The importance of relationships with youth in mind

Tom Currie, Outcomes Star’s Implementation Lead, shares his thoughts after attending Oxfordshire Youth’s Youth in Mind conference.

It was a real pleasure to spend a day at Youth in Mind, the annual conference about young people and their mental health. The event was beautifully hosted by Oxfordshire Youth and Oxfordshire Mind with 400 delegates and a wide range of presenters from a diverse mix of organisations speaking on several subjects. But one thing that kept coming up in the talks, demonstrations and workshops was the importance of relationships in supporting young people to maintain optimal mental health.

Relationships: a key component

Whether it was Rowen Smith and Mary Taylor from Family Links talking about resilience and managing difficult emotions, or Julia Belton from Clear Sky describing how she uses play to engage children who had Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), relationships kept being identified as a vital ingredient.

The value of relationships was also highlighted in the Step Out workshops, hosted by two Donnington Doorstep Junior Ambassadors, young people who deliver sessions on Protective Behaviours to year 5 students. These peer led sessions offer yet another example of how you can use the power of relationships to gain credibility and influence with the people you work with. (They were preaching to the converted with me on this one, as I have been a strong advocate for the power of relationships for a few decades.)

What are the vital ingredients of a supportive relationship?

This question came up in my conversation with Julie Belton in the exhibition hall just after her presentation on how to engage children with ACEs. We agreed that many practitioners would probably say that good relationships are at the core of their work but that they may well mean different sorts of relationships. And that makes assuring the quality of those relationships tricky. Luckily some clever people at Search Institute in Minneapolis have done some great work researching and articulating these qualities in their Developmental Relationships Framework, which is free to download

The Developmental Relationships Framework identifies five elements:

  • Express Care – Show me that I matter to you
  • Challenge Growth – Push me to keep getting better
  • Provide Support – Help me complete tasks and achieve goals
  • Share Power – Treat me with respect and give me a say
  • Expand Possibilities – Connect me with people and places that broaden my world

Each of these elements is then linked to three to five well defined actions, so it really is a practical, useable framework. I believe the Search Institute are spot on with the balance of the elements they have articulated. If you want to put their theory into your practice, then you could download the framework and start to strengthen these elements in your work.

If you are interested in using a tool that helps provide a structure for four of the elements they identify, and also provides useful evaluation information, then get in touch and we could talk about whether one of the Outcomes Stars for young people would suit your way of working. It would be a pleasure to talk to you about what you are trying to achieve, because all supportive relationships include good conversations.

Speaking of good conversations, I had a great one with Bethia McNeil  (CEO of the Centre for Youth Impact), when I saw her a few months ago and she told me about the Supportive Relationships Framework. She knows a thing or two about frameworks having written the seminal Framework of Outcomes for Young People in 2012 as well as its brilliant 2019 sequel, predictively titled: A Framework of Outcomes for Young People 2.0.


If you’d like to talk to Tom following his attendance at the event, please call +44 (0) 20 7272 8765 or email info@triangleconsulting.co.uk.

Young people and mental health: How to make the conversation count

As Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 draws to a close, Joy MacKeith, co-author of My Mind Star, reflects on what the development process taught her about how schools and services can support real change for young people.

This week is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and there certainly is a lot going on. Yesterday a colleague attended a conference on mental health in schools in Manchester and next week Triangle will be hosting a stand at Oxfordshire’s Youth in Mind conference. This is all happening against the backdrop of a Government Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health and increasing concern in the media.

Catching up with my colleague after the conference yesterday, it is evident that the commitment to equipping schools to take a bigger role is certainly there, but thoughts about how to do this in practice are still developing. So it seems like a good moment to draw out some of the lessons from our work with Action for Children to develop My Mind Star, a tool for engaging and supporting young people around their mental health and measuring their progress.

After initial discussions and scoping in 2017, the development process began in earnest in 2018. Over the course of a year and a half we held a series of workshops with young people, front-line workers and service managers to find out what really makes a difference when working with young people. My Mind Star, a version of the Outcomes Star for mental well-being in young people, was then developed and piloted across 11 Action for Children services and also HeadStart Kernow

Here are some of the highlights from that process.

