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Building social and emotional skills to BOOST mental health resilience in children and young people in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - BOOST (Building social and emotional skills to BOOST mental health resilience in children and young people in Europe)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2021-01-01 do 2021-12-31

The BOOST project is a collaborative effort between researchers with expertise in public health, psychology, education and service design, experts in dissemination, as well as school owners and policy makers. Through the development of an innovative approach, the BOOST project aims to promote mental health and well-being in the young. Mental well-being is central to population health; therefore, it is important to promote prevention interventions that create resilience with long-lasting effects.

The BOOST project will create a holistic population-based approach to promote mental well-being in primary school children. The BOOST project will go beyond state of the art of current social and emotional learning programmes and develop an approach to promote social and emotional components with documented effect into mainstream school environments, targeting school staff's pedagogical skills and their interaction with children. In addition, because organisational development is key to enabling successful implementation, a service delivery model promoting organisational learning is being developed to facilitate implementation and uptake of social and emotional learning in whole school environments, among all school personnel, including leaders and school owners. This holistic combination of school staff empowerment and organisational development is what is known as the BOOST approach.
The work carried out during the first 18 months of the BOOST project provided a solid foundation on which to base the BOOST approach, as well as knowledge about the context of the three countries, Norway, Poland and Spain, where this approach has been implemented. The formative study of the BOOST approach (WP1) which was finalised in the first 12 months of the project, included a literature review, a policy review and qualitative interviews in the three countries.

Based on the findings from WP1 and the consultation processes in 2019, the BOOST approach was developed (WP2 Design of BOOST approach) to comprise a service delivery model, learning materials and practical tools, and was more comprehensive than first envisioned at proposal stage. The first iteration of the approach was launched on an online platform in English, Norwegian, Polish and Spanish and was available to the implementation schools in early 2020. During the second year of the project, all protocols were finalised, and all ethical approvals were obtained for all aspects of the evaluation of the approach (WP4 Implementation study, WP5 Effectiveness study, and WP6 Economic evaluation), and baseline data for WP5 and WP6 were collected.

Unfortunately, the start of implementation coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly affected both the implementation and the research during the following two years.

During this period, the project followed schools closely as they dealt with the different stages of the pandemic: from being physically closed to dealing with high levels of sickness absenteeism among students and staff. In general schools had more than enough just keeping up with the pandemic. For this reason, the implementation period was extended to the beginning of 2022, which resulted in an extension to the project and an amendment to the Grant Agreement. Though slowly, data has been collected in all research work packages during this time and some initial analyses has been performed. Data will continue to be collected throughout 2022.

Despite the effects of the pandemic on the project, the BOOST consortium was able to have a focus on innovation. Interviews and co-creation workshops were held digitally during this period with the intention to follow the implementation and to ensure the accessibility and viability of the approach in school environments. This has resulted in a new proposed interface to the learning material emphasising group reflection, as well as a more prescriptive and better adapted service delivery model or tool to promote organisational learning, the latter which was implemented in schools in the fall of 2021. Feedback and co-creation will continue with schools and other actors well into 2022, which will feed into the final iteration of the BOOST approach.

Dissemination (WP7) and exploitation (WP8) activities have occurred throughout the project. In addition to videos, 4 newsletters, and articles have been published on the website, and our social media presence has been strengthened due to weekly social media plans. In addition, stakeholders, both at the local and EU level have been kept engaged through targeted meetings and through our local dissemination events targeting local and EU policymakers: a physical event in 2019, a policy brief launching webinar in 2020, and a webinar targeting a Norwegian audience in 2021.
The BOOST project is well on its way to develop a whole school approach which is intended to change the mindset of whole school environments and thus promote the well-being of primary school children. The BOOST approach targets the pedagogical and support skills of school personnel as well as the organisational approach of the school in promoting whole school competence in social and emotional learning. This approach is innovative in that it goes beyond established SEL programmes by being flexible and adaptable to the available resources and needs of each school, and not dependent on outside experts or requiring more time, resources and structure than an individual school can maintain. Through co-creation at school level, the BOOST approach aims to not only encourage ownership but also sustainability. Sustainability will create a reinforcing, long lasting, social and emotional learning environment, which will constantly promote children's well-being, and enable long-term change. The main expected impact of this project is to see improved mental wellbeing in the children in the schools where BOOST was implemented. However, preliminary analyses seem to indicate that the pandemic itself has had a significant effect on the wellbeing and social climate of children in schools, which may affect what conclusions we can draw on the effectiveness of the approach. Nevertheless, these analyses seem to indicate that the project may be able to contribute to the research on the wellbeing of children in schools during the pandemic.

In the short-term, the project will also contribute to the current evidence base for promotive interventions which can have large population effects. In the long-term, though proving effectiveness may elude the project, we feel that if implemented, the BOOST approach can be a good tool to create good learning environments which promote wellbeing. This has been confirmed in our ongoing dialogue with the case schools. Previous research has shown that school climate can promote students' academic achievement, affecting continued success in school and reducing early leavers from education. In the same manner, promoting wellbeing and building young people's resilience can reduce the risk of poor mental health later in life.
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Design process BOOST approach