Today marks the start of Children’s Mental Health Week and the launch of a number of new trials in schools each aiming to improve the emotional wellbeing of our children.
On the surface of it, this feels like really good news and a welcome boost within an area that has become a growing concern for parents and professionals alike over the past few years.
With so many schools and teachers already stretched beyond their current means however – added to a plethora of providers out there who are already offering solutions around similar themes – how we do really know if we’re solving or problem or simply creating a bigger pile of initiatives for schools, teachers and young people to drown under?
At Social Sense we focus on 7 golden rules before embarking on any engagement campaign with schools. This checklist has served us so well, we are now working with providers, schools and commissioners to help embed these within their own plans. Almost daily, we see so much repetition and so many reactive approaches that are poorly evaluated, we have made it our mission to help people to achieve their biggest possible impact versus available budget.
Over the coming months we are planning to elaborate on these 7 themes, bringing specialists in across each area to talk about their own practices and how they are making a difference.
For now, I have offered a snapshot on each.
- Internal audit
Before embarking on any initiative within schools, it’s so important to assess where the school is at. Before we get into engaging with young people, what does the current health and wellbeing picture look like for staff? Do schools have people they can dedicate to this and champion it or to them is this just another initiative that will get put in a pile with the others? This audit is so crucial and may reduce assumptions and costs further down the line.
- Map and maximise assets already in play
It never ceases to amaze that commissioners often have no idea what has gone before in a school, who the key local referral agencies are and/or what is currently being delivered from funding elsewhere. To make precious public funding go as far as possible we all have a duty to work familiarise ourselves with what else is going on, to work together to ensure smoother referral processes, to cut down duplication and to share outcomes that can help to improve experiences for our young people going forward
- Consult and co-design with young people
“Our survey is telling us that more young people are anxious, stressed and self-harming than ever before, we need to get our teachers trained up in Mental Health First Aid and fast”. Perhaps. Or maybe we can dig a little deeper and find that over 80% of students actually do not want to be talking to their teachers about mental health. Instead they may want to chat with peers they can trust, offload their thoughts into a journal on an app or speak anonymously to a counsellor online. You may find through a thorough consultation that what a young person really needs is more opportunities to build resilience, not funding for virtual ambulances to follow them around at every turn waiting for problems to happen. It’s therefore so important to let young people guide you towards the solution before commissioning your own based on an ill-informed assumption. And when they do lead you to a solution, we have a duty to ensure they are part of the development of it from beginning to end.
- Assess the evidence behind the proposed approach
How many of us really research the efficacy of an approach before we build it into our strategy? Think back to all the negative, scaremongering health campaigns you have seen. Did they work? Did they make a lasting difference? The evidence proves that while such an approach may have a high recall rate, approaches like these seldom work from a lasting behaviour change perspective. At Social Sense we are very careful to ensure that the approaches we use – from Mindfulness to Social Norms Theory – are well evidenced before we deploy them. That said, there is nothing wrong with taking the best from a theory and adding your own twist to see if you get achieve an extra 5 or 10% by doing things just that bit differently.
- Measure impacts, test, learn and improve
One of the biggest frustrations we see with campaigns is that they are evaluated at the end. This misses a huge opportunity to test, learn and yes admit if something has failed. Curiously question and evaluate throughout. Be brave and allow yourself to modify and change direction DURING a project. Don’t wait for the end and therefore an opportunity to achieve a better result. It’s better to be honest with yourself and others than try to gloss over something at the end that clearly hasn’t worked.
- Focus on ‘Buy in’ and culture change
“We’ve already done Mindfulness at that school”. Ok that’s lovely. Are they still practicing it? I don’t think so. How many times do we see this happen?
If we want to achieve real change within our schools then one-off, tokenistic stuff simply isn’t going to cut it.
Once you’ve achieved ‘buy in’ you have to share and celebrate the wins to maintain motivation and keep doing more of it. Celebrate participation by norming it “85% of x students who practice Mindfulness for more than 2 months have seen an immediate benefit to their wellbeing”. Share individual stories on posters and digitally. Making your initiatives ‘stick’ is the first step towards giving sustainability a greater chance (see next 7).
So, your training company or delivery team will soon be gone. What will be the legacy of your work? Who will continue to drive forward your initiatives? It’s so important to work with schools on a sustainability plan. Commit teachers to pledges that they can realistically achieve and find champions who can motivate them to stay on track. Can you get schools to commit to a community of practice to help overcome barriers and spur each other on? What does the future comms schedule look like? Can practices be weaved in to activities already existing to avoid scheduling issues? What role do parents have to play? Give your initiative the best possible long-term chance by having a sustainability plan and be clear on ways you can continue to support.
I hope these 7 areas are useful and of some benefit to your work in this area. Do you have any ideas or tips you can share? If you’d like our support in developing your next campaign, initiative or project then drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the website at www.socialsense.co.uk