evaluation at every level, from designing the evaluation framework and research approach, to carrying out the data gathering and analysis, and ensuring our report effectively represented our findings and made the correct recommendations to the Scottish Government.

Having young people lead this work also allowed this work to become a peer-led review, which created a safer and more comfortable space for children and young people to share their experiences than if a team of adults were to carry out this evaluation.

The fact that this process was youth-led allowed us as a team of young people to develop and learn so many valuable skills too, particularly concerning evaluating and reporting, which will be incredibly useful in other areas of our lives.

The Mental Health Investigation Team would like to say a huge thank you to all the children, young people, parents and carers, service providers and local authorities who took part in our research. We would also like to thank Steven (Evaluation Support Scotland), Elaine and Parisa (Children in Scotland), and the SYP staff team for all your support and encouragement throughout the project.

We have loved carrying out this project together and putting in the time and effort to form these recommendations and this report. We are looking forward to seeing what action the Scottish Government takes on these recommendations and how doing this will improve the future of mental health support for children, young people and their families across Scotland.

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