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Team awarded £2.8 million to support programme aiming to improving the lives of at risk young people

A team led by Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has been awarded £2.8 million by Big Lottery Fund to support partnerships involved in the £75 million HeadStart Programme.

HeadStart is a prevention programme aiming to improve the mental well-being of at-risk 10 to 16 year-olds. Six partnerships across England have been selected to deliver the HeadStart programme and will offer a range of approaches in schools and communities. These include peer mentoring, mental health ‘first aid’ training, staying safe online, tackling social media bullying and special resilience lessons.

Over 7 years, the learning team led by the Centre will support the partnerships in collecting and analysing data and disseminating and implementing what they have learnt so that the approaches can be gradually improved.

Dr Jessica Deighton, Deputy Director of the EBPU, said: "The scale and ambition of HeadStart is currently unparalleled so this is a hugely exciting opportunity to work in collaboration with the six partnerships to build the evidence base for fostering resilience in children and young people."

The team will explore whether the approaches have had an impact on the mental well-being of young people. In particular, it will explore if HeadStart leads to benefits to young people’s academic performance and employability, as well as if it reduces the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours, such as becoming involved in drugs or crime. The aim of the evaluation is to provide information on the impact of increased investment in adolescent mental health prevention.

Lyn Cole, Big Lottery Fund England grant-making director, said: “Mental health issues in early teens, if not tackled early, can develop into more serious conditions, impacting on school results and opportunities later on in life. HeadStart has been developed with young people to ensure that mental health is embedded in a school’s culture and pupils’ emotional welfare is recognised as fundamental to their overall achievement. This will raise awareness, tackle stigma and enable young people to seek the support they need when they have problems and are under stress. This funding will make a huge difference to the development of young people at a crucial time in their lives.”

The evaluation is being led by the Centre, in collaboration with the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), the University of Manchester, London School of Economics, and Common Room.