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Realising the potential: why it's time for a 25-year plan for early intervention

Published

30 Oct 2018

Today, we have published ‘Realising the potential of early intervention’, a landmark report for EIF and, we believe, for the field of early intervention.

Our report has important things to say about how we got to this point, and about the future for early intervention and the people and communities to whom it provides vital support. If you read nothing else this year about early intervention in the UK, I hope you will read this.

Realising the potential is one part ‘state of the nation’ – what we know about when and how early intervention can help in tackling the multitude of problems and issues we see in the lives of children and young people – and one part bold action plan: what needs to happen next to ensure this potential is converted into positive impact for as many as possible.

If you read nothing else this year about early intervention in the UK, I hope you will read this.

At the heart of this action plan is one crucial observation: long-termism matters. So many of the benefits of early intervention emerge over the long term, for individuals, communities and society as a whole. And to stand a better chance of being effective, early intervention must be part of a long-term plan, based on a long-term strategy, backed by stable, long-term funding and a long-term commitment to research and evaluation. Short-term, single-issue policy-making and funding is just not good enough when it comes to addressing this complex social issue.

If we are going to realise the potential of early intervention to improve the lives of children and families across the UK, we must get to grips with the scale of the challenge and the level of political priority and investment required. We have seen government make long-term commitments to tackling some high-priority social issues, including housing and the environment. Surely supporting vulnerable children deserves the same. And so we say in this report that it is time for a 25-year plan for early intervention, to provide the ambition, coordination and stability that this agenda requires.

It is time for a 25-year plan for early intervention, to provide the ambition, coordination and stability that this agenda requires.

Over the five years that EIF has been in existence, we have learned a tremendous amount about where the strongest evidence for the positive impact of early intervention lies – and, just as importantly, where there are gaps in our knowledge. Being a What Works Centre means we must be confident and clear in cases where there is good evidence of what works, and honest and proactive in others where the evidence still needs to be developed further.

And we have learned a lot about what gets in the way of prioritising and investing in early intervention. Through our work and engagement with public bodies, services and charities across the country, we have heard repeatedly about the same set of barriers that prevent sustainable investment, strategic planning, careful implementation – in short, which make it less likely that effective early intervention is provided to the children and families who need it most. And so our report sets out actions – four national, two local – that we believe can work to bring down these barriers and unleash the potential of early intervention to have a positive impact on more children and young people and their communities.

At EIF, we spend a lot of time and energy focusing on the details of early intervention: how to identify children at risk, use evidence in commissioning decisions, design new interventions, build supportive local partnerships, and much else besides. And we do this across a wide range of issues, from public health and education to childcare, youth justice and family support. This is important and fascinating work.

But it is equally important to come up for air, to understand why all this work matters, and how it translates into meaningful improvements in the lives of children and young people. It is inspiring and energising to have this renewed argument for why early intervention is so important and a plan for what must change.

The success of the country depends on supporting all children to reach their potential. If anything is worthy of long‑term planning, surely it is this.

About the author

Dr Jo Casebourne

Jo is chief executive at EIF.