Young People’s Perspectives on Difficulties, Coping and Support – Emily Stapley explores what we can learn from HeadStart?

What is HeadStart?

HeadStart is a five-year, £56 million National Lottery funded programme set up by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It aims to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 10 to 16 and prevent serious mental health issues from developing.

How is HeadStart being evaluated?

The Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL is working with the Big Lottery Fund and the six HeadStart sites to collect and evaluate evidence about what does and does not work locally to benefit young people now and in the future.

What did we do?

As part of our evaluation of HeadStart, we wanted to find out what young people think about their experiences of receiving support from HeadStart, encountering difficult situations or problems in life, and the coping strategies or sources of support that they tend to use in these situations. To do this, we interviewed 63 young people aged 9 to 12 at five HeadStart sites across England. We then looked at the similarities and differences in the young people’s responses to establish the themes or patterns arising across the interviews.

What did we find out?

  1. The young people described experiencing a range of different problems and difficulties, including difficult feelings and emotions (such as extreme anger, lack of confidence, and worrying), fights and arguments with their peers, family strain (such as family financial difficulties, bereavement, and parental divorce), and academic and behavioural struggles at school.
  1. In terms of the young people’s perspectives on coping and support in difficult situations, I was struck by the young people’s recognition of the strategies that they could use to self-care in such instances, with many of the young people citing a whole range of activities (including positive thinking, interaction with friends and family in person or digitally, art, music and sport, and playing video games or watching videos online) that they could use to distract themselves, cheer themselves up, or forget about the problem. This seemed to me to be an important area of learning in terms of what helps young people to look after their own wellbeing, in the absence of professional support. The young people’s perceptions of their teachers, parents, siblings, and friends as sources of support in difficult situations also stood out for me and highlighted the importance for initiatives promoting young people’s wellbeing to harness the potential power in these already existing pockets of support.
  1. The majority of the young people who had been involved in HeadStart described their perceptions of the positive changes that had happened or that they felt could happen in their lives as a result of taking part in HeadStart. These included having someone to talk to and receive advice from, and learning strategies, techniques and information about how to deal with difficult emotions and situations.

Dr Emily Stapley is a research fellow in The Evidence Based Practice Unit

Link to full report: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/evidence-based-practice-unit/sites/evidence-based-practice-unit/files/headstart_briefing_2.pdf