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With the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week being “relationships”, which relationships are most important for good mental health and where should the government be targeting treatment?

The emotional welfare of children is something we increasingly hear more about, as they are amongst the most vulnerable in society and represent the future. Less attention is paid to the effect of the parent-parent relationship on the child they are raising. Interventions differ, although most make a clear case for improving the capacity of parents to look after their own children, rather than resorting to social services. This break-up of the family unit has a well-evidenced, negative impact on the mental health of all concerned.

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families is one charity that has devoted its time to focusing on the mental health of the family as a whole. By creating the Early Years Parenting Unit (EYPU) for parents with personality difficulties and with children under the age of 5, they offer struggling parents the help they need to retain custody of their children.

The Anna Freud Centre could see that this programme was working through the positive impact it was having on its beneficiaries. But due to spending cuts to services receiving taxpayer funding and with increasing pressure from commissioners on charities to prove performance, the charity needed some real, tangible evidence to back up their observations. Pro Bono Economics, a charity itself that helps charities and social enterprises understand the impact and value of their work, looked at a therapy programme offered by the EYPU to determine benefits of the programme to its clients, as well as public savings in terms of reduced reliance on taxpayer funded services.

The report successfully linked information about clients of the EYPU with standardised cost information to show that large reductions in the use of taxpayer funded services is a very likely outcome of the programme. For the Anna Freud Centre, this has been a vital step towards beginning to understand and evaluate the impact of interventions aimed at improving the wellbeing of children and their families.

The EYPU’s therapy programmes provide parents and families with strong networks of support; the guiding mission of the centre being to improve the mental welfare of children, a cause even the Royals have taken up recently by supporting another of the Anna Freud Centre’s services: Heads Together.

Preventative mental health interventions and therapy can be costly, but the cost to the individual and wider society can be many times more. PBE’s study for the EYPU provides evidence to support longer term solutions such as those offered at the Anna Freud Centre, which help to reduce costs to society such as reliance on the NHS or on child support services. The report provides insight on how to go about evaluating the success of such programmes, a solution for organisations without substantive evidence that their interventions are truly effective and good value for money.

A good news story for the sector, the Anna Freud Centre is keen to continue to self-evaluate and has taken on a part-time Data Analyst to ensure they are consistently promoting best practice throughout their programmes. The study from Pro Bono Economics has provided them with a framework for future analysis and data collection to do just that, whilst providing a reason for the public to regain trust in the sector once more after a damning report from the Charity Commission in June this year.

5th September 2016