How can we know if it’s making a difference?
Evaluating the mental health impact of services
Managers and full-time youth workers will need to know what impact their organisation is having on the wellbeing of young people who participate – for funders obviously, but also to help their organisations develop and improve. Evaluation is something that everyone in youth work has a stake in, to ensure that young people are receiving the right response to their individual needs. There are numerous resources available that can help you to evaluate your service;14 below are a few experiences from the Right Here projects.
Choosing the right methodology
If you want to gauge change in a young person accessing your service, you may wish to consider doing some ‘pre and post’ measures. This means administering some form of needsor goals assessment at or shortly after a young person embarks on the programme and then re-administering it at multiple intervals in the future. You can then identify if any change has arisen, and where.
There are standardised questionnaires you can use to assess the mental wellbeing needs of young people, such as Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC-SF) or the Resilience Scale 15 (RS15), both of which were used in Right Here. However, there are a number of limitations to these approaches. Attributing the changes to the service would be just one.
It could be argued that an evaluation of a youth service should embody the principles of that service, in that it is based around youth participation and empowerment. Encouraging young people to define what they want to get out of their time with a service, and the areas of their lives that they would like to see change, may therefore be an alternative way to measure impact. This can be done quantitatively, through the use of goal-based scales1.
Services should also consider using qualitative methods, such as interviews or focus groups, or creative approaches, such as photography and diaries, to identify the extent to which goals have been met. Qualitative methods can enable services to
obtain more insight into how and why activities have been beneficial and areas where improvements can be made. In this way, the evidence gathered can be built into learning cycles, so that evaluations can influence future service development.
- 1 For a sample template, see www.myhealthlockerlondon.nhs.uk/youngpeople/Downloads/CAMHSgoals-initial-form.pdf