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South Yorkshire Empower & Protect: embedding mental health into children’s social care, supporting young people to thrive

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Nerys Anthony, Director, Young People Health & Wellbeing, reflects on learnings from the South Yorkshire Empower and Protect programme and its legacy across the region

10 May 2017

Mental Health Awareness Week provides an opportunity to pause for thought, nearly two months after the end of the South Yorkshire Empower and Protect programme (SYEP). SYEP was a two year, Department for Education Children’s Social Care Innovation funded programme, providing mental health support for care experienced young people or those on the cusp of Local Authority care in Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster, operationally led by Catch22.

Multi-disciplinary Catch22 staff, consisting of clinical psychologists, child sexual exploitation specialist practitioners and youth workers, formed a flexible team with social workers and foster carers to support young people at risk of sexual exploitation. Our team drew on mental health informed methods of working to train and support social workers and foster carers to provide a holistic support network for the young people.

‘Thriving or surviving’ – this year’s Mental Health Awareness campaign theme – provides a framework to reflect on the programme and its achievements, which was independently evaluated by Dr Sara Scott from the University of Bedford. Together we co-developed a new model of delivery, with key principles underpinning our approach, including:

  • a safe place to stay;
  • maintained foster care placements;
  • the development of positive relationships – across carers, young people, families and professionals;
  • creating a team around the worker (the person with the best relationship with the child);
  • and listening and working with, not to, young people and foster carers.

Central to the programme’s success was the role of the practitioner as a key agent for change, empowering the workforce to realise the impact and difference they can make in young people’s lives. Ultimately, cost savings were made but most importantly young people reduced risk and increased protective factors. We supported young people to move from risk taking to risk facing. To thrive, not survive.

A partnership celebration event held at the end of March further highlighted the benefits of SYEP, which included bringing Rotherham, Doncaster, Barnsley and Sheffield together on a project of scale, with Catch22 as a key partner. Working together across the sub-region meant that collaborative solutions to common challenges could be found, such as foster carer recruitment. The legacy of this: #fostersouthyorks will continue beyond the lifetime of SYEP. There is now a commitment through a pledge to continue the work of SYEP, to embed mental health informed ways of working into social work practice.

Catch22 has taken learning from South Yorkshire Empower and Protect to inform future reform collaboration, such as in Southwark exploring the development of a Care Leavers Partnership. The mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of care experienced children and young people remains a high priority during mental health awareness week and beyond.