Developing social prescribing to improve mental health and wellbeing for children and young people

Introduction to this Emerging Minds funded research project led by Dr Emily Stapley & Dr Daniel Hayes, both from University College London & Anna Freud Centre.

Social prescribing relieves pressure on NHS services by helping patients find community activities to improve their health/wellbeing. To date, it has mainly targeted adult populations where it has shown improvements in mental health.

However, a recent review focusing on young people identified a lack of studies and highlighted that to move the field forward research should identify:

  • What young people think are the best referral routes for social prescribing, and

  • Current barriers to social prescribing with young people.

This project, co-led by UCL and the Anna Freud Centre, in collaboration with the Social Prescribing Youth Network, University of East London and Streetgames, will explore these research topics.

Interviews and focus groups will be underpinned by the Behaviour Change Wheel, which will allow for the research team to make theoretically informed recommendations to improve services. It is hoped this will lead to increased accessibility of social prescribing for young people and positively impact on their mental health.

Key messages

Following the project, the two leads shared the key messages behind the research findings.

Social prescribing for children and young people (CYP) is still in its infancy, with pockets of practice occurring across the UK. Whilst it is being gradually adopted within CYP settings, a number of barriers and enablers have been identified. These should be carefully considered by commissioners, clinicians, CYP service providers and Link Workers/Social Prescribers. Key messages include: 

  • CYP do not have a preference for one pathway over another, Social Prescribing should be considered in a range of settings (e.g. schools, CAMHS and community hubs); 

  • Finding the right ‘space’ for CYP to facilitate conversations and rapport is important;  

  • There are key differences when working with CYP compared to adults, this includes 1) a wider array of stakeholders, and 2) issues around developmental and mental health capacity. Social Prescribing pathways and training for link workers (LW) need to reflect these nuances. Particular attention should be focused on working with parents/guardians (in addition to CYP), including how to help YP arrive at decisions when they may be struggling;  

  • LW wish to be able to access regular clinical supervision when working with CYP with mental health difficulties; 

  • LW working in CYP mental health feel that they would benefit from further tailored training on mental health, wellbeing. They also feel that training around managing ‘endings’ with service users is important; 

  • The community asset landscape changes rapidly and LW and services often find it difficult to keep up or to know what is available – considerable time and effort is put into trying to keep abreast of the landscape. A centralised directory would be useful; 

  • LW believe that they work better when part of multi-disciplinary teams, but some feel quite isolated and alone; 

  • Whilst most stakeholders were optimistic about social prescribing for CYP mental health, there was an acknowledgment that it is not ‘right’ for everyone