Sustaining programme impact

Emma Belton puts forward the case for post-programme support

Teenage boy on a swingInterventions in social care often focus on successful programme design and getting service users through the programme.

We don’t often think about what needs to be in place to maintain the impact of the programme once it’s finished.

To highlight the case for post-programme support, I’m reflecting here on what we learnt during the qualitative evaluation of our Turn the Page programme.

About Turn the Page

Turn the Page supports children who’ve displayed harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). Our evaluation focussed on the Change for Good manual, which is used by practitioners to work with boys aged 12-18, to identify the challenges they face and help them change their behaviour and improve their wellbeing.

Young people go through a 6-8 week assessment process to determine whether the programme is suitable for them. The programme then takes approximately 30 sessions to deliver, over 6-9 months, if not longer.

Difficult endings

Our qualitative evaluation found the relationship between the young person and the practitioner was an important factor in engaging young people and keeping them engaged.

The trust established helped young people to open up about their experiences and ask questions about things they were unsure of.

Some young people said they didn’t have anyone else they could talk to, or who listened to them. For this reason, some of them struggled when their relationship with the practitioner came to an end.

Taking progress into the world

An important part of the programme involved practising strategies and techniques to help children manage their own behaviour. Young people found this useful and some appeared to make progress on the programme.

Although they were able to apply the techniques with the support of practitioners, some struggled to do so once the programme had ended and the support was not in place.

“You go from all this high-end support and then you just pull out. What you need is family, and other professionals or adults in his/her life, to put these things around him/her.”

Post-programme support

Ideally, the young person’s support network - be that their parent or carer, the practitioner who referred them to the service, or their school - would know about the work being done. They’d be able to support the young person after the end of the programme and reinforce the messages given.

In some cases, this happened; the young person continued to get support throughout and after the programme.

Without this in place, there was a real risk that progress made during the programme wasn’t sustainable - even in the short term - and the potential impact of the programme was lost.

Why is post-programme support lacking?

Support wasn’t always in place for a number of reasons.

Sometimes, social workers closed the child’s case soon after the programme ended, or their own workloads meant they were not in close contact with the young person during the programme. Some referrers reported not being given enough information about the work undertaken in sessions to be able to integrate it into any meetings they had with the young person.

Similarly, there were challenges for parents and carers in giving young people the support they needed.

Some parents and carers needed support themselves as they came to terms with the young person’s HSB, or were in denial about the behaviour. Without work to overcome these attitudes, parents or carers could not support the young person.

Some parents and carers were facing their own health or personal difficulties and simply didn’t have the capacity to support the young person in the required way.

Others needed advice and guidance about how to manage the young person’s behaviour and provide support. But - in a similar scenario reported by referrers – they weren’t given enough information about the work carried out in sessions, or they didn’t understand what the extent of their role should be.

Programme development

There will always be cases where post-programme support is not in place, but clear messages are evident for programme development:

  • parallel work needs to be done with parents and carers during a programme
  • parents, carers and referrers need to be updated about work carried out in sessions and what would be helpful for them to do between sessions
  • referrers need to keep cases open for some time after the programme ends.

We also heard that, when Turn the Page teams had concerns about how some young people would manage after the programme, different strategies were employed.

One team arranged a series of follow-up appointments with the young person to check their progress and remind them of some of the messages from the programme.

Another engaged a mentor, so the young person had someone to see regularly and talk things through with.

The Circles of Support and Accountability model exists to provide adult sex offenders with ongoing support and input: young people may benefit from having a more structured approach to ongoing support, too.

Our evaluation of Turn the Page showed the importance of thinking about how to maintain the impact of a programme once the direct work ends. This is something that everybody designing and delivering a service should consider.

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