Five Principles for Youth-Oriented Health Initiatives

Public Health England (PHE) published a new framework designed to address the health needs of young people. The framework outlines key principles to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for young people and to reduce inequalities.

10 February 2015 | Policy

In January, Public Health England (PHE) published a new framework designed to address the health needs of young people. Improving young people’s health and wellbeing offers evidence-based advice for local authorities and other organisations to support young people, focusing particularly on wellbeing and resilience.

The framework outlines key principles to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for young people and to reduce inequalities. As an organisation that specialises in working with young people, Mentor supports these key considerations which relate closely to the values and principles that we have proven to work in practice.

1. A holistic approach to health and wellbeing that addresses all factors rather than single health issues:

PHE advises that young people think about their health holistically and that treating specific health issues in isolation is less likely to improve overall wellbeing. Our research, similarly, reveals that young people want to learn about alcohol and other drugs within the context of their own lives; the evidence shows that drug education and prevention is far less effective if it is not based on an understanding of the wider influences on young people.

Therefore, much of Mentor’s work addresses broader factors – other health and educational concerns, social and emotional skills, confidence and resilience. Boys and Girls PLUS, for example, is a project that places drug use in the wider context of healthy living: by promoting healthy lifestyles and building life skills and resilience, the programme can have a positive impact on drug use and other risky behaviours in a way that ‘single issue’ interventions do not.

2. Support to help build their resilience and life skills working with others including schools, families and communities:

In addressing the wider context of young people’s lives, it is crucial, as PHE note, to embrace and involve schools, families and communities. Just as health issues should be addressed holistically, health-related interventions for young people must reach and involve people in their immediate environment.

Mentor recognises the importance of schools, families and communities in supporting positive outcomes for young people, which is embedded in all of our work. In particular, Families Together adopts a ‘whole family’ approach to improve outcomes for children in kinship care; Boys and Girls PLUS uses the school environment to foster skills that encourage young people to make healthy lifestyle choices. Breaking Out has strong partnerships with community-based organisations to support desistance and sustained attitude change in relation to alcohol among ex-offenders upon their release.

3. A focus on prevention as well as intervention:

Mentor believes that prevention presents the best opportunity for protecting young people from the harms of alcohol and substance misuse. Early interventions, such as Breaking Out which encourages young offenders to re-examine their relationship with alcohol, are an important component of our strategy. However, it is vital to develop initiatives that build protective factors around children and young people before they begin to experiment with alcohol and other drugs – initiatives like the Good Behaviour Game, which enhances children’s behaviour and attainment in primary school classrooms and thereby reduces the likelihood of risk-taking behaviour later in life.

4. Provision of appropriate levels of support across universal, targeted and specialist services:

PHE recognise that a comprehensive approach towards the health needs of young people demands a range of services. In order to protect young people from the harm of substance misuse and to allow them to thrive, Mentor has developed, trialled and delivered a range of programmes targeting a variety of groups. ADEPIS, a universal intervention,provides evidence-based information and resources to enable teachers to deliver quality alcohol and drug education to the entire school population; the Good Behaviour Game and otherclassroom-based initiatives also target all pupils. Yet at the same time, we recognise the need to develop services for those most at risk, which is why Families Together works with kinship carers who receive little support in providing for the children in their care. And we also provide specialised services in unique settings, such as Breaking Out which provides support to young offenders. By adopting a mix of universal and targeted interventions, and prevention and early intervention, we have the best chance of improving outcomes for as many young people as possible.

5. Staff and organisations are trained and are delivering services in age appropriate, young people friendly settings:

PHE notes that organisations must be able to provide appropriate and accessible settings to deliver services, and ensure that staff are fully trained to understand and appreciate young people’s changing health needs. As an organisation that runs a diverse range of projects, we recognise the need for specific experience and skills when working among particular age-groups and in particular environments – whether in schools, youth offender institutes, youth groups or other settings.

The new framework rightly places relationships and fostering a sense of belonging at the centre, which we believe extends to the relationship between young people and services. This underlines all of our work, but is especially important in projects that are youth-led, such as the London Youth Involvement Project: the exceptional dedication of the young adults who run this project relies upon the ability to create a friendly, enthusiastic and innovative atmosphere.

Full details of all the projects mentioned in this blog are available here.