Early evaluation of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Trailblazer programme: a rapid mixed-methods study.
BACKGROUND: The Children and Young People's Mental Health Trailblazer programme is funding the creation of new mental health support teams to work in schools and further education colleges. Mental health support teams directly support children and young people with 'mild to moderate' mental health problems and work with school and college staff to promote well-being for all. A new workforce of education mental health practitioners is being trained for the teams. OBJECTIVE(S): The National Institute for Health and Care Research Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge Evaluation Rapid Evaluation Centre and Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit undertook an early evaluation of the Trailblazer programme to examine the development, implementation and early progress of mental health support teams in the programme's first 25 'Trailblazer' sites. DESIGN: A mixed-methods evaluation, comprising three work packages: 1. Establishing the baseline and understanding the development and early impacts of the Trailblazer sites, including two rounds of surveys with key informants and participating education settings in all 25 sites. 2. More detailed research in five purposively selected Trailblazer sites, including interviews with a range of stakeholders and focus groups with children and young people. 3. Scoping and developing options for a longer-term assessment of the programme's outcomes and impacts. Fieldwork was undertaken between November 2020 and February 2022. The University of Birmingham Institute for Mental Health Youth Advisory Group was involved throughout the study, including co-producing the focus groups with children and young people. RESULTS: Substantial progress had been made implementing the programme, in challenging circumstances, and there was optimism about what it had the potential to achieve. The education mental health practitioner role had proven popular, but sites reported challenges in retaining education mental health practitioners, and turnover left mental health support teams short-staffed and needing to re-recruit. Education settings welcomed additional mental health support and reported positive early outcomes, including staff feeling more confident and having faster access to advice about mental health issues. At the same time, there were concerns about children who had mental health problems that were more serious than 'mild to moderate' but not serious enough to be accepted for specialist help, and that the interventions offered were not working well for some young people. Mental health support teams were generally spending more time supporting children with mental health problems than working with education settings to develop 'whole school' approaches to mental health and well-being, and service models in some sites appeared to be more clinically oriented, with a strong focus on mental health support teams' therapeutic functions. LIMITATIONS: Despite efforts to maximise participation, survey response rates were relatively low and some groups were less well represented than others. We were not able to gather sufficiently detailed data to develop a typology of Trailblazer sites, as was planned. CONCLUSIONS: Key lessons for future programme implementation include: - Whether mental health support teams should expand support to children and young people with more complex and serious mental health problems. - How to keep the twin aims of prevention and early intervention in balance. - How to retain education mental health practitioners once trained. FUTURE WORK: The findings have important implications for the design of a longer-term impact evaluation of the programme, which is due to commence in summer 2023. STUDY REGISTRATION: Ethical approval from the University of Birmingham (ERN_19-1400 - RG_19-190) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (Ref: 18040) and Health Research Authority approval (IRAS 270760). FUNDING: The Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge Evaluation Rapid Evaluation Centre is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme (HSDR 16/138/31). The Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit is funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme (PR-PRU-1217-20602).