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Introduction to early intervention: what is it, why it matters, and what does EIF do?


13 May 2020

This is compilation of three short films from the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), a UK research charity focused on promoting and enabling an evidence-based approach to early intervention designed to support children, young people and their families.

Watch with captions

Each section of this compilation is also available as a short film:

What is early intervention?

Why does early intervention matter?

Who are EIF, and what do we do?

Introduction to early intervention: what is it, why it matters, and what does EIF do?

What is early intervention?

All children deserve the best possible start in life, and their development and experiences throughout childhood and adolescence lay the foundations for happy, healthy and productive lives.

Early intervention means identifying and providing effective early support to children and young people who are at risk of experiencing poor outcomes, such as struggling at school, mental health problems, taking risks with drugs or sex or getting involved in gangs or crime.

Effective early intervention works to prevent problems occurring or to tackle them head-on when they do before problems get worse working to put in place small solutions early on rather than having the need for a bigger solution later.

Early intervention works to improve children’s lives by providing extra support to individuals and families who need it. This can take different forms such as home visits to support new or vulnerable parents school-based programmes to improve children’s emotional skills or mentoring schemes for young people who are at risk of getting involved in a gang. This support may be provided by the government, national charities, local councils, or small community organisations. Sometimes it’s provided through a standalone programme; sometimes it’s just part of how public services work with children and families.

In the first few years of life, through childhood and into the teenage years early intervention is a vital way of providing the skills and resilience young people need to succeed in life.

Why does early intervention matter?

Too many children face the kind of challenges or disadvantages that can affect their development and threaten their future wellbeing, health and happiness.

And failing to intervene at an early stage can lead to a range of negative consequences in the future. For example, there’s a link between behavioural problems in childhood and lower qualifications and earnings later in life. Poor social and emotional skills as a child are linked to academic struggles, poor mental health and relationship problems as an adult. These problems are likely to be more serious more damaging and more difficult to address once a person reaches adolescence or adulthood.

But these outcomes are not set in stone. Experiencing challenges or disadvantages early in life doesn’t have to dictate a child’s wellbeing and opportunities as they grow up. Early intervention can support four important aspects of children’s development: physical, cognitive, behavioural, and social and emotional. Short-term improvements in these four areas can lead to benefits throughout childhood and later life, including improved physical health, improved mental health and wellbeing, better academic results and job prospects, improved behaviour, and a reduced risk of criminal involvement.

Leaving problems unresolved in childhood doesn’t only impact on the lives of individuals and families but on all of us as a society as well. Effective early intervention can help to reduce the amount of support a person needs during their lifetime and relieve the pressure on our vital public services. Over time, it can help to build communities that are more resilient and more supportive places for children and young people to grow up.

Preventing problems from arising in the first place or working to reduce their impact on people’s lives is good for all of us.

Who are EIF, and what do we do?

At the Early Intervention Foundation, we champion and support the use of effective early intervention.

We’re most interested in learning what works, which means focusing on the interventions and approaches that have been shown to actually improve the lives of children and young people.

We don’t work directly with children, young people or families to provide early intervention. Instead, we work with the people who do. We bridge the gap between scientists and researchers and policymakers, commissioners and service managers, whose decisions can have such a significant impact on the life of a child or family. We want to make the detailed findings of research into early intervention understandable and useful to the people who design, run and invest in services and programmes for children.

EIF is an independent research charity focused on supporting all these people to take an evidence-based approach to early intervention. We want to ensure the evidence of what works is used to change policies at all levels and to support people working in public services to do their job more effectively.

We conduct research, bringing the evidence from scientific studies and trials together with the expertise of people working in early intervention. We publish our findings and recommendations and produce resources which translate this research into practical guidance and tools. And we join with government, local councils, public services and everyone who works in early intervention to ensure the evidence is used in critical decisions about how early intervention is designed and delivered.

Together, we can ensure more and better early intervention support is available to the children and families who need it most.