Findings Launched on Impact of Youth Work Low-Level Mental Health Support in Schools
In a research study, launched at an event on Thursday 9 November, evaluation has found that young people taking part in the Low-Level Mental Health Support Project in Dumfries and Galloway benefit by developing skills for wellbeing, increased confidence and self-esteem - and building improved attitudes about and attendance at school.
Dumfries and Galloway Council's Youth Work Service and Educational Psychology Service jointly deliver the project, providing young people with access to low-level mental health support in schools across Dumfries and Galloway.
In 2022, YouthLink Scotland (Scotland's national agency for youth work), Northern Star and the University of St Andrews were commissioned to conduct an external, independent evaluation of the impact of Dumfries and Galloway Council's Youth Work Service providing the Low Level Mental Health Support Project in schools across the region.
The aim of the evaluation was to answer two key questions - what impact the Low-Level Mental Health in Schools Project has on young people, and how that impact was achieved.
The findings of the year-long research study highlight the complex issues and challenges faced by young people, and deterioration of their wellbeing that led to the need for this project. Issues included difficulties at home or in relationships, caring responsibilities, substance abuse, low confidence and self-esteem, risk-taking behaviour, anger management issues, behaviour in school, bereavement, anxiety, stress, and low mood.
The evaluation documented in the study also found that the project gave young people the opportunity to learn how to open up and share feelings, develop self-awareness, and learn coping strategies and tools - and to feel listed to.
The study shows that the project has been able to successfully achieve these impacts on young people through two key features. Using a youth work approach, youth people were able to develop a relationship with a youth worker - they have regular, frequent and consistent contact with their worker in a safe space, and the sessions are carried out with consideration for what is important to and for each young person. Complementing the youth work approach, counselling skills were used that included discussion and self-exploration, being solution focused, and developing coping strategies and healthy relationships.
Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council's Education and Learning Committee, Richard Brodie said of the research:
"Dumfries and Galloway Council is committed to ensuring that young people get the right support at the right time. The Low Level Mental Health in Schools Project was successfully piloted over a two-year period across all 16 secondary schools in the region before expanding its offer and reach to young people from 2020 onwards. The initiative has worked with thousands of young people over the last five years and in 2022, YouthLink Scotland, Northern Star and University of St Andrews were commissioned to carry out an external, independent evaluation of the programme. This research evidences the impact of the project and highlights the challenges facing many of our young people throughout Dumfries and Galloway. We have adopted a person-centred approach to supporting young people's mental health and well-being and this report demonstrates the effectiveness of the Low Level Mental Health in Schools Project model."
The research findings launch will provide professionals and their organisations key insights moving forward and reinforces the fundamental role that this project plays within our local communities - and the significant and life changing impacts it is having on our young people.
Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council's Communities Committee, Ian Blake said:
"The Low Level Mental Health in Schools Project is an excellent example of innovative partnership working between the Youth Work Service and Educational Psychology. This collaborative approach has ensured the success of the project throughout the implementation, delivery and monitoring phases. Dumfries and Galloway Council is immensely proud of the work undertaken by the Youth Information Workers across the secondary schools and wider youth work team, and lead officers with oversight responsibility. With the project expanding its reach during the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership was able to adapt to the needs of young people at pace, ensuring young people were able to be supported across the length and breadth of Dumfries and Galloway."
Tim Frew, Chief Executive of YouthLink Scotland said:
"To see a Scotland where all young people flourish, we first need to address why so many young people feel sad, lonely, and struggle with their mental wellbeing - and then seek new models of practice to support them. The Low Level Mental Health in Schools Project demonstrates the effectiveness and impact of combining a youth work and counselling skills approach through an effective partnership of the Youth Work Service, Educational Psychology and schools. This research is a welcome addition to an increasingly strong evidence base that demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of youth work as a preventive approach, stopping more acute intervention down the line. More investment in models such as this across Scotland is required."
Dr Amy Calder, Senior Policy & Research Officer, YouthLink Scotland said:
"This research demonstrates that by combining a youth work approach with counselling skills, schools can secure much improved outcomes for their young people - both educationally and in terms of wellbeing. Research on the impact of youth work can and does play an important role in shaping effective policy for Scotland's young people and cannot be ignored by decision makers. The model in place in Dumfries and Galloway can act as a blueprint for local authorities across Scotland, hugely increasing the quality of support available for school-age young people, which could be critical given the widely documented challenges young people face today in terms of mental wellbeing."
Dr Andrew James Williams, Senior Lecturer and Co-Director for the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, University of Edinburgh said:
"Our survey of secondary schools in Dumfries and Galloway demonstrated that, compared to previous generations, more young people are experiencing challenges not only with their physical and mental health, but also family, friends, and school. This innovative collaboration between youth work and educational psychology is helping to meet this need and is being accessed by young people from a variety of circumstances. New collaborative practices like this are needed to support the health of our young people."
Kelly McInnes, Director, Northern Star said:
"The stories from young people who have used the service show how providing young people with a safe space to talk staffed by skilled youth workers makes a real difference in young people's lives. The project combines a youth work approach with counselling skills and enables young people to access consistent, tailored support which helps them develop skills to improve their mental health and wellbeing and navigate difficult times in their lives. This is a hugely important service in these times."
Paper copies can be picked up from the Oasis Youth Centre, Newall Terrace, Dumfries.