Developing a ‘Theory of Change’ for Thrive – the context

19th August 2021 | Impact Reports

This report presents the findings of analysis of in‐depth material gathered through a range of semi‐structured interviews. We outline the context informing the Thrive Approach, describing the various contexts that stakeholders were working in and experiencing that led them to see a value in Thrive and actively pursue its implementation.

The context for Thrive
Here we describe some of the environments and contexts that people were working in that made them see the value in what Thrive had to offer. Describing some of the problems that were being encountered and providing a flavour of why Thrive was needed, and what gaps it could plug provides an important backcloth to the impacts of its implementation, and in turn the outcomes of Thrive.

Although the experiences of interviewees prior to their involvement in Thrive were all quite different, five main points of discussion emerged.

    Discussion point 1

    The first discussion point is the fact that Thrive was considered to be an essential ingredient in a wider programme to address a range of social, behavioural and education issues.

    In this exploratory phase, Local Authorities were tasked with improving children’s and young people's emotional well‐being, with the principle aim of:

    1. reducing onward referrals to Educational Psychologists, behavioural support teams and other agencies
    2. reducing exclusions
    3. reducing the number of referrals or transfers of children and young people into residential or specialist Social and Emotional Mental Health (SEMH) provision

    Thrive started out as being one strand of the original project with a broad remit that covered a diverse range of issues from developmental pathways for neurological disorders to addressing racial inequality.


    Tellingly, while the majority of other projects within the programme fell by the wayside, Thrive has not only continued, but has become the dominant and most successful element of the original programme. 



    This is a testament to its success, but also to its ability to address challenges in an holistic way, and become ingrained in the working practices, philosophies and ways of thinking across a range of agencies and settings. Changing hearts and minds, changing attitudes and perspectives.

    Discussion point 2

    The second point chimes strongly with the success of Thrive’s roll out. While interventions were being put in place and a number of agencies tasked to address the behavioural problems of children and young people, they were evidently failing to address the underlying causes of such problems.

    Although a range of interventions, strategies and action plans were succeeding in achieving a state of equilibrium for individual cases, and with it a reduction in the professional support needed, it was becoming evident that, fundamentally, nothing was really changing for these children and young people.

    Behavioural problems being brought to the attention of professionals in pre‐school were being picked up again in secondary school, meaning that previous approaches were merely acting as ‘sticking plasters’, due largely to their failure to address the underlying emotional problems of the child or young person in question, which were evidently still there many years later.

    Discussion point 3

    The third point centres around exclusions, and most notably those of younger children. Not only were the shortcomings of previous interventions being recognized through individual case trajectories, but it was also becoming apparent that the number of permanent exclusions at primary school age were increasing, with schools feeling that they had done everything they could and that a specialist environment was now required where everything could be ‘fixed’. Once a child or young person is excluded and receives specialist support they are then in an environment surrounded by children with similar problems and difficulties, and in the worse cases the underlying problem can perpetuate and the emotional and behavioural problems can become a self‐fulfilling prophecy.

    With the help of Thrive this self-perpetuating cycle is now starting to be broken, as the outcomes described in through our Impact Maps illustrate. But there is an important point here that forms a central backcloth to Thrive and the outcomes that can arise from it. And that is the fact that for the majority of behavioural interventions to work a child needs to have already reached a stage where they are able to understand cause and effect. In Thrive terminology they need to already be at the ‘Thinking’ stage where they are able to recognize and articulate their feelings when they are experiencing them.

    However, the underlying problems are caused earlier than this, when a child or young person is learning to ‘be’ and the neuronal pathways are developing in the brains, facilitated through parenting and secure relationships. Thus, for a majority of children with emotional and behavioural challenges existing programmes were unable to address these underlying problems, which required work around relationships and making the child or young person feel secure in their environment and able to trust adults and relate to their peers. Work that only Thrive was able to deliver through its action plans around ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ and ‘Thinking’. This not only helps to explain why the number of younger children being referred for specialist support was increasing, but also why Thrive was increasingly being looked to as way of plugging this all important gap.


    “The fact that the Thinking stage has not been reached is why a lot of behaviour policies fail in schools. For example, if a child doesn’t understand why he is on detention it wont have any affect in changing his behaviour. You’re being seen to follow a policy but it doesn’t work. Its not just about outward behaviour, its about emotions, and schools are gradually getting better at recognizing this.”


