Around 3.3% of all young people in England – around 404,310 – are classed as being ‘children in need’, according to the UK Government’s Department for Education – although, as ever, the true number is likely to be far higher across both England and the UK as a whole.
Children in need have been assessed as requiring help and protection because of risks to their health or development, which include abuse and neglect. Such challenges result in all too many experiencing lack of confidence, anxiety and mental health issues. This, in turn, can lead to disengagement from education, employment or training and even, in some instances, homelessness.
But the problem with many interventions today is that they are “deficit-based” in that they focus predominantly on what is going wrong, believes Simon Glenister, Chief Executive Officer of social enterprise Noise Solution. To address this situation, the organization, which works with at-risk young people across the East of England, uses a strengths-based approach based on Self-Determination Theory. Glenister explains:
The model tells us that if we want successful engagement across the board, people need to have a sense of agency and autonomy, so they don’t feel controlled. They also have to feel competent and like they have something to contribute. But these two things are often the opposite of what people experience when they’re having problems. The third pillar is relatedness, which is about feeling connected and being seen by others.
How the organization applies this theory in practice is to pair troubled youngsters with one of 29 professional musicians who it has trained as mentors. The young people are usually aged between 13 and 18 and referred to Noise Solution’s program by local authorities, schools and Integrated Care Boards, often as a last resort.
Combining the benefits of mentoring and tech
The aim is to encourage participants to create music of whichever genre they prefer, thereby enabling them to learn new skills in a supportive environment and boosting their wellbeing in the process. Each individual receives 10 two-hour one-to-one sessions. The first five take place online and the second five in a recording studio.
After every session, participants share highlights and weekly video-based thoughts and feelings about what occurred to their own private MyStream social media-like feed. They can also invite friends, family, carers and key workers to comment in order to both celebrate their success and provide 360-degree feedback on their progress. Doing so is important, Glenister says, because:
The point of the program is to work with those who are stuck, unmotivated and disengaged. The rest of the world has been saying to them, often for a long time, that they’re failing, but this helps change their internal narrative. It also helps key workers that may have been struggling to work with them. The idea is that people need to change how they feel about themselves to create change elsewhere. So we don’t medicalize or problematize them – we give them control of the process and show they can be good at something.
The MyStream portal, meanwhile, is built on Salesforce’s Experience Cloud and creates a customized view for different user groups, which include program participants and their key workers. Musicians also use the portal to share Zoom links for sessions, upload short, weekly reports, which include any safeguarding concerns, and undertake mandatory training. Glenister explains:
Using Salesforce means we’re able to track what’s happening across the full 420 hours of mentoring we deliver each month. Everyone knows what’s taking place at every stage as they’re all included. Young people are often in anxiety-provoking situations and may be unclear about what’s happening in their lives, but we keep them informed and challenge them to do something they like and receive affirmation for it. All they have to have is an interest and elect to do it – they don’t need great musical ability.
Also integrated with Experience Cloud is the Service Cloud customer service app, Heroku Platform-as-a-Service offering and Tableau analytics tool. Together this automates 95% of the not-for-profit’s administrative processes, to the extent that it is now entirely paperless and can deliver 2,948 hours of mentoring per year with only 4.8 full-time-equivalent staff. These processes include capturing and analysing data and handling training and onboarding activities. Glenister says:
Unusually for a third sector organization, we have a digital infrastructure that evolved with us rather than being imposed later. So because we understood the theory behind change, wellbeing and education, we applied it to the design, which includes the process of young people sharing their stories and session highlights being captured. It’s game-changing and is as important as the music sessions themselves. It’s also not just about offering a bolt-on evaluation at the end – it’s part of the process. We automatically capture, analyse and share qualitative and quantitative data at every stage, which enables us to compare it with the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales and demonstrate outcomes more effectively.
Of the 150 young people who completed the program last year (65%), three quarters started with wellbeing levels below the national average, while 84% finished above the average or within two points of it. Outcomes for young women, who generally experience the lowest levels of wellbeing, were nearly twice as high as for young men.
In cost-benefit terms, the organization also saves over £1 million per year for both local authorities and families, which includes saving money on service use and parental time off work. According to staff from Cambridge-based healthcare data analysis company Costello Medical, this amounts to a 334% return on investment, saving those involved £3.34 for every £1 spent.
As to what the future holds, Noise Solution is currently looking for funding to move a new system it has developed from beta into production. This system takes audio from program participants’ MyStream feeds, translates it into text and undertakes sentiment and linguistic analysis to find indicators of positive and negative wellbeing.
This kind of approach to supporting at-risk young people, which combines mentoring with the smart use of tech, has applications way beyond the music industry. As Glenister points out, it could easily be applied to everything from pets to gardening. As a result, over the next five years as Noise Solution goes national, it will be looking for partners to offer front-end services while it provides back-end infrastructure. Which would seem a pretty sensible approach to me.