Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes – implications for drug and alcohol issues

The Department of Health have published their response to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum setting out what they propose to do to strengthen the accountability framework for the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

My reading is that we’ve made some progress towards what Mentor was asking for in our response to the consultation carried out in May last year.

Our interest is what they have to say about public health and in particular drug and alcohol issues.  Mentor’s response to the consultation argued, in part, that helpful indicators if used intelligently will help local commissioners improve the health and wellbeing of those most at risk of substance misuse. In particular the relationship between pupil absence from school and the early use and subsequent misuse of drugs and alcohol has been well established.  We’ve subsequently developed our thoughts into a set of briefing papers which can be downloaded here.

But we also called for the development of further local data to understand prevalence levels of young people’s use of drugs and alcohol as currently there isn’t a source that is sufficient to ensure local commissioners can plan effectively. We proposed that additional indicators should be developed to measure prevalence of drug and alcohol use, alongside the proposed dataset on smoking prevalence for 15 year olds.

It looks as if we’ve had a partial victory in making this case as the government say:

We know that there are gaps in the Public Health Outcomes Framework for young people, particularly indicators around physical activity, alcohol, drug use, and wellbeing. This is not because they are not important issues which local areas should focus on improving but because we do not have the means to collect this data. We welcome the recommendation to implement a health and wellbeing survey for young people to address this and we begin by trialling a local-level health and wellbeing survey to test out the best way of collecting the data  and how we might ensure a robust response rate.

In a footnote they say that should the trial be successful we might see these outcomes included in a post 2016 revision of the public health outcomes framework.

The government also commit themselves to fund the WHO Health Behaviour of School Aged Children Study so that they can compare child health here with that of others around the world.  They are going to add additional questions to the survey that will be carried out this year to find out more about “the issue of resilience and bullying and add further questions to understand health education in schools.”  They will also ask about age appropriate information on health.

The paper reiterates the government’s commitment to FRANK as a source of information for young people. The government say that they are looking to make the FRANK website more interactive, encouraging active consideration and contemplation of the issues surrounding drugs and alcohol, and developing users resilience.  They also mention the Department of Health’s own youth marketing campaign, both of which I’ve covered in more depth here and here.

The government point out that young people who have significant drug or alcohol issues and who need specialist services often have multiple needs beyond their substance misuse.  For that reason the commissioning of these services should be firmly embedded in the wider children and young people’s agenda, and that Public Health England will be taking responsibility for “promoting evidence-based practice.”

You can see Mentor’s take on the interaction of risks here.

The response then turns to the actions the Department for Education are taking to support the health of young people where it is pointed out that the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions is building a repository of evidence based programmes, and there is mention of the long-awaited PSHE review.  They also say:

To support those working in schools and local authorities, the Department for Education (DfE) are setting up a new drug and alcohol information and advice service for practitioners working with young people.

I hope I’m not breaking any confidences when I say that Mentor has won the tender to provide this drug and alcohol information service, we’ll be working with DrugScope and Adfam in delivering what we hope will be a useful service to everyone involved in drug and alcohol education and prevention.

A more formal announcement of what we’ll be doing will be made in the next few days.

To me this does feel, as I said, like a partial victory – local commissioners may get data that they can trust and compare with their neighbours, we will be able to look at how we’re doing against our European neighbours and others, and the institutions that being brought into being should have a focus on evidence based ways of working.  But I’d be interested in hearing what others think.

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