Involving volunteers and educational professionals in the development and implementation of an evidence-based guideline to assist at-risk school children
2Humanitarian Services, Belgian Red Cross, Mechelen, Belgium
3Regional Seat of Brussels Capital Region, Belgian Red Cross, Mechelen, Belgium
‘Bridging the Gap' is an evidence-based Belgian Red Cross project that deploys community volunteers to support at-risk preschool and primary school children in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. It involves cooperation with several partners and a combination of primary and secondary research.
Objectives: To develop an evidence-based guideline for 'Bridging the Gap' volunteers, adapted to the multilinguistic and multicultural context of Brussels; To measure the impact of 'Bridging the Gap' on mental well-being and school achievement of children supported by volunteers; To involve Brussels-based school professionals and volunteers in both guideline development and impact evaluation.
Methods: First, we performed a systematic literature search to find evidence of the effectiveness of 17 different didactical activities. During consensus meetings with relevant stakeholders such as a Brussels school care coordinator and 'Bridging the Gap' volunteers, we discussed the applicability and meaningfulness of these activities for volunteers in the school context (Figure 1). Second, we incorporated the evidence-based guideline into training new ‘Bridging the Gap’ volunteers in Brussels. Children's mental well-being and school achievement were assessed using questionnaires, and volunteers registered modalities of their activities every month. The school year 2022-2023 served as a pilot year (Figure 2).
Results: Evidence of effectiveness (i.e. improvement in knowledge, skills, and/or attitude) was available from 81 relevant studies and for different activities, such as native language stimulating activities, puzzle making, and board games. Based on this evidence and the subsequent discussion with stakeholders, we produced a guideline with recommendations and suggestions to assist volunteers. In the school year 2022-2023, Bridging the Gap volunteers were active in four primary schools in Brussels. Preliminary results on the mental health and school achievement outcomes in children supported during this school year will be presented. Conclusions and patient, public and/or healthcare consumer involvement: The involvement of relevant stakeholders resulted in the development of a guideline with useful and feasible activities for volunteers supporting at-risk children. On the other hand, involving volunteers, school professionals, and parents in the monitoring and evaluation phase proves to be challenging, and requires some adaptations to ensure punctual and timely data collection in the future.