The Realities of Coproducing an ICS-wide Young People’s Mental Health Advisory Group

Never has coproduction been higher on the national agenda, and finally there is widespread understanding of the value and importance of lived experience, but are we really equipped for the collaborative involvement of young people in designing and delivering health services?

To establish a young people’s mental health advisory group, representative of communities from across the Humber and North Yorkshire geography, I was tasked with recruiting, training, and supporting a group of young volunteers with lived experience, as one of the key priorities of my role.

A small executive group of young people was formed to help plan and deliver a face-to-face event to launch and coproduce the advisory group.  However, engaging both young people and relevant professionals on a large scale presented several challenges.

We had to consider the school term schedule and professionals’ availability to determine the event’s timing, with the added challenge of staggered half terms across the patch.  While not ideal, we agreed to hold the event at the start of the Christmas holidays after consulting with place-based partners and young people.

Another challenge was while place-based partners could invoice for young people’s travel costs covered, I was unable to access petty cash to reimburse young people’s out-of-pocket expenses for those travelling independently.  In the current economic climate with increasing numbers of young people and families living hand to mouth, I felt compelled to cover costs out of my own pocket and claim back through my expenses where possible.

This situation emphasises the need for services committed to coproduction to recognise and plan for such situations, and acknowledge and reward young people’s commitment, time, and contribution to ensure ethical engagement.

Despite the challenges, the Nothing About Us Without Us event took place in York on Monday 19th December, and was well attended by young people and professionals. The young people democratically agreed on the terms of the Humber and North Yorkshire Young People’s Mental Health Advisory Group, made up of three smaller advisory groups.

Since the launch event, over 200 young people have contributed to the advisory group’s work, focusing on improving access to services.  The three locality advisory groups have collaborated with place-based partners to conduct a consultation with young people to identify barriers to access, enablers, and recommendations for easier access to mental health services.

The consultation will continue until the end of September, and the findings will be presented to the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Steering Group in October.  The three groups will meet with commissioners, service leads, and other professionals in August and November to explore possible options for improving access based on key themes.

As part of our commitment to feeding back to young people, in spring 2024 a “We Said, You Did…?” survey will be shared with steering group members to gather data on which recommendations have been actioned, which are planned for, and which cannot be actioned and why, so the information can be shared with the young people who have contributed to the consultation.

Working with young people to transform mental health services for children and young people is incredibly exciting and has the potential to create meaningful change.  An often-overlooked outcome of this work is that coproduction can be an early intervention in itself, as young people learn more about mental health, feel valued, find a purpose, make new friends, and learn new skills.  I’ve witnessed it time and time again in my work over the last 20 years.  However, this work takes time, and it does require adequate staffing and support.  Which is why it is key that decision-makers understand the complexities of this work and what a commitment to coproduction really means.

As the only person dedicated to the advisory group, with several other responsibilities, I am currently overloaded.  I am grateful for the support from place-based partners but as everyone is stretched so thin, if you have the capacity to support in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out.  Together we can make a real difference to the lives of children and young people.

View the Humber and North Yorkshire Young People’s Mental Health Advisory Group Agreement.

Clair Atherton, Children and Young People’s Engagement and Coproduction Manager