Durham County Council: Rollercoaster

Rollercoaster project supporting parents and carers of children and young people with emotional and mental health problems.

The ambition

County Durham’s Children and Young People Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Local Transformation Plan (LTP) Group was established to improve the local mental health system for children and young people in response to Future in Mind (2015). The LTP is a well-attended multi-agency group, bringing Durham County Council together with NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and other partners to take a system-wide view of services, deliver on priorities for children and young people’s mental health, sustain what works and create further opportunities scale up interventions across the County.

One element of this strategy has been engagement with parents, both as members of a Children, Young People and Parents’ Advisory Board and by supporting parent-led initiatives like Rollercoaster. Rollercoaster works with parents and carers of children and young people aged up to 25. It aims to support parents and carers to support young people with emotional and mental health problems. Rollercoaster was established by a parent to address a gap in support for parents and carers who face challenges around their children’s mental health.

Rollercoaster came together in 2014 and received funding for the first time in 2017. It has developed since with funding from Durham County Council Public Health and County Durham CCG, in close alignment with the Local Transformation Plan for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Durham County Public Health made a further grant in 2019/20 to help grow Rollercoaster’s capacity. Public funding is now primarily provided through the CCG, with the local authority is still closely involved. These investments reflect the local ambition to ensure that lived experience has a more significant place in service provision and design.

The approach

Rollercoaster is led by parents and supported by mental health professionals. Parents and carers can self-refer to the Rollercoaster, including by signing up via a short questionnaire to a moderated Facebook group. Parents and carers may also be referred to Rollercoaster by health professionals from primary and secondary care services, through the County Durham Families Information Service, and by other professionals. Around half of those who use the service are parents and carers of young people aged 13-18 years, although many of the people who use the service support young people aged 19-25.

The organisation aims both to help parents and carers through their own difficult experiences, and to better equip them to provide the right support to the young people in their lives. Rollercoaster provides:

  • support groups meeting twice a month, led by parents but attended by mental health professionals from local services
  • digital support, including an online network, advice, information and e-learning opportunities for parents and carers
  • training around mental health, peer support training and workforce training
  • opportunities for parents and carers to participate in advisory work for local and national service development

“To be able to offload your worries to others that understand is such a relief, with no judgement, it’s wonderful.” Parent/carer

Rollercoaster provides parent support as part of the local programme on alternatives to crisis care and hospital admission for children and young people, where it works alongside partners from social care and health as part of an intensive multi-agency offer. The service also supports the local authority edge of care team to provide peer supporters and targeted help for parents of vulnerable children.

The service has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing more opportunities for remote connection, including virtual mental health drop ins and opportunities to book one-one support with peers or with mental health practitioners. Outside of pandemic restrictions, the groups meet at two locations, Durham County Cricket Ground and South Durham CAMHS.

How this approach works with families

At its core, Rollercoaster is a parent-led service and has been developed since its inception by parents and carers with lived experience. Specific issues or topics are identified by parents and carers and support is often provided peer to peer. Mental health professionals link closely with the groups, providing supervision, advice, and support where necessary.

Rollercoaster has helped to embed the voices of parents and families into local strategy and design through the bi-monthly United Voice forum. The forum is a space for young people, parents, carers, and health professionals to feed into the Local Transformation Programme. United Voice is open to all those who want to share their experiences. It encourages different groups to respond to specific themes and issue.


With the support of the local council and NHS, Rollercoaster’s reach has grown significantly since 2014. Annual reporting for February 2019 to January 2020 demonstrated that, over 12 months, there were:

  • 377 attendances at parenting support groups
  • 142 attendances at events and advisory opportunities
  • 91 attendances at parent training workshops
  • around, 200 parents and carers in the ‘closed’ Facebook group.

Rollercoaster has not yet been independently evaluated, but funding from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust has been secured for Northumbria University and the Association for Young People’s Health to take forward an evaluation. An internally run survey indicates that over 70 per cent of participants rate the support groups as excellent, and 74 per cent that the online support was excellent.

“When I was at my lowest, your group picked me up, hugged me, and gave me strength to carry on. This in turn gave me courage and resilience to cope with both my daughters’ many problems. I will forever be grateful. Thank you!” Parent/carer

Sustainability and future plans

Rollercoaster continues to grow as a key partner in the delivery of the Local Transformation Plan. New projects are planned locally, such as ‘Out of the Box’, a project at the local cricket ground which will bring together young people and parents and be coproduced by them. National work in development includes the ‘PLACE Network’ of parent/carer-led, parental support organisations, funded through the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.

Lessons learned


Investing in lived experience

Rollercoaster’s development represents the commitment from the Local Transformation Partnership to ensure that young people and their parents and carers have their voices heard in the design and delivery of services. This gives rise to new opportunities to help young people get the help they need sooner and be supported in the best way by the trusted adults in their lives as they navigate the often complex landscape of setting support from services.

Collaborative approach to commissioning

Funding from Durham County Council and from the local CCG has been instrumental. This has been delivered flexibly as part of the Local Transformation Partnership, with funding flowing from both the council and NHS. Where this funding is multiyear, it has created opportunities for sustainable growth, allowed time for projects and partners to develop funding and contingency plans, and provided a consistent offer for families.

Developing community assets

The parents and carers leading Rollercoaster’s work have benefited from meaningful opportunities for lived experience to be heard in services planning and design. The commitment from Durham County Council Public Health and partners to encourage and support parents to develop and offer and have a voice in the local system has helped to identify and close the gaps in the local offer for parents and carers. By working and investing in community capacity, the local statutory system has helped to develop mutual understanding between services and parents and carers who need support and who want to provide support in the household.

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