‘What’s ahead for early intervention’
Reflections from Carey Oppenheim, EIF Chief Executive
At the Early Intervention Foundation we are getting to grips with changes small and large, from settling into our new offices in 10 Salamanca Street, just south of the river in Vauxhall – home of Portuguese eateries – and more significantly a new Prime Minister, her Ministers and future policies that will shape the early intervention agenda.
It is still early days, but there are some important signs of the likely direction ahead. The narrative has shifted from ‘life-chances’ to tackling injustice and promoting social mobility. There is a particular focus on those who are ‘just about managing’, a wider group than just the most vulnerable. The PM is chairing a new Committee on Social Reform which brings together Whitehall departments. It has only met once as yet so difficult to read the runes, but high on the agenda are likely to be lifetime learning and making progress in work, adult learning, childcare and local economic growth.
The furore over grammar schools has somewhat overshadowed an important emphasis from Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, on investment in skills and higher education to increase social mobility. The announcement of the new £60 million Opportunity Areas across England will be an important vehicle for early intervention. The home learning environment is likely to have renewed interest, as will children and young people’s resilience and wider life skills. This will link strongly to our own work on social and emotional skills for children at risk of poverty, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which will generate evidence and practical tools early next year. It is also good to see the focus in the DFE Social Care Innovation programme on how targeted early support can prevent children from entering the child protection system.
There are encouraging developments at DWP where arrangements are being put in place for a new relationship support programme from April 2017. This will provide evidence-based targeted support for family relationships for the 6% most disadvantaged children, whether parents are together or separated. This initiative draws heavily on EIF’s work with Professor Gordon Harold on supporting family relationships as a route to improving outcomes for children. It should significantly increase the availability of support for relationship quality in the UK and fill a neglected aspect of early intervention activity.
In October the much awaited Troubled Families national evaluation reported that the programme had no significant impact on the range of intended outcomes. It is worth noting, however, that impact measurement is not a straightforward task. Troubled Families is not a single programme in the usual sense, it involves system-wide change and there is much variation in local delivery. The point of evaluation is to improve, not to prove – there are important lessons to be drawn from this work.
November saw a milestone for a Government decision on the future of mandation for Health Visitor checks pass largely unnoticed, despite huge local interest in retaining the checks as the spine of the Healthy Child Programme. Unless the Government changes course, the ‘sunset clause’ will bring the statutory requirement for these checks to an end in March 2017, but time for the political process to approve any change is running out. Is there life for Health Visiting Services and the HCP without mandated checks? We hope we don’t have to find out.
In the run up to the Autumn Statement we met with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP, armed with EIF’s updated analysis on the cost of late intervention spending to help make the case for early intervention. The total cost remains at nearly £17 billion per year in England and Wales – equivalent to £287 per person, but with a big increase in expenditure on domestic violence due to the rise in reported incidents. Indeed, the growing extent to which domestic abuse impacts on early help, children’s social care and policing makes it an urgent priority for effective early intervention.
A much changed world? Maybe, but early intervention is as important now as it ever was.