HeadStart is a six-year, £67.4 million National Lottery funded programme set up by The National Lottery Community 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. 

HeadStart enables young people to thrive by building their resilience and providing additional support when and where it is needed. It looks at how young people’s mental wellbeing is affected by their experiences at school, their ability to access the community services they need, their home life and relationship with family members, and their interaction with digital technology.

Six local authority led HeadStart partnerships in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton are working with local young people, schools, families, charities, community and public services to make young people’s mental health and wellbeing everybody’s business.


The Learning Team

Professor Jessica Deighton at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) (a collaboration between UCL and the Anna Freud Centre) is leading a consortium of partners to evaluate and share learning from HeadStart. Partners include The University of Manchester and the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC)Previous partners in the HeadStart Learning Team include Common Room and LSE.

The HeadStart Learning Team is using a mixture of questionnaire and interview methods. Young people complete questionnaires every year to help track changes in how they are feeling and behaving over time. Professionals provide information regularly about the support that is being offered as part of the HeadStart programme. Professionals and young people take part in annual interviews to explore challenges and opportunities around delivery, and to find out what young people find helpful.

Together with colleagues from The National Lottery Community Fund, the HeadStart Learning Team has developed the Wellbeing Measurement Framework (WMF), a suite of measurement booklets for primary school, secondary school and college students. For children of all ages, schools provide a key setting for support and intervention with regard to young people's mental wellbeing. Each WMF is a comprehensive and practical package of validated measures that are designed to assess a range of mental health indices, including positive wellbeing, behavioural or emotional difficulties, and the presence and strength of protective factors.


HeadStart partnership approaches

Read about some of the approaches used by HeadStart partnerships to support children and young people across the country. 


John is aged 10 and has just moved into year 6, he lives in foster care and has told his teacher he is really quite scared of moving to high school and doesn't want to leave his friends. John is introduced to Patrick, a resilience coach, who meets regularly with John over the next 18 months, introduces him to lots of different ways to build his resilience and stays with him until he has settled into his new school and made new friends.


Shannon is 11 years old and an only child. She recently moved from a small primary school of just under 200 children to a big academy of over 1500. Shannon struggles to settle in as most of her friends from primary went to other schools. She is missing days and when her teacher talks to her she says she is being bullied. Her teacher teams her up with a peer mentor and tells here about the about “turn to us” drop-ins in at the school where she can talk to a youth worker. Shannon uses both the drop-in and the peer mentor to help build her friendship group.


Ben is a 14 year old boy who is frequently having behavioural issues at school and missing school. There has been a domestic incident at home which led to the police getting called out and they notify the school (using an 'early help' notification). The participation worker meets with Ben and explores his strengths and opportunities. Over time Ben builds an ongoing  relationship with the worker to help him build confidence and find better ways of behaving in school.


Lucy is a  9 year old who is particularly badly affected by the death of her grandad. Lucy is becoming increasingly isolated and has started to self harm by scratching herself on her forearms. Her  teaching assistant works with her, offering 1-1 time to help her understand her feelings and talk and share so that she feels less isolated and can find better ways of managing her feelings that reduce the scratching on her arm.


Seema is a 12 year old who is feeling isolated and is being bullied. Seema is referred by her teacher to take part in the  supportive volunteering group. This term long group all work together to decide on  voluntary activity to undertake in school and also outside school. Through the group activity Seema builds new friendships and builds her confidence and support networks.


Jane is 13 and permanently excluded from mainstream school. She was on the edge of being excluded from her special school when she took part in a radio workshop as part of the Wolverhampton HeadStart programme. Jane was encouraged to join the HeadStart development team and take on responsibilities for others. A year later she is an active member of the group, she supports other young people and is back in mainstream school.