Evaluating Cornwall's service for adolescents at risk of entering care

Dr. Julie Wilkinson reflects on an evaluation of Cornwall's specialist adolescent service Gweres Tus Yowynk

Research in Practice has completed an evaluation of a Cornwall Council adolescent service for young people and families in crisis, with the young person at risk being taken into care.

The findings from this evaluation provided a useful insight into the programme's powerful and positive use of a relationship-building. 

Preventing adolescents entering care

Known as Gweres Tus Yowynk (GTY), Cornish for “helping young people”, this service involves a team of 9, which includes 3 social workers, 3 targeted youth workers and 3 functional family therapists.

The main aim of the service, which lasts around 6 months, is to prevent the young person entering care. It’s mainly for young people for whom there is no social work involvement at the time of referral.

Referrals to the service can come from a school, the police, parents or others. The case is picked up by the adolescent team and either the social worker, or targeted youth worker, acts as the main case worker.

Over the 6 month period, the young person and their family works closely with the social worker and, or targeted youth worker, supported by other key professionals and functional family therapists if appropriate. The functional family therapist focuses on improving communication and de-escalating tension within the family

As well as 3 key case workers, other organisations can be engaged with the family if appropriate. 

Evaluating Gweres Tus Yowynk

The budget and timescale for the GTY evaluation was limited so our methodology was creative. Its success relied on the GTY workers’ complete cooperation. There were various strands to the evaluation:


In January 2015, a few months after the service launched, we conducted individual interviews with the 9 GTY workers and 2 managers overseeing the service. We interviewed them again 8 months later.


The young people and their families were invited to complete a survey 

Phone interviews

Researchers conducted telephone interviews with some young people and their parents/carers

Case studies

3 case studies were compiled featuring in-depth interviews with the young person, their parent/carer and the GTY workers for a holistic picture 

Working with agencies

A survey was conducted with outside agencies who had worked with the families and 2 of these were also interviewed.  

To engage the young people and their families, the GTY workers told them about the evaluation towards the end of the programme and explained how they could take part.

They left information and a survey for them to fill in anonymously along with a consent form allowing researchers to contact them for an interview. They collected the surveys in a sealed envelope a week later and an administrator entered the data into our system.

We didn’t have a huge response from the surveys, partly because some cases were ongoing and couldn’t be included in the evaluation.

But the surveys that were returned provided some very useful information, supplemented by the interviews and case studies.

Qualitative benefits

In the absence of suitable comparative data, we couldn’t compare outcomes for young people who received the GTY service and young people who didn’t.

But our qualitative research revealed that everyone involved was positive about the service and, crucially, it highlighted the importance of the relationships that were forged between the GTY workers and the families.

Having a multidisciplinary team was beneficial as it could tailor the service for each family.

One example was a worker who ran alongside a young person on his bike as this worked better for him than talking at home. In this example, the GTY worker literally went the extra mile, but this bespoke attitude was not uncommon within the programme. Workers were always available to the young people and their families in times of crisis.

Having a multi-disciplinary team, and doing intensive work with the families, also helped to re-establish family relationships.       

Reflecting on the evaluation

The final evaluation on the GTY service was completed in January 2016. It gave a clear indication of the value of the new service.

We saw examples of improved communication within families, better attendance at school and reductions in offending behaviour and substance abuse.

The triangulated data supported the positive message of the service and, although we couldn’t complete any comparative quantitative analysis, we used the tools we had within the resource and timescale of the project to good effect.

The qualitative research certainly gave us a specific in-depth picture of the service, and the importance of relationship-building, that we wouldn’t have seen from quantitative data alone. 

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