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Building momentum: How 2018 sets up EIF for a big year ahead

Published

20 Dec 2018

EIF chief executive Jo Casebourne looks back at a busy 2018, and ahead to a crucial – if uncertain – 2019.

As the year draws to a close I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve achieved in 2018 at the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) and what our priorities are for the year ahead. Like everyone else, we are doing this reflection in a context of more political instability than we’ve seen for years and an unclear way ahead for the country, as the Brexit deadline draws closer.

For us, this context means it is more important than ever to keep the focus of politicians, policy-makers and local leaders on how best to provide much-needed help to children and young people who are at risk of poor outcomes. We cannot as a country be distracted from vital long-term priorities, like supporting all children to achieve their full potential.

To me, it feels that 2018 saw a renewed energy and enthusiasm for early intervention, as a key part of helping children who are facing challenges that affect their development and their future life chances, health and happiness. We must make sure that we capitalise on this energy in 2019, with new investment in and prioritisation of early intervention in the Spending Review and at a local level, as our report Realising the potential of early intervention and the Science and Technology committee report on evidence-based early intervention both recommended this autumn. Getting these recommendations enacted is a key objective for EIF in the year ahead. But before next year begins, there are three areas of our work in 2018 that I am particularly proud of.

The first of these is our work on early years, where we have substantially added to the evidence-base with the publication of a number of major new reports, and where we will be continuing our work in 2019 to make sure that this evidence is used to change both policy and practice. In August we published two reports on what we know about the effectiveness of childcare in the early years: Teaching, pedagogy and practice in early years childcare: An evidence review and An initial assessment of the 2-year-old free childcare entitlement: Drivers of take-up and impact on early years outcomes. Together these reports showed that as the Department for Education (DfE) develops the childcare offer further, there is more work to do to ensure that childcare improves outcomes for children, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Alongside the work on childcare we published two foundational new evidence reviews on early child development: in June What works to enhance the effectiveness of the Healthy Child Programme: An evidence update and just this week, Key competencies in early cognitive development: Things, people, numbers and words. We are using all of this work on early years to support the design, delivery and evaluation of DfE’s Social Mobility Action Plan and to support Public Health England’s work on early years. In 2019 we’ll be continuing to use this evidence to feed into policy, whilst also ensuring that the evidence is used to change practice amongst those workforces delivering services to children in the early years. I am very glad to see our expertise and grasp of the evidence feeding into this important set of policies and decisions.

The second area of our work this year that I am particularly proud of is on reducing parental conflict, where we have been working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that our evidence is used to support the national Reducing Parental Conflict programme. In January we launched our online Reducing Parental Conflict Hub, which hosts a range of resources to help local leaders, commissioners, practitioners and researchers who are looking to reduce the impact of parental conflict on children. We also held two major conferences in March on children, parental conflict and public services – one in Manchester and one in London. It’s fantastic to be able to support efforts to shine a light on a less familiar issue in the lives of children and families, and we’ll be developing this work further with DWP in 2019.

Closer to home, the third area this year where there has been substantial new work for EIF is on our new strategy, which sets out the direction we’re heading in as an organisation in the next five years. Having looked back in our first annual report in September of what we achieved in 2017/18, the new strategy sets out how we’ll be focused on making the case for early intervention, generating evidence, and using that evidence to change both policy and practice. EIF has passed its fifth birthday and is emerging from its start-up phase. This strategy does an important job of clarifying and underlining our purpose and role for the years ahead.

As part of the strategy we have implemented a new impact framework, which focuses us on influencing the behaviour of our key audiences to increase the investment in and prioritisation of effective early intervention. This impact lens will be central to the way we design our work programme for 2019/20, and is a crucial part of my personal vision of EIF as an organisation that is continually learning about its own effectiveness – surely a key tenet for any What Works centre!

We’ve made a great start on one key plank of our new strategy – making the case for early intervention – with the publication of ‘Realising the potential’ in October, which refreshes the original case for early intervention that was made in 2011 and led to EIF being set up. We focus on where early intervention can have the greatest impact and what the wider economic case is for early intervention, and make recommendations on what is now needed to realise the potential of early intervention at both a national and local level. Next year for EIF is all about making sure this becomes a reality, and that 2019 is the year where Britain gets serious about prioritising and making a long-term investment in early intervention for vulnerable children.

About the author

Dr Jo Casebourne

Jo is chief executive at EIF.