HeadStart youngsters speak at conference with Kate Middleton as guest

Young people from Kent have spoken at a national mental health conference where Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, was among the special guests.

From left, Pippa Stickells from Gravesend; Lizzy Parker, from Gravesend (in front); Mia Adams from Sittingbourne; HeadStart Kent programme manager, Angela Ford (at the back); Charlotte Swaine from Ashford; Millie May from the Isle of Sheppey at the event.

Five young people and senior management from the HeadStart Kent programme were invited to the ‘Improving young people’s mental resilience and wellbeing: Learning from HeadStart’ conference in London on Thursday (11 January) where the outcome of new research into children’s emotional and behavioural well-being was revealed.

More than 30,000 young people aged 11 to 14 were surveyed, including 10,000 from Kent, as part the National Lottery-funded HeadStart programme, by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and University College London’s (UCL) Evidence Based Practice Unit.

The results showed girls are more than twice as likely to experience emotional difficulties as boys, while boys are significantly more likely to experience behavioural problems.

Three of the youngsters from Kent, Charlotte Swaine,16, from Ashford, Millie May, 13, from the Isle of Sheppey, and Lizzy Parker, 13, from Gravesend, spoke at the event before being introduced to the Duchess of Cambridge.

Along with HeadStart Kent programme manager, Angela Ford, and a HeadStart team from Blackpool, the trio gave a presentation about the benefits of ‘co-production’ – when young people who will benefit from HeadStart programmes work together with professionals to develop those programmes.

They shared the importance of co-production and the difference this process can make to leading and delivering a successful programme to improve the emotional resilience of young people aged 10 to16.

Angela Ford said: “Lizzy, Millie and Charlie described how we can get young people and families involved in the design and delivery of any services which aims to benefit them through ensuring every conversation counts.

“We need to ensure that young people and families are supported to do this practically in a creative and enjoyable way, which means they want to spend their time with us.”

HeadStart Kent is a preventative programme for 10 to16 year olds in schools, aimed at improving their emotional resilience so they will be less likely to suffer from emotional and mental health issues.

The key principles of co-production in Kent are Respect, Ownership and Communication.

Youngsters from all six HeadStart partnerships across the UK, including Kent, completed a survey, which fed into the research. The survey found that one in five children and young people said they had experienced emotional problems, and the same was true for behavioural problems.

Girls are more than twice as likely to say they had experienced emotional problems (with 25% of girls saying they had a problem compared to 11% of boys) but in contrast, boys are one-and-a-half times more likely to say they have experienced behavioural problems (with 23% of boys saying they had experienced them compared with 15% of girls), according to the research.

Emma Ackerman, head of funding for HeadStart at the Big Lottery Fund said: “HeadStart aims to improve our understanding of how communities can work together with young people to give them the tools they need to lead fulfilling lives.

“The programme was developed with young people and they continue to be at the centre of the six partnerships. Using their insight and experience, they are taking the lead in shaping support locally, which benefits them and their peers.”

The HeadStart Kent programme was created with young people’s involvement and schools are asked to regularly evaluate the impact the programme is having on their pupils.

HeadStart Kent is currently operating in Swale, Gravesham, Ashford, Canterbury and Shepway. During 2018 it will be rolled out in Maidstone and Thanet and in 2019 it will arrive in Dover and Tonbridge and Malling.

Towards the end of last year, HeadStart Kent launched its new website, the Kent Resilience Hub, which contains videos and other resources and offers advice on issues such as how a young person can start a conversation with a trusted adult about their mental health.

The Hub can be found at www.headstartkent.org.uk

One initiative that has been developed through co-production between young people and professionals at HeadStart Kent is Pay It Forward.

The scheme offers groups of young people the chance to apply for a grant of up to £1,000 to fund a project that will help to improve the emotional health and wellbeing of other people within their community.

It is open to all 10- to 16-year-olds across Kent (except Medway) regardless of whether HeadStart is in operation in their district.

The project should be led by the young people themselves, although some assistance from a trusted adult may be given in the grant application and planning.

The closing date for the next round of applications is Monday, February 5 and an application form can be found here:


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