Reflections from undertaking an emotional and mental health needs assessment for children and young people in Wolverhampton

Back in early 2023, the City of Wolverhampton Council, in partnership with NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board (ICB), and on behalf of Wolverhampton’s Health and Wellbeing Together Board, commissioned CORC to undertake an emotional and mental health needs assessment for children and young people in the city. In this piece, CORC Regional Officer Lee Atkins reflects on the approach that we took to achieve this and explores the associated challenges and what facilitated the work.

Needs Assessment approach
We determined four key questions to answer in the needs assessment:

  • What are the emotional and mental health needs of children and young people in Wolverhampton including those from vulnerable groups?
  • What emotional and mental health services and support are being offered to children and young people in the city?
  • What should Wolverhampton be doing, or doing better to meet the needs of children and young people?
  • What more do we need to know to improve services and support for children and young people’s emotional and mental health?

To answer these questions we drew on several types of information including:

  • information from publicly available datasets and published research
  • information from existing local reports, research and studies
  • local service data
  • insights from children and young people and from parents and carers
  • information from the diverse workforce that works with children and young people in Wolverhampton.

Previous work in Wolverhampton, and national research, have highlighted groups of children and young people who are particularly vulnerable to emotional and mental health difficulties due to their life circumstances and experiences. The needs assessment considered the diverse needs of these vulnerable groups in particular, as these are often unclear and neglected or under supported in the current system. We used the five types of information above to capture a useful picture of their emotional and mental health needs.

Capturing different perspectives on what was working well and opportunities to improve support
To capture a range of perspectives, an approach was developed which incorporated workshops with children and young people, conversations with parents, online interviews with key stakeholders and a survey for staff that work with children and young people. Emerging themes from these pieces of work were identified and mapped. These themes enabled us to report on the parts of the system that were working well, the gaps and challenges and opportunities for improvements.

As a result, we were able to identify 12 key recommendations that we reported to the City of Wolverhampton Council and its partnership boards. These encompassed work in schools, collaborative working, data quality and quantity, the engagement with children, young people, parents and voluntary and community sector providers, governance structures, workforce development and gaps in support for children and young people.

These recommendations have formed a basis for subsequent work with stakeholders across Wolverhampton to determine action plans and priorities.

Reflections (by Lee Atkins, CORC Regional Officer)
There is a broad and long list of things that impact on the emotional and mental health of children and young people, and that therefore can contribute to their needs. In the initial stages of the development of the needs assessment, some time was taken to explore those that are most meaningful to the stakeholders in Wolverhampton.

One significant element in the needs assessment is to collate, organise and re-present a large volume of existing data and findings from multiple sources. The key task – and at times, the challenge - that we encountered therefore was how to ensure that key information was not simply regurgitated, but rather brought together to present a coherent story, in a way that is useful to stakeholders in Wolverhampton.
A further challenge arose related to the quality and quantity of data available to us. At CORC we’ve been long aware of the challenges for our sector in working with flawed, uncertain, proximate and sparse data (FUPS data), and such issues were no less evident in this work, for example we found that:

  • some of the data needed to fully answer our four questions is not recorded or not reported by services, or is recorded sporadically or inconsistently
  • some data is not available at the most useful geographic level
  • in some cases the way that indicators are defined, or the way data can be captured, misses or obscures important parts of the picture
  • data relating to the experiences of children and young people that are not routinely captured in systems or by services

The conversations that we had with children and young people were invaluable; they provided rich insights into their experiences and their thoughts on all areas of the needs assessment. The benefits of reaching out to and engaging with the various groups of children and young people were well worth the effort.

The engagement of many passionate members of staff in the city that are fully committed to supporting children and young people’ emotional and mental health – and importantly, to improving support – also meant that we were able to inform the findings and recommendations with open and honest reflections on the system of support for children and young people.
There is such a diversity of needs of children and young people aged 0-25 years yet there is a tendency for reporters to categories them or to put them into defined groups, which do not adequately describe their needs. An enduring task highlighted by this work is how to consider more flexible, individualised and holistic support for a child or young person that is based upon their circumstances and preferences.

Whilst putting together the needs assessment it was important that we paid attention to how all of the information, our findings and the recommendations were presented. We spent time considering how to ensure that the needs assessment flowed in a easy to follow and digestible way, including how to present all of the information in a way that aids clear action planning.

Colleagues at the City of Wolverhampton Council shared their reflections on CORC’s approach to developing the needs assessment:

‘From the outset, CORC’s approach to the needs assessment was professional and well structured, whilst remaining flexible enough to respond to emerging opportunities. The establishment of a steering group enabled regular communication and adaptation as the work developed and progressed. The approach to engaging with key stakeholders at the start and the end of the process helped secure their involvement and engagement on the needs assessment and the commitment needed to support implementation of recommendations.

CORC’s emphasis on surveying and face to face consultation with stakeholders and young people proved to be particularly valuable in terms of the depth, authenticity and credibility of the findings and recommendations’.

The final needs assessment covers significant ground and details a range of pertinent information. To make the findings more accessible a short reader-friendly version of the needs assessment was produced.

We are looking forward to supporting the City of Wolverhampton with its commitment to prioritise and plan for work that meets the recommendations made in the needs assessment.

Lee Atkins, CORC Regional Officer

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