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EACEA National Policies Platform


7. Health and Well-Being

7.6 Mechanisms of early detection and signposting of young people facing health risks

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/09/2020 - 13:25

On this page
  1. Policy framework
  2. Stakeholders
  3. Guidance to stakeholders
  4. Target groups
  5. Funding

Policy framework

There is no overall policy framework for early detection and signposting of young people facing health risks.

The last Children and Young People’s Strategy ran from 2006 to 2016. 

Pending the formation of the Executive to consider and adopt the Executive Strategy, a cross-departmental Children and Young People’s Strategy was published in December 2019. This sets out the framework for progressing children’s issues until the Executive Strategy is published. The Strategy is designed to provide an overarching holistic structure to drive forward and monitor how departments are progressing the eight key outcomes it contains to improve the well-being of children and young people. The Strategy seeks to build on positive outcomes of children and young people whilst also focusing on those areas of concern where outcomes are poorer or specific groups of children and young people face particular barriers to achieving positive outcomes. This will include a focus on early intervention where Children’s Authorities’ policies and programmes focus appropriately on the provision of help, support and early intervention. 

One of the key principles of the draft strategy is that it is focused on early intervention:

The Strategy will place specific emphasis on prevention and early intervention (both intervening at an early age and/or at an early stage in a problem) and on children and young people who need our help most.

It also says that ‘The Executive will prioritise the physical and mental health of our children and young people - with a focus on early interventions’.

While this is a draft document, it follows the direction of travel set by the previous ten-year strategy which included ‘making a gradual shift to preventative and early intervention approaches without compromising those children and young people who currently need our services most’.

Early detection and signposting mechanisms are applied locally through: the school nursing service, CAMHS, youth services and local Health and Social Care Trusts.


School Nursing is a confidential service working in partnership with children, their families, education staff and other voluntary and statutory organisations. It also includes registered staff nurses, school health assistants and school records staff. School nurses can signpost children and their families to other services or agencies.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are provided for the age range 0-18 years. CAMHS uses a 'stepped model' approach for service provision, in which step 2 is targeted intervention. This involves early detection and provision of preventative support to children and families in need. Intervention at this step is provided to children and young people who are experiencing early developmental/behavioural difficulties and/or mental health/emotional difficulties.

CAMHS: Service model

Supported by the Public Health Agency, Targeted Life Skills programmes are in place across Northern Ireland. These services deliver a life skills and harm reduction programme to young people who are deemed at risk of misusing drugs and/or alcohol. The programmes aim to influence a person’s ability to adopt safer behaviours.

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust provides a local example of such programmes.

Guidance to stakeholders

The Understanding the Needs of Children in Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) Guidance (currently under review') is aimed at practitioners to help them meet the needs of children and their families through a comprehensive process for assessment leading to action. Frontline workers and professionals can screen for alcohol and drug misuse problems using the regionally agreed Regional Initial Assessment Tool (RIAT) in conjunction with UNOCINI, where possible alcohol or drug misuse may be indicated. Staff also need to understand and be able to deliver basic therapeutic interventions; know the pathways into specialist services and supports and how to work within integrated care pathways to ensure comprehensive delivery of services.

Source: The Alcohol and Drug Commissioning Framework 2013-16 (Public Health Agency/Health and Social Care Board)

Free training courses in RIAT for young people are available for frontline workers.

The Northern Ireland Drugs & Alcohol Services Directory, from the Northern Ireland Drugs and Alcohol Coordination Teams (NIDACTS), gives a listing of early intervention and prevention services addressing drug and alcohol issues or concerns. These services are available in a number of settings such as in schools, workplaces, community and youth centres and clubs with many providing free drug and/or alcohol focussed awareness-raising advice, materials, sessions or programmes.

Target groups

Target groups vary according to the intervention area.


Services to support the early detection, signposting and treatment of young people facing health risks, such as CAMHS and schools nurses, are funded by the Northern Ireland Executive – usually through the health budget provided to the Health and Social Care Service (HSC).