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Six guiding principles for improving mental health and wellbeing services for babies, children, young people and their families

First published:
20 April 2023
Last updated:

Trusted adults

This is the most important section of the NEST framework. It describes the importance of those closest to the baby, child or young person in supporting their mental health and wellbeing. 

Trusted adults can help babies, children and young people to learn to manage their feelings. Trusted adults can help by:

  • listening and empathising
  • helping find words for difficult emotions
  • showing ways of managing difficulty
  • helping to sort out problems  
  • understanding that anger can be about worry 

Co-regulation, where strong emotions are contained by someone trusted, is fundamental to self-regulation. It is a vital building block in psychological development. It is important there is support for trusted adults who care for babies, children and young people. Trusted adults can:

  • focus on an individual’s strengths
  • encourage them to not give up
  • celebrate their achievements
  • provide the ‘everyday magic’ of a trusted relationship

Wellbeing across education

NEST in education

From crèches, to nursery, to school, to sixth form and on to college, education settings are a big part of the lives of babies, children, and young people.

It is vital that they have a good understanding of mental health and wellbeing and take every opportunity to support it.

Welsh Government have developed a range of initiatives to put mental health and wellbeing at the centre of education.

These developments also recognise that this is as important for teachers and support staff as it is for parents and carers too.

The NEST and 'whole school approach' frameworks emphasise the significance of mental health. They help all services work together to support it.

What is a whole school approach

The Welsh Government published our whole school approach framework in March 2021. It is statutory guidance for maintained schools and Local Authorities. The framework is good practice for other education establishments. The framework: 

  • supports children and young people to reach their full potential
  • details the importance of creating a holistic ethos 
  • recognises the wellbeing needs of the school community 
  • prioritises those wellbeing needs

How does the 'whole school approach' and the NYTH / NEST framework align 

The NEST framework has wellbeing across education as one of its core principles. Implementing the 'whole school approach' is our way of delivering on this principle. When an education setting implements the 'whole school approach' they deliver NEST. Aligning both frameworks ensures those working with children and young people: 

  • understand about other services
  • know about referral pathways
  • have access to expertise
  • can support pupils whilst remaining in a safe environment, the school 'nest'. 

Do all staff in educational settings need to know about both frameworks

It is important that all school staff know about the 'whole school approach' and their school's action plan. However, most school staff will not need to know about the NEST framework. If the school are implementing the 'whole school approach' then they will also be delivering the principles of the NEST framework. 

We want to ensure a shared understanding of the NEST principles and language across different services. We thus recommend those in school with a responsibility for liaising with external agencies learn about NEST. This will help them in their conversations and ensure consistent messages and practices.

Co-produced innovations

Babies, children and young people have a right to have their opinion heard and acted upon. This is according to the 'United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12'. 

The NEST framework was co-produced (created) by young people and parents. The NEST framework says co-production should be at the heart of delivering all mental health and wellbeing services. We use the phrase; ‘nothing about you, without you’. 

Our co-production work is underpinned by the National Participation Standards which say we will: 

  • provide information in an accessible way
  • listen to what people have to say
  • feedback on how we make the decisions why

We expect services to stay focused on what matters most to children, young people and their families and keep on improving.

Easy access to expertise

The NEST framework wants to make expert help and advice more available. This could come from a variety of sources:

  • helplines
  • a regular visit from a specialist to a school or youth service
  • multi-agency teams with mental health professionals
  • access to specialist advice

Trusted adults in children’s lives need to know where to go for help so they can support them. We want to support adults to ‘hold on’ to children when they can instead of ‘referring on’. And, if specialist services are needed, we want to stop families being passed from service to service, and telling their story lots of times.

Safe and supportive communities

The NEST framework recognises that lots of different things are important to mental health and wellbeing. When they are not available then children of all ages and their families are likely to struggle. These can include:

  • work and access to jobs that pay well
  • safe places to live
  • time, space and permission to play and socialise
  • opportunities to exercise and take part in sport
  • healthy food
  • arts and leisure activities 

These are problems that can’t be ‘fixed’ in clinics. Their importance is often under-estimated when looking to improve mental health services.

We want those delivering mental health support to consider these factors. Where there are wider issues services should help to address and acknowledge them.

No wrong door

Having 'extra, or specialist help' is an important part of the NEST framework. Families who seek support for a range of needs sometimes find that they have to navigate a very complex system. They may fall through gaps where there are no services to meet their needs. Sometimes they are on waiting lists for a long time and are then told they were waiting in the wrong queue, or have been knocking on the wrong door all along. 

We want families to get the right help at the right time and in a way that is right for them.

All services with a role in mental health and wellbeing need to come together to work out how best to meet the need. These services can be from health, education, social services or the third sector. All have something to offer depending on a family’s circumstances.

The more services listen to what families need, the more they can adapt and fill the gaps. Support services might focus on different issues or groups of children, but they can all work together to create a 'nest' around the child. 'No wrong door' helps establish what is working well in an area. It can identify the services needed and prevent the frustration of waiting on a list. This is important for families to know they are receiving the right type of help and support.