Assessing methods to support children’s mental health

The impact of using an advisory group in evaluation, by Richard Cotmore

In a systematic review led by Professor Geraldine Macdonald, we considered therapeutic approaches with children, young people and professionals. The review will be published soon, but here I'll talk through the process and how the advisory group shaped findings.

Involving young people and professionals

In the initial group workshops, 2 groups of young people took part who we felt could benefit from psychosocial interventions. We asked children and young people from care and those who had been abused. The session was co-facilitated by a member of the project team and an existing group facilitator they knew well. 

We involved young people and professionals to:

  • shape the review
  • make it relevant in the context of UK practice and policy
  • help us interpret and draw conclusions from the evidence.

We also involved professionals involved in identifying, referring and delivering interventions. This helped us to identify potential barriers and facilitators in our review findings. 

The professionals:

  • voluntary sector and social work
  • health economics
  • clinical psychology and psychiatry
  • health professionals
  • educational psychology
  • social science
  • foster carers.

Initial questions

Outcomes of psychosocial interventions for young people who've been abused

What helped young people to get the support they needed.

What barriers young people faced to getting the support they needed.

Categorising support for young people

ABC block illustration

We conducted a sorting and ranking exercise called a "Q-Set" with young people and professionals.

Participants were presented with a group of cards, each with a different possible outcome. Some contained things that helped to get support, and some contains potential barriers to support.

First they reviewed where the cards would rank individually, before working together to create 1 group pyramid. The task was demanding for the young people, but created discussion and engagement in support.

The professionals group used the Q-set in a similar way. The group included 39 individuals, so we split them into smaller groups organised by professional discipline.

Given the intensity of debate across all groups, the exercise seemed to be effective at promoting engagement and participation.

Evaluating different types of therapy

Young people

The research team and steering group talked young people through the main types of therapy and asked about:

  • prioritising between interventions
  • responses to "acceptability" statements
  • how to present research evidence and findings to young people effectively.

Some of the quotes they heard from young people were powerful and unsettling, and trusted adults were available to support them if they became distressed.

We used a range of tools to help the young people's discussion including fake bank notes to "allocate funding" to different intervention types.

Types of therapy in our review:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • counselling and psychotherapy
  • family intervention
  • attachment therapy
  • activity based interventions
  • therapeutic residential care.


We used a more detailed and technical presentation of findings with professionals. We asked a series of questions to focus the discussion and covered topics including:

  • training
  • the context of therapy
  • resource constraints
  • surprising findings.

Our findings

Resources illustration

Whilst our advisory group process was limited, it achieved the purpose it was designed for.

The early consultations provided a helpful reminder of the range and diversity of views about desired outcomes for psychosocial interventions.

The different accounts for the relationship between different types of outcome served as a helpful reminder of the contested nature of this field.

There was also a range of views over the facilitators and barriers to change. This fed through into the later consultation phase, which considered different interpretations of the findings.

The later consultation phase also helped the project team place the findings within current policy and practice contexts – essential for promoting engagement with and use of the findings.