Call for national early intervention strategy

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

MPs are calling for a new national early intervention strategy to tackle childhood adversity and trauma, and are calling on the Government to hold the long-delayed consultation on children's centres.

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee says that early intervention provision in England is too fragmented, with varying levels of support, focus on evidence, and success.

It says that the Government should clarify its position on Sure Start children's centres and  that if it intends to hold a consultation on their future it should do so within three months.

If the consultation is not going ahead, it says that the Government should reinstate Ofsted inspections of children's centres, which have been suspended since 2015.

The Government announced a consultation on the future of Sure Start Children’s Centres in 2015 and has put children’s centre inspections on hold since then.

The Evidence-based early years intervention report is calling for a new national strategy to ensure that the opportunity provided by early intervention to transform lives and save long-term costs to Government is seized fully, and by all local authorities in England.

While the report identifies examples of early intervention working well around the country, it also highlights the challenges that local authorities and their partners are facing in delivering effective, evidence-based early intervention.

The report also says that a wide range of professions work with children and families and could help identify those who would benefit from early intervention or would play a role in delivering early intervention services.

To this end the strategy should identify and define this ‘early years workforce’, and the Government should then review the pre-qualification training and continuing professional development (CPD) offered to the different professions in the early intervention workforce.

In addition to raising the profile of early intervention as an effective way of addressing childhood adversity and driving its provision, the committee's recommendations include:

  • Central Government funding should be made available for the new strategy, which should drive a shift in the focus of current expenditure on late interventions – needed where problems have escalated - towards earlier intervention
  • Use ‘implementation science’ – a developing field that explores how interventions that have been proven to be effective can best be promoted and delivered in frontline practice.
  • Set up a central team within an expanded Early Intervention Foundation to help local authorities plan and deliver effective, sustainable, evidence-based early intervention.
  • Use data better through, for example, case studies, guidance on data-sharing, national reporting of data from the Healthy Child Programme.
  • The Government should deal with the serious shortfall in coverage of the five health visits mandated by the Healthy Child Programme to ensure that all children receive all five visits.
  • The Government should work with researchers and practitioners to examine how new specifications on funded childcare could increase the use of evidence-based programmes and the impact on families.

The report follows the launch last year of the Evidence-based early-years intervention Inquiry by the Science and Technology Committee into the strength of the evidence linking adverse childhood experiences with long-term negative outcomes, the evidence base for related interventions, whether evidence is being used effectively in policy-making, and the support and oversight for research into this area.

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said, ‘Adversity in childhood appears to be the biggest single risk factor in the emergence of mental ill health in childhood and teenage years, and beyond. If we are to make any impact on the high prevalence of mental ill-health in childhood, we have to transform how we address the causes.

‘Early intervention offers young people who have suffered adversity in their childhood an opportunity to avoid the long-term problems associated with such experiences. When delivered effectively, there is strong evidence that early intervention can dramatically improve people's lives, while also reducing long-term costs to the Government.

‘The Scottish and Welsh Governments and some local authorities in England have made using early intervention to address childhood adversity and trauma a priority.

‘We urge the UK Government to do the same. During our inquiry, we have seen examples of good practice being delivered around the country, but a national strategy with co-ordinated support for local authorities could see the transformative benefits of early intervention offered to all children who need it, irrespective of where they live.’

Early Intervention Foundation response

Responding to the report, Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) backed the committee’s call for a national strategy for early intervention.

‘We warmly welcome the committee’s report, which sets out an ambitious and timely plan of action to support the provision of effective early intervention support to the children, young people and families who need it most. Together, the recommendations set out in this report have the potential to bring about a step-change for early intervention in England, and the committee is to be commended for issuing an inspiring and far-sighted rallying call.

'EIF has recently set out the case for a 25-year plan for early intervention, on a par with the focus given to similar long-term challenges around housing and the environment, to reflect a much-needed refreshed political commitment.'

Donna Molloy, director of policy and practice at the Early Intervention Foundation, said, ‘The report contains many important recommendations, but we are particularly pleased to see the focus upon ways of supporting delivery of evidence-based early intervention and evaluation of its impact in local places.

'EIF has been working with local places to support them to deliver early intervention since 2013, but of course delivering effective early intervention locally requires sufficient resources. As we have set out recently, what is needed is a long-term investment fund to test the impact of a whole-system approach to early intervention in a small number of areas. Funding is needed for high-quality interventions, wider system changes such as workforce development, and long-term impact monitoring and evaluation. If done properly, this would enable us to take the vitally important step of developing empirical evidence on the impact of place-wide, evidence-based support on population-level outcomes.'

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