Arts and Mental Health Child & Family Psychology devolution Evaluation iTHRIVE

Supporting the arts sector to sing to health, commissioning and policy makers

We know that in children’s services, conventional interventions result in modest outcomes: around half of those who access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS, or Healthy Young Minds) show significant improvement.

At the same time, there is growing evidence that outcomes in young people can be improved through engagement with the arts and cultural provision. This evidence, however, is commonly inconsistent and often idiosyncratic – and therefore not easily understood or considered by decision-makers.

A Cross-Sector Evaluation Framework: Arts, Culture & Mental Health

Since July 2019, the GM iTHRIVE team have led a series of cross-sector workshops aimed at shaping an agreed minimum evaluation framework for arts and health provision.

The evaluation framework is designed by the cross-sector working party to be simple, validated, relevant and useful to commissioners, while offering feasible and desirable tools for arts providers.

This article outlines the background and process of this Working Party, established to co-develop and propose the framework, to be applied by health and arts providers alike.

Who forms the working party?

We are fortunate and grateful for the participation of representatives from some of Greater Manchester’s key, oldest – and newest! – cultural institutions, including 42nd Street and the Horsfall, Contact Theatre, Arts Council England, Mahdlo Youth Zone, and LIME Arts.

In addition is expertise from researchers from the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, including Professor Karina Lovell, whose research with children and young people has long highlighted the need for more community-led and accessible methods of engagement. Strategic and clinical perspectives are provided by the GM iTHRIVE team.

Why is this needed?

The drivers for the Evaluation Framework for Arts, Culture and Mental Health concern the need to describe the impact of arts-led options in a language that can speak to decision-makers. Meaningful and feasible methods are required to understand how – and which – outcomes for children and young people can be improved through cultural interventions.

Outcome measures currently used in CAMHS services are recommended by CORC (Child Research Outcomes Consortium), and at the national level by Public Health England. These tools represent a particular range of outcomes, and are limited in their ability to reflect the much wider range of impacts reported by young people and families, and by practitioners who work with them. We recognise that any evaluation framework cannot capture or measure all impacts, and the aim is to produce a simple and effective minimum set of outcomes tools, to support the cultural sector to collect substantive information on impact and enable evidence-based decision-making.

The framework does not recommend exclusively quantitative data, but includes a mix of types of evidence. This minimum standard offers purposefully selected items and mixed methods which includes metrics, qualitative data, experience data and goals set by young people themselves. By necessity, this is partly agreed using current health and commissioning frameworks, but extends to approaches to outcome that are not currently captured by the arts sector, and, by the same token, valid outcomes that the health sector currently overlook.

What next?

The working party will propose the evaluation framework and seek consultation from stakeholders. The resulting framework will contain some of our collective rationale for inclusion or exclusion of outcomes and measures – and guidance on how to collect and store the data collected.

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I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

2 comments on “Supporting the arts sector to sing to health, commissioning and policy makers

  1. Keep up the good work Kat. Got to be better than Time to Talk Day 2020!



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