Programme to tackle children’s mental health delivers more than £5m of benefits to society

Millions of pounds of wellbeing benefits were delivered to society last year as part of a mental health initiative in schools, according to a new report by Pro Bono Economics (PBE).

The new research - undertaken with the education charity Football Beyond Borders (FBB) - found that FBB’s project to provide a trusted adult for young people in secondary schools has resulted in wellbeing benefits of £5.5 million.

PBE’s research also revealed that the average student involved in the programme in 2022/23 benefited from improvements in wellbeing worth around £2,300 - the equivalent of £8,700 per at-risk student. This increase equates roughly to a UK adult’s experience when going from being unemployed to being in employment.

In addition, analysis by researchers at The University of Manchester using data from the #BeeWell programme, showed that FBB’s programme protects young people who are identified as being "at risk", with them demonstrating a better ability to manage emotions, increased confidence, and a more positive outlook towards school. The study shows that the target group of participants maintain their levels of wellbeing while individuals with similar characteristics who didn’t receive FBB’s support from a trusted adult experienced a decline over time.

This means that the programme delivered more than £5.5 million of wellbeing benefits to society from the 2,401 students that participated in that year. Given that these benefits were delivered by 37 full-time equivalent practitioners across 51 schools, the typical trusted adult practitioner delivered almost £150,000 of benefits, or £109,000 of benefits per school.

PBE concluded that the FBB programme is likely to offer good value for money. For most scenarios the benefits per £1 spent fall in the range of £1.70 - £4.00, suggesting the short-term wellbeing benefits outweigh the costs of the programme.

Through building authentic, trusted relationships between adult practitioners and young people it has been shown to have a protective effect on the wellbeing of the children at highest risk of low wellbeing. HM Treasury methodologies suggest that this wellbeing improvement has a substantial social value associated with it.

Data from a representative sample of people in Wales suggested that around 20% of people did not have a trusted adult during childhood. PBE found that, if this is representative of the rest of the UK, there could be more than 800,000 children in secondary school today that do not have a trusted adult to support them.

Football Beyond Borders’ project provides support within secondary schools to students at risk of exclusion, such as those with poor behaviour records, or those that have suffered adverse childhood experiences or have Special Educational Needs. Sport is used to build trust and combines this with one-to-one mentoring and group work to help develop children’s socio-emotional awareness.

Having a trusted relationship as a child with an adult that can listen without judgement and support a young person positively has been consistently highlighted as an important way of reducing the risks of low mental wellbeing. Evidence suggests that the risks of low mental wellbeing - as well as a host of other negative outcomes including smoking, heavier alcohol consumption and poor diet - were significantly reduced where a child had access to a trusted adult.

15-year-old Darcy from Bolton is one young person who has benefitted from her experience with FBB. She said: "Most teachers know how to speak to you - they do notice when something’s changed, and they ask if you’re alright. But It depends on the teacher. If I am angry and it’s a teacher I like I would speak to them, but if I was sad because of something not in school, I wouldn’t tell them. I’d go to speak privately with a different teacher from RISE or FBB.

"Schools think that things like FBB and RISE you just go there to have fun, but you learn loads of new things, how to build and cook, and you get therapy lessons. Trust the process and give it time in order to see change."

Darcy’s mother added: "I’m glad she’s got FBB and RISE, and I don’t think she would have gotten through school without FBB and RISE. It’s a fantastic association for school, and I think every school should have them."

Jon Franklin, Chief Economist at Pro Bono Economics, said: "The Football Beyond Borders programme demonstrates how new ideas and creative approaches can help to tackle the current crisis in children’s wellbeing, offering good value for money for society.

"Better understanding and valuing the wellbeing impacts of programmes working with children and young people could help ensure that policies and interventions to tackle children’s wellbeing will be prioritised going forwards. It is essential that the country invests in the collection of high-quality wellbeing data for children, like the one pioneered by #BeeWell, and support greater investment in young people’s lives."

Jack Reynolds, Chief Executive of Football Beyond Borders, said: "Young people’s mental wellbeing is having a huge effect on their engagement at school - you can’t rectify the other issues we see every day around absence and attainment if young people’s heads aren’t in a good place. This research shows that investing in relationships provides value for money and addresses the needs of adolescents.

"Long-term, consistent, adult role models are an essential part of any solution and immediate reform which puts trusted relationships at the heart of our system can’t come soon enough.

Our analysis shows that at-risk young people who took part in Football Beyond Borders experienced a significant improvement in their wellbeing one year after starting the programme relative to a group of otherwise similar children. This is great news for schools looking for interventions to support young people’s mental health, and showcases the utility of the #BeeWell dataset in helping organisations understand how best to support young people’s wellbeing.