Recognising the need for help is a crucial first step

Talking about change with the people directly involved is always fascinating. What emerged early on in the workshops was that young people often don’t seek help because they don’t realise that things could be much better. Not recognising that what they are experiencing is mental distress, they cope as best they can on their own. So, a really crucial first step for many young people is reaching out for help. Interestingly, this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week theme is ‘Find Your Brave’ and a key message is to be brave enough to ask for help.

Don’t look at mental well-being in isolation

Another clear learning point was that we must look at mental well-being in the context of the whole of the young person’s life. The workshop participants identified eight key areas that should be part of the conversation. After piloting this was reduced to seven because it emerged that safety is an important aspect of all of these areas, rather than something that should be discussed in isolation. 

The final seven outcome areas are:

  • Feelings and emotions,
  • Healthy lifestyle,
  • Where you live,
  • Friends and relationships,
  • School, training and work,
  • How you use your time and
  • Self-esteem.

Participants emphasised that it was vital to cover all these areas when talking to a young person, even if they were not what was immediately presented as part of the problem.

Involve young people in defining what ‘good’ mental health and well-being looks like

Developing the scales for a Star involves in-depth discussions about what ‘good’ looks like. The scales for each outcome area or domain describe a journey from things being very bad to the desired outcome being achieved. This means pinning down what ‘bad’ means, what the desired outcome looks like, and what steps people take as they travel from one to the other. 

When it came to the ‘How you use your time’ scale, there was an interesting conversation about time spent on screens. Questions raised, included, is time used this way always bad or can it also be a positive way of accessing support, information and entertainment? There was a definite difference of perspective between the generations and it was very important to have young people in the room to share what good looked like for them.

My Mind Star helps young people identify issues and set goals

My Mind Star was piloted over six months with 67 workers and 177 young people and the pilot was evaluated using feedback forms and a further workshop. Both workers and service users really valued the way that the visual Star Chart summarised their life and helped them identify priorities.

The vast majority (94%) of young people said that the scales helped them to describe how life was for them at that moment. While 85% said that the scales helped them to understand what they needed in the way of support. In the words of one worker: “I liked that it gave the young people the opportunity to see where their priorities are, not what someone else thinks we should work on. This gives them some ownership and increases motivation”.

Evidencing change is motivating for everyone

Three quarters of the workers valued the way that My Mind Star opened up better conversations. And both workers and service users found it encouraging to see progress when the second My Mind Star was completed. As one young person said, “I liked doing the Star because it reflects the improvements I have made in the past months”

Psychometric analyses showed that the outcome areas were coherent and the scale was responsive to change. Managers very much valued the fact that it enabled them to evidence the progress that young people had made.

Following the pilot, amendments were made to the tool based on the feedback and the final version was published in September 2019.

Take-aways for those working with young people and mental health

Based on our learning from this project, and on personal experience, just letting young people know about different kinds of mental illness isn’t enough and can even be counterproductive. Young people can mistake the natural highs and lows of the teenage years for a mental health problem or start to identify as being ‘anxious’ or ‘compulsive’. Rather than knowing the labels, young people need to know what mental well-being looks like in simple and everyday terms so that they know when they need to ask for help. 

Also, when they do ask for help, schools and others need to make sure that there is ‘no wrong door’ and that everyone is equipped to have that initial conversation, to signpost them to others if needed and to keep a watchful eye. As in so many areas of life, prevention or early intervention is better than leaving things until there is a crisis. 

Ultimately, the evidence from our pilot is that My Mind Star can really help make those early conversations count and give everyone working with young people a framework, a shared language and a way of evidencing the difference they are making.


Triangle will be at the Youth in Mind conference on 12th February at the King’s Centre in Oxford. If you’re attending the event and would like to arrange a meeting with us on the day, or if you have any questions about My Mind Star, other versions of the Outcomes Star for the mental health or young peoples sectors, or would like any information on the new Star Online, or anything else, please contact us on info@triangleconsulting.co.uk or +44 (0) 207 272 8765. 

