HeadStart: Helping schools to respond to uncertainty and change during COVID-19
We’re taking a look at how The National Lottery Community Fund’s HeadStart programme – a six-year, £67.4 million programme set up to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people and prevent serious mental health issues from developing – has supported schools during the pandemic.
The below findings were taken from a recent report published by the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU). The EBPU at the Anna Freud Centre and University College London (UCL) is working with the HeadStart partnerships to collect and evaluate evidence from the HeadStart programme.
Here are four key things we learned from the report:
- At the start of the pandemic, HeadStart teams adapted to the lockdown by taking the lead in providing resources and information on young people’s mental health and wellbeing in their local areas. Some schools created new HeadStart webpages with resources geared towards helping young people, parents and carers cope with the stresses of the pandemic so they didn’t have to sift through a deluge of information from other sources.
One HeadStart member of staff said: “I think what we’ve provided is consistency and reliable information. So, one of the things that young people, parents and staff told us… is they felt bombarded and confused by all the information. So, we took the lead on the comms.”
- HeadStart teams commented on the positive impact of moving activities online. Remote learning and training gave many parents, carers, school staff and pupils access to important content they may have otherwise missed out on due to travel barriers or working patterns.
One HeadStart team member said: “Some parents have always struggled to engage with services because they may work shifts…so, actually having some pre-recorded, little training videos and then having a webinar they can come into, is another way of delivering.”
- HeadStart staff talked about working closely with young people during the pandemic to discuss potential challenges and new ideas, for instance how to facilitate young people’s access to virtual support. This level of co-production is a key part of HeadStart’s work, and ensures young people involved in the programme are given the opportunity to feed in and shape the services that support them.
- Once schools had started adapting to coronavirus restrictions and their new systems, and as the pandemic continued, there was an increase in the need for support amongst young people. In response, some HeadStart partnerships opened up their referral systems to a broader range of geographical areas so more young people could access support, as well as encouraging more self-referrals.
A HeadStart member of staff said: “I was contacting young people by phone to check in on them […] as long as the school had referred them [to HeadStart]. And I think that’s kind of grown organically as we went through to then opening that offer to say we’ll contact any young person that you think needs support.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, local HeadStart teams have provided a flexible, responsive programme that is constantly learning. The latest report from the Anna Freud Centre highlights how vital the programme is, now more than ever, with the ongoing need for our young people to be supported while we continue through the pandemic.
To find out more, read the full report here.