Joanne Mills and Rachel Hopley from the University of Wolverhampton have designed an evaluation framework to help identify the potential impact of youth social prescribing within the West Midlands on employment and the economy.
They have written this blog to give an update on the Institute for Community Research and Development’s recent project with WMREDI and launch a call to action for the framework to be tested and refined.
Visit the Institute for Community Research and Development webpage.
Social prescribing aims to help people access local, non-clinical services and activities provided by voluntary and community organisations in order to support their social, emotional, and practical needs. Interest in, and delivery of, social prescribing for young people across the UK is growing. Research undertaken as part of a 15-month collaboration between the Institute of Community Research and Development (ICRD) at the University of Wolverhampton and the West Midlands Regional Economic Development Institute (WMREDI) sought to examine the need for and benefits of, social prescribing provision for young people in the West Midlands and its economic and employability impact.
This multidisciplinary research project is built on ICRD’s previous work with community social prescribing providers. In particular, previous research undertaken by ICRD identified, in relation to the economic and employment focus of this investigation, that while many referrals to social prescribing services in the Black Country were related to mental health needs, often accompanying issues around debt, housing, and other financial issues were raised – highlighting the need for link workers, referring agencies, and individuals, to understand the link between mental health needs and other more social or economic issues.
Working with existing partners in the West Midlands, the current project commenced with a review of existing evidence (published in our research digest), followed by a survey of providers in the West Midlands (see blog for key findings) and culminated in the production of an evaluation framework for commissioners and providers to measure the impact of social prescribing for young people.
Dr Mubasshir Ajaz (Head of Health and Communities at the West Midlands Combined Authority) said of the work: “The core message of this report is the potential of social prescribing to transform the lives of young people in the West Midlands. It is a call to action, urging stakeholders to recognise the need for a more interconnected approach to provision and a deeper understanding of the value of existing services. … This tool will help in the planning of new services, measurement of the impact of existing services, and service development – to ensure programmes have the best impact possible on the health and wellbeing and employment needs of young people in the region.”
An Evaluation Framework for Social Prescribing for Young People
The conditions in which individuals are born, live and work have implications on their health and economic status. Our research has shown that there is a clear need for specific social prescribing services aimed at young people in the West Midlands, and that providing appropriate support has the potential to enable young people to enter the workplace (for example, addressing mental health conditions and raising self-esteem).
Research to date suggests there is the potential for social prescribing to close skills gaps and further develop soft skills such as communication and confidence, with a link to having a positive effect on individual economic status, social capital, and employability for adults. This requires further exploration and evaluation with young people.
However, such a provision is in its infancy, and further evaluation is required to understand the impact on young people. Social prescribing schemes require a robust method to track the effectiveness and impact of financial and employment support. While initial financial outlay on the provision of such services may be difficult in the current economic climate, our research shows that the economic benefits to both the individual and the region could potentially outweigh this, so it is important that there is the ability to capture this within monitoring data.
In turn, this could benefit the acquisition of future funding sources to support continued social prescribing delivery where it is valued and needed.
Our suggested evaluation framework provides a proportionate and pragmatic tool for providers and commissioners to provide oversight of the outcomes and outputs of social prescribing, particularly in relation to the potential economic and employability impacts for young people.
Given the large array of social prescribing approaches and activities, we appreciate that providers may have additional outcomes and their own specific outputs relevant to their service and users. Our aim here is to help providers and commissioners think of additional data they could be collecting to demonstrate their impact more fully and have more consistent approaches to monitoring the impact across multiple providers to better collate the impact across the West Midlands.
Call For Action
We invite commissioners and providers of social prescribing for young people to implement our evaluation framework; and for researchers to test and refine our evaluation framework. We ask everyone utilising the findings of this report to connect with the research team at ICRD via firstname.lastname@example.org and share their experiences.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI, WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.