Year in review: Shining brightly in uncertain times

Joy MacKeith, one of Triangle’s directors and co-founders, and co-author of the Outcomes Stars, explores her year in review, and shares her thoughts on the impact and successes of 2019, including the new Star Online and new Stars.

It’s week one back in the office after my new year’s break. My inbox is surprisingly full and the office is already buzzing with activity. Not everyone has taken two weeks off it seems. Before taking a deep breath and diving into the patiently waiting emails I allow myself the luxury of a moment to reflect on a very busy 2019 and anticipate what 2020 has in store.

Star Online 2 is unveiled

For me 2019 will always be the year that we built our new, improved software system and 2020 will be the year that the one thousand organisations working with the Star Online started to use it. The initial feedback from those who helped us test it in development has been amazing. I know many of our clients will be particularly excited about the reporting capability, with new visuals, new customisation and new time period reporting options. Other new features will make it much easier to manage implementation and data quality.  The fact that we now have a state-of-the-art platform for further developments is also very exciting. An off-line app is high on the list of new features we have planned. The new system is now live for new clients.  A massive thanks goes to Sarah Owen, our team member, who has led the project and QES our software development partners.

Making an impact

I will also remember 2019 as the year we conducted our strategic review. Thirteen years since the publication of the first Star it was time to look at how well the suite of tools had stood the test of time and how Triangle and the Star need to develop to stay at the cutting edge of practice. As part of the review we carried out a summer survey of our clients to find out what difference the Star makes. I know that people love the Star, so I was expecting broadly positive findings, but the level of appreciation and impact took me by surprise. Here are a few highlights:

  • 87% of Star users report that their keywork is more effective as a result of using the Star
  • 81% said that Star data reports enabled them to monitor and report on their outcomes more effectively
  • 95% say that the Star supports good conversations and collaboration between staff and service users
  • 92% say that helps service users to get an overview of their situation
  • 93% say that the Star supports person-centered, strengths-based working
  • 92% say that the Star is motivating for staff and service users because it makes change visible.

There were so many stand-out findings that it is hard not to keep adding more, but you get the idea. Of course there are always things that can be improved, but it was heartening to hear that many of the developments people were asking for focused around the Star Online so it was wonderful to know that in just a few months those needs would be met.

Not only do the findings underline the positive way that the Star helps workers take an enabling, strengths-based approach, but they are also a powerful affirmation of Triangle’s decision to invest heavily in implementation support through our client services team, our trainers and our regionally based implementation leads.

Research shows that better results are obtained from good implementation of a poor tool than from poor implementation of a good one. We aim to provide both an excellent tool and excellent implementation support. It is so affirming to see that this powerful combination is really making a difference. 

The strategic review concluded that the Star is a tool whose time has now come because of the increasing recognition of the importance of person-centred, outcomes focused collaborative working. Although it is well known in some sectors and regions, it is still largely unknown in many others so the potential for further impact is substantial. A key theme for 2020 and beyond will therefore be doing more to communicate what the Star is, the way that it can transform service delivery and the wealth of research behind it.

An organisation with a mission

As well as fact finding, our strategic review also involved some deep reflection and soul searching on Triangle’s role in the current service delivery climate. We are painfully aware that the service delivery landscape has changed since 2006 when the first version of the Star was published. Assumptions that if someone is motivated to change then the services will be there to support them no longer hold. Many services are now much lighter touch and can find it challenging to make the time for an in-depth conversation about needs and plans. This has resulted in requests for ‘lighter touch’ or self-completion Stars.

Should the Star stick to its original formulation as a comprehensive and reflective tool or adapt to new realities? There are no easy answers, but we have re-affirmed and sharpened our mission as an organisation that is committed to both advocating for an enabling approach to service delivery and helping service providers make this a reality in practice.

We now begin a new strand of work to shape the debate around what matters in service delivery through research, blogs, conference presentations and making links with the many others advocating for this kind of approach.

Drawing together the evidence base

The Outcomes Star was born out of practice rather than research and quickly took root because many organisations were hungry for a tool that would evidence the effectiveness of their work without getting in the way. When they discovered that the Star positively helped them achieve their outcomes, there was no stopping it. 

