About health and well-being needs assessment

Methods for conducting a health and well-being needs assessment (HWBNA)

Traditionally, public health professionals have tended to distinguish three main methods for conducting health needs assessments: the corporate, the comparative and the epidemiological approach (Toolkit for health care needs assessment in prisons, Department of Public Health & Epidemiology, University of Birmingham, 2000).

Corporate approach. This is about determining the views of a range of stakeholders and others with special knowledge about what is needed, and trying to balance competing views when planning any service changes. It might, for example, be used to canvas the views of staff, service providers and young people in a secure establishment or a service in the community.

Comparative approach. This is about comparing current provision with what happens in other areas or settings, with a view to learning from any major discrepancies. It might, for example, compare health care provision in different youth offending teams (YOTs) or secure establishments. It might also compare service data by, for example, measuring the health needs of young people in a secure setting using a tool that has also been used to determine the health needs of young people in the community.

Epidemiological approach. This is a more intensive approach, involving the comprehensive collection, analysis and interpretation of both quantitative and qualitative data. It would go beyond analysis of needs and service provision, analysing also the evidence about promising or effective interventions that help improve child and parent health and well-being outcomes and reduce young people’s involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.

The first two above are often seen as more ‘do-able’ than the third, given time and staff constraints, but the more intensive approach is worth aiming for, especially if you are refreshing earlier work rather than starting a HWBNA from scratch.

There is also a fourth approach, which might be especially helpful to consider using alongside the others.

Peer review. This is an approach being used increasingly by children’s services and it is one that lends itself to being used in health needs assessment work too. It offers a challenging but supportive review of practice by a team of external people who understand the pressures and challenges of running a local authority (or secure establishment). It provides for a constructive discussion of strengths and weaknesses and offers recommendations for improvement. Find out more about children's services peer review.

In practice, most HWBNA work draws on the first three methods, and this mixed approach is likely to be useful for those conducting assessments for work about the youth justice system (YJS). The peer review approach might be particularly attractive to those considering doing HWBNA work across a region, or as a way of inviting scrutiny of the work of an individual YOT or custodial establishment.

The important thing is to produce a document that is manageable within your resources and that can easily link into other activity in the locality that is about assessing need and commissioning services for vulnerable children and families.

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