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More than £170,000 of national funding has been awarded to the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System (BLMK ICS).

This is to further develop a social prescribing service for vulnerable children and young people in the area.

The programme will provide up to 12 weeks of funded access for physical activity, social and creative groups. As well as specialist support for weight management, drug and alcohol use, smoking, mental health and homelessness.

Felicity Cox, executive lead for BLMK ICS, said:

“This programme is a welcome boost for children, young people and families in BLMK. A significant number of children in our area live in poverty and the Covid-19 pandemic has had and continues to have a devastating impact on many people’s lives, with low-income families often the hardest hit.

“Children and young people have been amongst the most affected by the pandemic. It has often prevented normal social interaction and sometimes led to mental health concerns within families that has the potential to have a long and lasting legacy.

“We need to take action now to support our young people, so we can limit the impact of Covid, and help them to live long, healthy and happy lives.”

The pilot will be run by a team of Social Prescribing link workers who will be recruited to provide additional support to 300 children and young people in our area.

The link workers will be supported by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals from across health and social care.

Once accepted onto the programme, a link worker will meet with the child or young person (and their parent or carer, if required) in a community setting or GP practice to discuss what matters to the young person and what they are interested in.

A package will then be wrapped around the young person and their family to help them manage the issues that they’re dealing with, whether that’s obesity, social isolation or drug and alcohol misuse. Regular face-to-face meetings and text messages will keep the link worker and the child or young person connected throughout the programme.

Sanhita Chakrabarti, clinical lead for the project, said:

“The programme is targeted at children and young people aged 11-18 that do not currently have access to physical, social or emotional support services.

“This could be because they are below the thresholds to be eligible for these services, or they have been put off by previous experiences.

“It also supports the ‘invisible’ young people that have difficulties which are not on the surface.

“By working with young people, listening to them and putting a bespoke package of care around them, we are able to support behaviour change and engage, motivate and empower the individual to make changes to their lifestyle and to access other support as needed.”