Bringing early intervention out of the shadows
Speaking at the EIF national conference in early December, David Simmonds MP offered his insights on the important question of how we ensure early intervention is no longer viewed as a fringe concern and ensure it is at the heart of government thinking and spending decisions.
Research continues to show us that intervening early has an enormous impact on the lives of vulnerable children. But when we compare that with government debates on support for children, and certainly on the way it spends its money, we consistently see early intervention lingering in the shadows. We need to put early intervention at the heart of government thinking and ensure that the evidence base is embedded in its decision-making.
I believe there are three important considerations to work through in order to do that.
- We need to look at the way money flows around the system and how those resources are spent to support children. Education provides us with a really good example here. The majority of education spend is invested in secondary education, despite the fact we know investment in early years has much more impact. Yes, increased investment is important. But we also need to think about the way we’re spending existing resources and ensure they’re being applied in the most effective way.
- We need to think about the structure of the services we provide. We need to think beyond the idea of simply ‘joining up’ services, and think instead about how we break down some of the barriers to truly integrated working. We need to think about who the right people are within the system to support a particular child, in the way the Troubled Families programme does so well. We must move away from existing silos, and this goes for central government too.
- We need to reassess the timescale we apply. Early intervention by its very nature is about getting ahead of problems before they come insurmountable. Often, we won’t see an immediate result. Early intervention is about making decisions that have a long-term impact, and creating opportunities that children need to create intergenerational change. As a minimum, we’re looking at a child’s 18-year journey. It may well be until a person’s 20s or 30s that we start to see the positive impact an intervention has had. We need an important conversation about the value of early intervention as well as how we measure the impact over time.
Early intervention is about services, but it’s also about ensuring children have access to opportunities that enrich their lives and build resilience. Ultimately, the government needs to ask itself two fundamental questions: what are the things that we can do that will make a material difference in a child’s life? And how do we ensure that children are getting access to the transformational opportunities that can impact their lives?
We need a strategy about childhood with a sustained agenda, rather than a series of big initiatives which come and go. We need to see joined-up working across national government, and enable local government to do the same. Only when we have this sustained and long-term agenda for children will we see meaningful change and prevent problems occurring in the long term.