An evaluation of a programme for young people in most need of mental health support (16–25-year-olds living in Central Bedfordshire)

Evaluation in progress. Expected completion date September 2024

What does the research mean for Local Authorities?

Learning from this evaluation will be used locally to inform decisions about mental health support for young people in most need and may have wider implications for councils in other areas. It will inform key policy and service recommendations around whether a ‘Population Health Management’ approach and the ‘Community Collaborations’ approach to supporting young people outside of School are effective in providing mental health support. This may help inform decision making around future development of mental health support services. 

What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?

This evaluation will mean that the development of mental health support for young people locally will be better able to consider the needs of the people who are using these services and understand more from those delivering the services where things can be improved. This can lead to more informed decisions as to what local councils can do to support young people who are facing mental health challenges, both in and outside of the school environment. The outcome of the evaluation should lead to the provision of better informed and evidence-based approaches to improving the lives of young people in most need of mental health support. 

How are the public involved in the evaluation?

From the start until the end of this evaluation, we will invite our group of young people (who are experts by experience), to sessions with the evaluation team, in person and/or remotely. The young experts will help the research team:  

  1. Think about the best ways to interact with the young people taking part in the Central Bedfordshire programme (for example, what kind of questions to ask and the best way to ask them).  
  1. Plan the best ways to encourage young people to take part, especially young people who are from the most deprived areas; young carers; neurodiverse; care leavers or looked-after children; and identify as LGBTQ+ or are questioning their identity.  
  1. Make sense of the results.  
  1. Think about how to spread the word about the results and take part in sharing the results if they want to. 

It is important to note that some of the young experts will be part of CBC’s programme, and so be able to provide valuable insight, real-time experience, into the programme.   

Lay summary of research

What is this evaluation about?

In England, more people are facing mental health challenges. The same is true in Central Bedfordshire, so the council (CBC) have designed a programme of mental health support for young people. CBC used a method (called the ‘Population Health Management’ approach) to find out which young people (YP) were most in need of support, and how best to support them.   

This approach uses data that:  

  1. Provides a good picture of young peoples’ journeys through different health and care settings by joining up information across locations like GPs, schools, pharmacies, health, and social centres (these are known as ‘linked data sets').  
  1. Is organised in a way that can help to find out who might need support the most. For example, sorting the data by types of health condition; how severe the condition or illness may be; and factors like age, gender, social class, and town size (also known as ‘sociodemographic factors’).  

CBC are working with existing groups in the community to build 4 hubs (‘Community collaborations’) to support YP outside of school. CBC also have a programme of support within schools (‘Building resilience’), and two sets of training for adults – one to be equipped to support YP one-to-one (‘Wellbeing navigators’), and the other a pin badge scheme where YP can identify trusted adults trained in adolescent mental health (‘Upskilling our workforce’).  

This evaluation will look at how effective the programme was in supporting 16–25-year-olds in most need of mental health support. It will also look closely at the use of new methods (a PHM approach and Community collaborations) to create and carry out the programme of mental health support. 

What do we already know?

We know that the Population Health Management approach has been used in other areas of health, and worked to improve health, peoples’ experience of care, the health and wellbeing of healthcare staff, and reduce the cost of care by using findings from the data to tailor support.  

We know that of the young people most in need of mental health support include young people from the most deprived areas; young carers; neurodiverse; care leavers or looked-after children; and those who identify as LGBTQ+ or are questioning their identity.  

We also know of some tried-and-tested ways that have been useful in supporting young people facing mental health challenges. These include social and emotional support in schools which have helped reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as improve YP’s social and emotional skills; and creative activities in the community which have helped improve self-confidence, self-esteem, build relationships and a sense of belonging.  

What don’t we know?

There is not much information available about how best to use the Population Health Management approach to improve mental health. There also is not much information available about the mental health of young people who are not in school.  

Why is an evaluation necessary?

This evaluation is an important opportunity to understand if the Population Health Management approach works well in: (1) identifying people most in need of mental health support; and (2) selecting programmes that could work well to support those most in need. 

It is also an opportunity to find out whether creative programmes in the community can help support young people who are not in school and are facing mental health challenges.  

How will the evaluation be carried out?

We will use both numerical data from following the progress of the programme (e.g., recorded numbers of participants), and information from speaking to people (e.g., 1-1 interviews with young people and staff about their personal experience of taking part) for this evaluation. Open and honest communication is key to understanding peoples’ experiences of the programme, so the evaluation team will be flexible about communicating with participants in a way that they are most comfortable with.  

All data will be anonymised, public and/or consented for use in the evaluation - it will not be possible to identify anybody from the numerical data or any conversations that take place.  

  1. The numerical data will look at whether the programme helped adults working with young people know how best to support them. It will also look at whether the young people taking part in the programme thought it was helpful.   
  1. The conversations with young people will help the evaluation team understand their experience of the support programme and any changes they would make.   
  1. The conversations with adults supporting young people in schools will help the evaluation team understand whether awareness and acceptance of mental health and wellbeing has improved because of the programme, and any changes they would like to make.   
  1. Finally, the evaluation team will hold discussions with health professionals. They will talk to people who designed the programme using existing anonymised data of tens of thousands of people living in Central Bedfordshire (PHM approach) which highlighted who in the borough might most need support, and what type of support might work best (See Section 2: ‘What we already know’). They will investigate if the PHM approach was an effective way to understand which young people most needed help, and whether it was helpful in designing a programme to support them. The evaluation team will also talk to people leading the community groups that have been set up to help young people – as well as the other schemes designed to support them (See section 1) – to find out if this was a good way to help 16–25-year-olds most in need of support, and any changes they might make.  

What will we do with the results?

We will share the results with Central Bedfordshire council and other nearby councils who might want to provide a similar service for young people living in their boroughs.  

We will also share the results with the young people and adults who took part in the research.   

Finally, we will share the results publicly – including on social media platforms - so other researchers, health professionals and anyone interested can learn from our findings.   


Local Authority/Partner(s)

Central Bedfordshire Council


PHIRST South Bank Research team

Prof Patrick Callaghan, Prof Paula Reavey, Dr Jessica Owugha, Dr Catherine Jenkins, Dr Chris Flood