Well Happy App

The NHS in London have produced a smartphone app for young Londoners which hopes to empower young people when it comes to a range of health related risks.  The project manager puts it this way:

The project I am working on is an app and website for young people in London called WellHappy. It is a free health app for young people aged 12-25 in London and it allows you to search through thousands of local support services, including mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and stop smoking services and find the nearest to you.

Like a lot of other young people, when I started to struggle, I had no idea where to turn. I didn’t want to go to my GP and I didn’t feel that I could talk to my friends or family. I wish I had had something like WellHappy to help me find the help that was right for me.

The app’s FAQ section on drugs and alcohol includes a range of advice including whether you can get expelled from school or college for taking drugs, to which they rightly say:

Yes, but your school or college does not have to automatically exclude you if they find out you have been taking drugs or have drugs on the school premises.  The school/college will have their own drug policy in place which will outline procedures to be taken.  They will also take into account the seriousness of the drug incident.

Interestingly they don’t include a similar question in their alcohol or smoking sections.

Mentor’s recent toolkit on developing a school drug policy had a case study (borrowed from the government’s 2004 guidance) on a Southwark school that sought the views of pupils that were at risk of exclusion when revising their drug policy:

A Year 10 tutor from a secondary school sought advice from the LEA to work with a group of pupils at risk of exclusion; the group contained both confirmed and suspected cannabis users. It was decided that the pupils would be approached and asked if they would participate in a focus group to discuss the school’s drug policy. This would enable them to become aware of the possible consequences of their behaviour and allow their views to be considered as part of the policy review process.

A number of issues were discussed that were relevant to both the school and to the pupils. They discussed the issue of informing parents/carers when a pupil is found using cannabis at school and agreed that this would be a deterrent if it were policy. The pupils also gave suggestions about how young people should be questioned by the school and what support could be offered.

This exercise increased the pupils’ understanding of school rules and the consequences of breaking them as well as reinforcing the school’s concern for their well-being. It enabled the pupils to feel that their views were valued.

What’s prevention again?

I’ve had a really interesting day at the Alcohol Early Intervention and Prevention Leadership Summit organised by the London Health Improvement Board and I’m grateful for the invitation to participate in what was a stimulating event.

But it was also perplexing and left me with some questions that I thought I’d throw out into the blogosphere.

When I describe what our charity is about and say that we’re concerned with drug and alcohol prevention I almost never have to say that our focus is with children and young people – that’s a given.

Sometimes we work with families, sometimes with schools or other institutions, and we also lobby for and support environmental interventions, but always with the intention of improving the chances that children and young people grow up with better health and wellbeing.

What today’s conference has suggested is that this isn’t the view of prevention that is currently taking shape in the alcohol world where prevention and early intervention is almost exclusively a description of interventions for adult drinkers.

This leads me to a number of questions.

  • Are we talking about the same things when we use the words prevention and early intervention?
  • What is it that we’re trying to prevent?
  • What are the consequences if prevention embraces adult drinkers.

The same thing?

One of the interesting things of being in the position we’re in is that we get to see the similarities and differences in the cultures that have emerged amongst professionals trying to respond to different substances.

In both sectors there is a focus on the broad environment, and in particular the regulatory framework – with drugs the debate is about the use of the criminal justice system, while in the alcohol field it is currently about the introduction of price controls.  Where they are involved with interventions with individuals

But what seems odd (to me at least) is that there appears to be very little crossover both cultures see themselves as self-contained a lot of the time, rivals for resources and political attention.   Perhaps this is because of the different political arguments that have been made – a focus on reducing crime in the case of illegal drugs and on population health outcomes when comes to alcohol.

The consequence seems to be a shared language being used for very different ends.

I was struck by the fact that when talking to the working group at the Centre for Social Justice earlier this week the phrase “early intervention” was understood to be increasingly about what we do in the first three years of life, while at the summit today it was about interventions with adults attending A&E and in GPs surgeries.

What’s prevention again?

The challenge of a day like today is to find a place for what we do at Mentor – working with children and young people – if alcohol leaders are using the phrase preventions to describe interventions with adults who are drinking heavily and trying to get them to drink more moderately.

At a drug conference this would be called harm reduction.

But if prevention is being extended to include this client group is this broader definition helpful or a threat? Does it provide allies for making an argument for prevention or will it mean that the word looses meaning by becoming all things to all people?

I want to come back to the positives that I got out of the day, and there were lots, but if pressure of time (the next few weeks are a bit full) means that falls off my to do list then please take a look at the Tweets from the day I’ve put together here:


Police in England and Wales arrest a child every two and a half minutes

The Howard League for Penal Reform sent out a press release yesterday which points out that the police in England and Wales arrested a child every two and a half minutes last year.

But looking at the detail in the release what is clear is that there have been significantly fewer children being arrested than there were a few years ago.  In fact the numbers being arrested have fallen by a third in that time.

Child arrests in England and Wales 2009 - 11

The CEO of the Howard League, Frances Crook, argues:

Only a handful of children are involved in more serious incidents and they usually suffer from neglect, abuse or mental health issues.  A commitment to public safety means treating them as vulnerable children and making sure they get the help they need to mature into law-abiding citizens.

I thought this may be of interest to us because of the work we’re doing with Alcohol Concern about entry into the criminal justice system as a result of alcohol misuse in London.  The London figures (below) show a similar downward trend (if less pronounced) in the use of arrest.

Arrests in London 2008-11

What isn’t clear is what alternatives to arrest are being used by authorities to deal with those at risk of entering the criminal justice system, or whether there have been the sorts of drops in criminality that these figures suggest, or whether the changes to the performance management regime mean that the police are no longer incentivised to arrest young people.