    All stakeholders consulted in this first exploratory phase had experience of not only witnessing challenging behaviours but also of trying to address them in often challenging environments where a whole host of social as well as emotional problems formed a backdrop to the work being done in the classroom day to day. Often, challenging behaviours in school go hand in hand with a community that lacks aspiration and drive and has very little connection with the school. A central theme was the lack of a common framework or model through which they could tackle these challenging environments, and this forms the fourth contextual point.

    Discussion point 4

    It is clear that progress was certainly being made and the need for a holistic approach that would encompass building relationships with families was also required. It seems that a certain amount of success was being achieved. For example, parents were being engaged and nurseries were being established to facilitate crucial work around early years. Although the merits of this work was starting to be recognized by the authorities, the lack of a consistent framework was restrictive, and ultimately hindering the progress that could be made.


    "There were models but there was nothing cohesive, nothing was joined up, people weren’t using the same language. Multi agency work was very difficult. What Thrive offered was exactly what we needed. We had no consistent framework, we had no measure, we were trying to cobble things together. There was no shared understanding of it. All of it was trying to find ways of meeting children’s needs, which we were instinctively doing, but we didn’t have a raft of ideas there….."


    Broadly what was happening was that frameworks were being artificially put together, through assembling professionals from a range of sectors and in some cases securing social workers to be attached to the school. However, although barriers to learning were starting to be overcome and there were some small shoots of development, what was required was a consistent framework that would sustain itself and facilitate shared language and levels of understanding across a range of agencies and stakeholders. A framework which is now encompassed by Thrive. Related to this is a crucial element that was lacking prior to the roll out of Thrive across the county, and this makes up the fifth discussion point.

    Discussion point 5

    The development of self awareness amongst the teachers, professionals and other stakeholders who are involved in the delivery of Thrive. Even when these artificial frameworks were beginning to show some success in addressing challenging behaviours, the self knowledge and capacity of teachers and other deliverers was lacking.

    This knowledge and awareness develops on two levels. On one level is the ability of professionals to recognise the insight and understanding that adults need to have as to why those behaviours are being shown and what they are a symptom of. But in addition to this self knowledge, the self‐awareness that is inherently developed by Thrive is also integral to its success, as well as the structure of support across schools and agencies which develops with it.


    "I knew that what I was doing was having an impact and that there was something key about relationship and there was something key about connecting with children that showed that you cared, but I somehow just couldn’t get the balance right. I didn’t have the structure around me to support the work I was doing and it just became too much…I didn’t have the theory behind me, I didn’t have the understanding of Thrive in terms of the emotional intelligence of it. And I suppose I wasn’t very self-aware; I thought I could handle it on my own."


    The reason Thrive lays such emphasis on self awareness is to enable the trainees to get to be able to regulate their own emotional states : self awareness leads to the capacity to self regulate. This is essential in a Thrive Licensed Practitioner who has to know their own hooks and triggers into disregulation, who needs to know different ways to regulate different emotional states, who needs to be able to recognise disregulation in a child and be able to stay regulated in the face of challenging or concerning behaviours.

    While Thrive develops the self awareness and resilience of children and young people, its does the same for those who practice and deliver it. And the training is especially effective (and valued) by Teaching Assistants, `Learning Support Assistants and Mealtime Supervisors (SMSAs) In Thrive language this is embedded in the process of ‘modelling’; whereby those who are trained in Thrive will model the behaviours not only with children but also with each other, creating an openly supportive environment that fosters a high level of compassion and self awareness across its community.


    The potential outcomes of this modeling are in themselves significant, and thus forms a bedrock for the successful implementation of Thrive in a variety of settings and contexts.

    This brief report illustrates some of the challenges being faced by schools that led to the need for Thrive to be recognised and subsequently harnessed. As such they form a useful backcloth for development of the Theory of Change.

    All five of these discussion points feature prominently in the Impact Maps found within this section of the website, detailing the outcomes of Thrive, and the relationships between these outcomes, for the following sets of stakeholders.

    Over to you

    Reduced anxiety and behavioural incidents. Calmer classrooms filled with engaged leaners. Improved relationships with parents and carers. These are just some of the outcomes reported by settings embedding Thrive’s whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Are you ready to join them? Click here to get started.

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