Northern Ireland Youth Forum

Building young people’s resilience

Northern Ireland Youth Forum

What difference is HeadStart making?

What difference is HeadStart making?

Since HeadStart began in 2016, thousands of young people have received support to become more confident and resilient.

  • By summer 2019, over 131,000 young people had access to HeadStart’s universal support, including safe spaces in schools and the community, and resilience-building activities
  • Over 18,500 young people have attended at least one additional support session, such as professional guidance and counselling, or peer mentoring.
  • Young people tell us that they like taking part and believe their involvement has led, or will lead, to positive changes in their lives (Stapley, E. (2017) HeadStart Year 1: National Qualitative Evaluation Findings, Evidence Based Practice Unit, University College London)
  • School leaders think HeadStart has a positive effect on young people’s resilience as they learn essential life skills, gain self-esteem, and participate more in class. HeadStart Wolverhampton, (2016).

We’re proud of these initial achievements, but we also know that it will take time to fully evaluate the services and understand which are effective, efficient, and should be sustained in the long-term.

This programme really helped pick up a student during some dark experiences and provided them with a positive focus in life.
Teacher, Blackpool Council (2018) HeadStart annual report

Changing the way we see and respond to mental health

  • We believe that HeadStart’s focus on a whole school approach to wellbeing is starting to shift mindsets and practices in participating schools
  • HeadStart has led to a greater understanding and awareness of what resilience is and why it’s important
  • More people see mental health and wellbeing as a shared responsibility, going beyond the school pastoral team to include the whole community
  • School staff feel more confident to identify and support young people who are struggling.
I am more conscious of language used and understanding the bigger picture of each child.
Teacher, Blackpool Council (2018) HeadStart annual report

Delivering on the promise: developed for and by young people

  • Co-production has been a golden thread across all aspects of HeadStart.
  • Young people make decisions about what services should be offered and who should deliver them
  • They have their say on how the partnerships should be run and what they should look like
  • Young people deliver services. They’ve taken on roles such as peer mentors and wellbeing champions, with positive impacts on many of their peers
  • They have contributed to HeadStart research and evaluation
  • Young people have used their voices to raise awareness of issues that matter to them.
Young people have been at the centre of everything we have done… we listen to them, consult them, and give them responsibility for decision-making about what we do, and how money is spent.
HeadStart Wolverhampton (2016)

Creating a movement

  • HeadStart partnerships are working to make young people’s resilience a community-wide responsibility by bringing schools and other stakeholders together to support young people.
As a part of a HeadStart community group, we think we will be able to make a collective difference to the lives of young people.
Community staff member, HeadStart Kent Year End Report 2017/18 (unpublished)

Looking ahead: a legacy beyond the HeadStart Programme

  • HeadStart is acting as a catalyst for local change
  • Partners are transforming relationships from strategic collaborations to joint efforts to fund and improve practice.
  • Commissioners in HeadStart areas have come together to jointly procure young people’s wellbeing services, sometimes for the first time, helping to make services more joined-up
  • Local strategic partners are also beginning to invite young people and their families to help them to shape future mental health provision
  • Initial learning from the programme is starting to shape wider practice in HeadStart areas
  • On the front-line, joint working has led to new roles and structures, making sure that support for young people is timely and no one falls through the net.

Programme learning

Further reading

We recommend that you read this paper together with our forthcoming learning paper, which outlines early thoughts on the practical and practice-oriented learning from this programme.

Our papers complement the research and evaluation work carried out by the HeadStart Learning Team, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

We’ve also published briefings on: A Better Start, Ageing Better and Talent Match, and a paper looking at co-production across the strategic investments, A meeting of minds: how co-production benefits people, professionals and organisations.

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