13/06/2023 Children and young people’s social prescribing: new evidence review

We have published a new evidence review about social prescribing for children and young people, alongside the results of a survey with professionals. 

Social prescribing can support people of all ages, but there has historically been a greater emphasis on working with adults. However, there are a rapidly growing number of services across the country focused specifically on children and young people.

Read the evidence review

While there is limited published research on children and young people’s social prescribing to date, the new review, commissioned by NHS England and carried out by our academic partners, suggests that: 

  • There is emerging evidence around the benefits of social prescribing for young people, particularly for those aged over 17, on personal and mental wellbeing, including loneliness. 
  • There is preliminary evidence to suggest there is a potential favourable return on investment.  
  • While social prescribing can be of benefit to children and young people, barriers remain, particularly around interagency working, information sharing and incorporating multiple perspectives.  

Alongside the review, we carried out a snapshot survey with professionals involved in children and young people’s social prescribing, including link workers, providers and commissioners. It found that: 

  • Services for children and young people are being delivered through both specialist children and young people’s services and all age services. 
  • Most services were working with 12–18-year-olds. Link workers reported feeling feel less confident working with younger people and families.
  • A broad range of venues are being used for social prescribing, with the majority reporting delivery happening in schools and community settings.  
  • Voluntary sector, primary care and local authority stakeholders were equally represented in these services, but Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, education, and legal/welfare services were less well represented. 

To address the gaps in evidence for children and young people, we are supporting two research projects: UCL’s Wellbeing While Waiting project, which focuses on social prescribing support for young people on mental health waiting lists; and the University of Exeter’s Choices project, which looks at other pathways. 

A group of children of varying ethnicities walk through a forest path with two teachers
Social prescribing can play an important role in supporting young people who are struggling with their mental health, by connecting them to non-medical support that makes a huge difference. Link workers have time to understand young people’s needs and what matters to them, and then work with them to create a personalised plan.

This could mean helping them to take part in new social activities that give them a sense of belonging, or helping them get support for problems with housing, benefits or addiction. It can also help young people get support for physical health issues, including diabetes or obesity.

While there are some amazing services being set up around the country, evidence is still emerging about how to implement them most effectively. In particular, supporting children and young people means taking into account their wider support network – whether that’s parents, carers, schools, youth groups or mental health services – and ensuring that the right people are involved.

Social prescribing has enormous potential for this age-group, and there will be lots of opportunities to learn from the projects that are developing across the country.
Charlotte Osborn-Forde
Chief Executive of the National Academy for Social Prescribing

As well as supporting research, we plant to publish a guide for Primary Care Networks later this year about different options for recruiting Children and Young People’s link workers, using the Additional Roles Reimbursement Fund.


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