Cover: Early Evaluation of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Trailblazer Programme

Early Evaluation of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Trailblazer Programme

A Rapid Mixed-Methods Study

Published in: National Institute for Health and Care Research website (January 2023). doi: 10.3310/hsdr-tr-130818

Posted on Feb 1, 2023

by Jo Ellins, Lucy Hocking, Mustafa Al-Haboubi, Jennifer Newbould, Sarah-Jane Fenton, Kelly Daniel, Stephanie Stockwell, Brandi Leach, Manbinder Sidhu, Jennifer Bousfield, et al.


The Children and Young People's Mental Health Trailblazer programme is funding the creation of new mental health support teams (MHSTs) to work in schools and further education colleges. MHSTs directly support children and young people with 'mild to moderate' mental health problems and work with school and college staff to promote wellbeing for all. A new workforce of education mental health practitioners (EMHPs) is being trained for the teams.


The NIHR BRACE Rapid Evaluation Centre and Policy Innovation and Evaluation Research Unit (PIRU) undertook an early evaluation of the Trailblazer programme to examine the development, implementation and early progress of MHSTs in the programme's first 25 'Trailblazer' sites.


A mixed-methods evaluation, comprising three work packages:

  1. Establishing the baseline and understanding the development and early impacts of the Trailblazers, 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.


Substantial progress had been made implementing the programme, in challenging circumstances, and there was optimism about what it had the potential to achieve. The EMHP role had proven popular, but sites reported challenges retaining EMHPs, and turnover left MHSTs 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. MHSTs 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 wellbeing, and service models in some sites appeared to be more clinically oriented, with a strong focus on MHSTs' therapeutic functions.

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