As a prevention charity, our work is all about reducing future needs. We believe prevention services are a crucial investment in the future. If we support more young people today, there will be reduced need for behavioural services, healthcare and substance-related treatment services in the future.
At Mentor, we advocate for prevention programmes that have been proven by hard evidence to improve young people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour to alcohol and drugs and to keep them engaged in education, training, volunteering and work.
Why we focus on prevention
The social and economic consequences of drink and drug misuse are huge. Public Health England estimates that drug and alcohol harm costs the UK £36.4 billion every year – including £4 billion in NHS costs alone – with each individual problematic drug user costing the state an estimated £827,000 over the course of their lifetime.
Yet we barely spend anything trying to prevent this catastrophe. The NHS spends only 4% of its total budget on preventing ill health. NICE estimated in 2009 that a national alcohol prevention programme in schools reducing young people’s alcohol consumption by as little as 1.4% would be a cost-effective public health intervention – but we continue not to invest in effective health education.
This flies in the face of what evidence suggests our priorities should be; for each year during adolescence a young person doesn’t drink alcohol, they are 10% less likely to misuse alcohol as an adult. Delaying the age when teenagers start to drink means their prospects are happier, wealthier and healthier. They are more likely to do well at school and to stay in education, improving their career options.
The long term effects of alcohol and drugs on health and well-being are widely publicised, but there are many more immediate impacts. For example:
- 15-year olds who drink once or twice a week are likely to score significantly lower at GCSE – the difference between A* and E.
- In neighbourhoods where drugs are readily available, the anti-social consequences for individuals, families and communities are obvious.
Mentor’s approach to prevention
Mentor is working for an effective, comprehensive and national prevention strategy, through families, schools and communities. No magic bullet can prevent a young person experimenting with alcohol or drugs but we want to create a prevention ‘ecosystem’ in the UK which increases protective factors and reduces risks. Mentor argues for programmes that have been proven by hard evidence to change young people’s attitudes and behaviour to alcohol and drugs and to (re)engage them in education, training volunteering and work.
We believe that an effective prevention strategy for young people is:
We believe the best strategy for supporting the immediate and long-term well-being of children and young people is through a holistic, life-course approach to prevention. This approach considers the many inter-related risks young people face and supports effective, evidence-based prevention in the home, at school and in the community.
For prevention to be effective, it must support children and young people at all stages, from prenatal through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. This approach is commonly described as early intervention, and aims to equip young people with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive, in order to prevent a multitude of harms, including those related to alcohol and drug misuse.
We see prevention as an investment in the future: If we support more young people today, there will be reduced need for behavioural services, healthcare and substance-related treatment services.
Evidence is important because it helps us assess the impact and effectiveness of our work. Without evidence, there is a risk that we are delivering less effective programmes and services to young people.
Evidence allows us to test, learn and improve. Evidence also helps us to be accountable to the young people we work with, to funders or commissioners, and to ourselves.
Youth involvement is central to Mentor’s philosophy and practice and is embedded in our work because we know that, for prevention to be most effective, we must listen to and learn from young people. Their views inform and extend our practice and ensure that our work has the greatest impact. We involve young people in different ways, including focus groups, policy work and through our pioneering peer education to young offenders.
Building a community of practice around prevention
The challenges young people face as they grow up are complex and interlinked. Addressing potential harms before they become damaging is vital, and it cannot be done by one organisation alone.
Mentor is working with others in the prevention field to build a connected and supportive community of evidence-based practice around prevention for young people.
Together we can develop best practice, build a strong evidence base for what works, involve different key stakeholders in both designing and delivering programmes that work, and support each other in protecting children and young people from harm by building their self-efficacy and resilience to risk as they move through childhood and adolescence.