Children and Young People Social Prescribing – now known as CHOICES!

A team funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Primary Care Research and led by Kerryn Husk (University of Plymouth) and Vashti Berry (University of Exeter), with Jane Smith, (APeX, University of Exeter) is in the early stages of a project which aims to extend the evidence base for how children and young people (CYP) access social prescribing pathways to improve mental health.

We’re working in collaboration with some fantastic people ideally placed to help increase our understanding of how communities work for, and with, children and young people, including Marcello Bertotti, reader in community health at University of East London, Paul Jarvis-Beesley from StreetGames, an organisation set up to tackle youth poverty that founded the Social Prescribing Youth Network in 2019 and Daniel Hayes, Senior Researcher for the Anna Freud Centre and University College London, who has a specialist interest in social and community mental health.  We’re really excited to have the opportunity to work with these lovely people!

We are in the process of extending our links with key people in the area through the establishment of two advisory groups, which will play an important role in the development of the project. Firstly, we will convene a Policy and Practice Advisory Group, which will include a broad range of people and organisations with an interest in the national, regional and local policy in the field, as well as those with direct practical experience of delivering services.  Secondly, and importantly, we will bring together a Young Person’s Advisory Group, comprising young people with lived experience of mental health issues, to ensure we stay on track and guide what we produce.

The project has two main work packages:

Work package 1 aims to map referral pathways, by completing a mapping review of evidence, interviewing young people and practitioners, and exploring administrative data and social networks.

Work package 2 aims to better understand how community-based support can improve the wellbeing of young people, by engaging young people in exploring the meaning of ‘community’, mapping networks of community organisations, and a rapid review of qualitative research in this area.

We are still in the very early stages of the project, so don’t have a great deal of ‘results’ to share as yet, however we’ve already had some interesting challenges. One of these has been to decide on a project name – a notoriously tricky undertaking. Many ideas were suggested, with some team members being more active than others in this area (mentioning no names, Kerryn!). Offerings included CHAMPIONS, ‘CHYPS’ and ‘HAM’, suggesting some members of the team might have been hungry at the time of the meeting. However, through a highly democratic and transparent process, using a one-person-one-vote system, the team arrived at the name CHOICES: CHildren and young people’s Options In the Community for Enhancing wellbeing through Social prescribing. Top marks to Vashti for this ‘choice’ choice (sorry) – we’re pretty pleased with this, and not just because it means the choice is behind us (I can’t help it now).

Another, possibly less challenging but more crucial, issue has been the difficulty of pinning down the somewhat nebulous concept of ‘mental health’ in relation to children and young people, for the purposes of the mapping review. We are interested in how children and young people access community assets, which may be aimed not only at those with existing and recognised mental health issues, but also at those aimed at promoting mental wellbeing and preventing mental ill-health. This means we are interested in research looking at the wider idea of wellbeing, in addition to research which focuses on more specifically defined terms of mental health. This becomes a very wide remit! We’re hoping our call for grey literature on this topic will help us fill any gaps we find in the mapping review, so if you know other types of evidence, including any information from community projects working directly with Children and Young People to improve mental health, for example unpublished evaluations, reports or leaflets; project websites; conference presentations or posters; blogs or other social media content; any other sources of information which may be relevant, please do let us know.

Another area of interest is related to who actually defines a child or young person’s mental health issue? The research seems to suggests that these issues are often identified by an adult, and one thing we’re really interested to explore through our interviews will be how children and young people themselves define how they are feeling, why they are accessing the support they are engaged with, and their perspective on their involvement in the pathway they are on.

There’s certainly lots to be learned, and we’re excited to be involved. We’ll post another blog to update on progress, but if you’re interested in finding our more about the project, please contact Alex ( or Lucy (

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