As a result, the formal research evidence for the Star lagged behind its use. 2019 was the year that changed and we were finally able to draw together a decade of work on validation to publish psychometric factsheets on nearly all versions (we are still collecting the data on very recently published Stars). 2020 will see the publication of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal setting out the psychometric properties of the Family Star Plus, the most widely used of the suite of Stars. This is an incredibly important landmark for us in establishing the Outcomes Star as a different kind of tool that straddles the aims of both promoting and evidencing change.

Hello and goodbye

Closer to home, 2019 has been an important year of hellos and goodbyes. Hello to our first Managing Director, Graham Randles, who joined us from the New Economics Foundation consultancy service, and goodbye to Paul Muir, our Operations Director who pioneered our work on implementation support and much else besides. Hello to Tamara Hamilton who will be covering Sarah Owen’s maternity leave this year and goodbye to Susan Goodbrand who covered Emily Lamont’s maternity leave. Goodbye also to Roxanne Timmis who has moved on to an exciting new role with Think Ahead, a charity that supports graduates into mental health social work. Best of all, we have said hello to four new babies including Ziya Nisi born on 28th December to Giorgia, one of the staff at Unique Outcomes, our Australian implementation partner.

And finally

Triangle also gave birth to five new Stars in 2019 in a year of unprecedented Star development activity. We now have a Star for preparing for the end of life. Together with our Parent and Baby Star this means the Stars really can take you from cradle to grave.  2020 sees the publication of our new 3-5 year plan, a project to build on interest in the Star in the USA, the full implementation of our new software system and much more besides. 

It is incredible to see how something that started as an approach for one organisation in one sector has evolved and flourished over so many sectors and countries around the world. As we approach a very uncertain new decade, it gives me hope that when people collaborate to address specific issues with commitment, persistence, flexibility and creativity, we really can make a difference.

Graphic introducing the Planning Star - linking to the Planning Star webpage
Image introducting the Preparation Star - linking to the Preparation Star webpage
Image introducing the Pathway Star with a graphic linking to a blog on how the Pathway Star is a person-centered tool
Graphic introducing the Recovery Star Fourth Edition, linking to a blog post on the new Star
Image linking to a blog post introducing the new My Mind Star for use with organisations supporting young people's mental health and well-being

If you have any questions about our new Stars, or would like any information on the new Star Online, or anything else, please contact us on info@triangleconsulting.co.uk or +44 (0) 207 272 8765.

New Outcomes Stars for mental health

Introducing the new My Mind Star and a new, improved edition of the Recovery Star

My Mind Star – a much needed and timely tool for early intervention with young people

My Mind Star was developed in collaboration with managers, service users and professionals at leading UK children’s charity, Action for Children. It was also piloted by:

The results of the pilot were very positive, with 94% of young people agreeing that their complete Star was ‘a good summary of my life right now”.

94% of practitioners agreed that My Mind Star gave them a better idea of the support needs of the young people they support.

“Often young people have not been listened to or given control: completing the Star gives them space and lets them take the lead.” 

 Grainne Hart, Manager of the Choices Service, part of the My Mind Star pilot

Find out more about the My Mind Star here.

The Recovery Star (4th Edition)

This is a new and improved edition, drawing on independent research and feedback from service users, keyworkers and organisations.

The new edition retains the person-centred, strengths based approach of previous editions but with even more accessible language, incorporating trauma-informed thinking and fuller acknowledgement of the impact of external factors.

There is fuller recognition of the necessity of on-going support for enduring and severe conditions. It is backed by a report on independent research into the psychometric properties and a review of literature supporting the Journey of Change and choice of outcome areas.

Find out more about the new Recovery Star here.

Both Stars were launched at the Govconnect Mental Health 2019 Conference at the Royal Society of Medicine on 26th September.

If you have any questions about our new Stars, any queries about transitioning between the Recovery Star 3rd Edition and the new Edition, or you would just like find out more about how the Stars can support your service users, keyworkers and organisation, please contact us on info@triangleconsulting.co.uk or +44 (0) 207 272 8765.