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Alcohol Misuse Impact in 2015-16

Please note that The Robertson Trust has published its new Giving Strategy. This sets out the priorities we will have when awarding funds through our open grants programme. The existing application form and guidelines can still be used until July 31st. In line with our existing procedures, we will aim to assess and present all applications received by this date to our September Board meeting. In the event that we are unable to do so, your application may be held until our November meeting. In such cases a member of staff will contact you and provide any assistance required to realign your application with the new Giving Strategy. Find out all you need to know here.

Please note that this refers to impact and learning from our Partnership Awards (previously Development Awards). These differ from our Open Grant awards and seek to test new ways of working and to build evidence around what works, what doesn't work and why in areas of particular interest to us, as part of our wider Innovation and Learning approach. These awards cannot be applied for through our open application process. Instead, organisations may be invited to apply, or awards may be advertised openly for application, depending on the programme. 

The Scottish Government’s ‘Alcohol Strategy; Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action’ was published in 2009. Our Trustees were concerned about the issues harmful drinking was causing for young people, their families and their communities and decided that the Trust could contribute to the evidence base about what works and why. 

Through investing in and sharing our learning from this work we aim to:

  • Develop the evidence base of the approaches that are most effective in supporting young people to make informed and responsible choices about alcohol.
  • Reduce the harm that alcohol misuse can have on young people, families and communities.

What we did >

We are currently funding, managing and evaluating a range of programmes within a single portfolio: Young People and Families. Each of these is exploring a different approach to supporting young people, their parents or carers, and their wider community in order to change negative behaviours around alcohol. In the long-term it is hoped that this will help us to better understand which approaches work best at preventing alcohol misuse. The main programme we are currently supporting, in partnership with other independent Trusts, is Thinking Differently (see case study below).

Throughout our funded programmes we provided opportunities for individuals and organisations to come together to share learning.

These included facilitating:

  • A quarterly learning set for the three organisations funded through Thinking Differently.
  • A Practitioners’ Learning Day for all of the organisations currently funded through this theme.
  • A learning day for some of the young people involved in some of our funded projects.

What we have learned >

  • Alcohol misuse and other risky behaviours do not exist in isolation. As a result, any attempt to prevent alcohol misuse for young people will need to take a holistic approach to the activities being delivered and the intended outcomes.
  • Sustaining engagement in youth groups over a period of two to three years is difficult as young people’s interests change and some move away. Perhaps because of this, although youth led approaches can be effective at achieving positive outcomes for individuals, there is limited evidence from our programmes about the extent to which these young people can then act as agents of change for their family and wider community.
  • Working with parents is better done by organisations with this type of experience and existing relationships, rather than by trying to influence parents through their children.
  • Our evidence is mixed on peer influence but one project has significant evidence that taking a pragmatic and non-judgemental dialogue approach can deliver beneficial outcomes for both the peer educators and the participants.
  • Youth led approaches may not be effective if a specific issue is imposed onto the group. Instead the young people need to be involved in the ongoing design of what issues they want to explore and how they want to tackle this.
  • We have found that young people are often first attracted to a group either by the activities being advertised - e.g. photography or filming - or because their friends are involved. The issue being explored is often not the hook that will initially get them involved.
  • There is mixed evidence from our programmes about whether putting alcohol misuse upfront as the issue is helpful in engaging the young people or not.

Case Study: Thinking Differently

Thinking Differently is a funding programme delivered through a partnership of five independent funders. Set up in 2013 its purpose was to fund innovative early intervention work with young people through peer-led, family or community-wide projects. Three organisations were funded in Phase 1 of the programme; Healthy n Happy in South Glasgow, MYPAS in Dalkeith, and YMCA Glenrothes. An external evaluation of the programme was commissioned and the final report is due to be published by early 2017.

Learning about the Process

> The funded projects welcomed the opportunity for peer learning as they do not always have the time or resources to initiate this themselves
> More clarity needs to be provided about what is meant by terms such as ‘risk-taking’behaviour so that realistic expectations can be set.
> When projects are working towards outcomes they should be developed in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, including participants where possible, to ensure buy-in and encourage a shared vision.

Learning from the Projects

> A truly youth-led approach needs to be flexible enough to adapt in response to the interests, needs and assets of the young people. Otherwise they might become disengaged from the project.
› When young people felt ownership over the topics and outputs of the project, their engagement was more likely to be sustained and to be viewed as a positive experience.
› Although the projects all evidenced positive outcomes for the participants there was limited evidence about whether this resulted in long-term behavioural change. This may be because of the types of approaches being employed or it might be because of well-documented challenges in evidencing such changes over a three year period, particularly in relation to the preventative agenda.

What is changing as a result of our work?

Through their engagement with specific projects we have evidence that many of the young participants have:

  • Developed new skills 
  • Improved confidence
  • Increased knowledge around certain issues, including alcohol misuse and the consequences of risky behaviour

Built new friendships

There is also evidence in some areas of improved relationships between the young people and their wider community. However it has not been possible to ascertain whether or not young people can have significant peer influence or indeed influence on their parents’ behaviour. Community Action Blackburn was the first project supported by the Trust in this theme and evidence is beginning to emerge from there that young people can be agents of change to achieve sustainable change in attitudes and behaviours within the wider community. This project has gone from strength to strength with significant local public sector support. However, the expansion of the approach to other areas in Scotland did not experience similar success and the community action approach to tackling alcohol misuse has not become widespread, which is disappointing. Overall, we have found this to be a particularly difficult theme to evidence which approaches work and, therefore, to influence wider regional and national policy and practice.

Download our full Impact Report 2015-16 for case studies and breakdown of impact made in other themes.