08 Feb 2019, Catherine Gaunt
This was a key recommendation by the science and technology committee in its Evidence-based early years intervention report published in November, which also urged the Government to hold the long-delayed consultation on children’s centres or re-instate Ofsted inspections for them.
Describing the Government response to its report as ‘inadequate’, committee chair the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said, ‘It is extremely frustrating to see the Government largely dismiss our recommendations, opting instead to list existing programmes and shifting responsibility onto local authorities.
‘We already know that this isn’t working as well as it could or should be.
‘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, whilst also reducing long-term costs to the Government.’
The committee’s recommendations included central Government funding for the new strategy, and the setting up of a new team in an expanded Early Intervention Foundation to help local authorities plan and deliver effective, sustainable, evidence-based early intervention.
Mr Lamb added, ‘During our inquiry, we saw 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.’
But the Government insists that the responsibility should lie with local authorities.
Rejecting the committee’s central recommendation for a new national strategy for early intervention addressing childhood adversity and trauma, the Government told the committee ‘local areas are best placed to understand the needs of their local communities, to commission early intervention services to meet those needs and to deliver interventions as part of a whole system approach to produce the best outcomes for families.’
The Government has formed a new cross-Government ministerial working group on family support from conception to the age of two.
In its response, the Government said that, ‘The newly established Early Years Family Support Ministerial Group will be considering how the Government can improve the coordination and cost-effectiveness of early years family support, and identify gaps in available provision.’
The group, chaired by Andrea Leadsom MP, will make recommendations to secretaries of state, and includes ministers from the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, Department of Health and Social Care, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and the Home Office.
Mr Lamb said, ‘We now hope to work with the new Government Inter-ministerial group – set up to support families with young children – and have asked them to reconsider our report. The evidence we have gathered presents a valuable opportunity for evidence-based early intervention to address childhood adversity, transforming lives for the better and saving taxpayers’ money in the process.’
The committee’s report had called for the Government to clarify its position on Sure Start children’s centres, including whether it intended to hold a consultation. If it did not intend to do so, the report called for a reinstatement of Ofsted inspections for children’s centres.
In response the Government said, ‘Children’s centres have an important role to play in achieving our social mobility ambition, but it is right for local authorities to decide how to use them as part of the wider system of local services. We need to better understand how local authorities use children’s centres to improve outcomes as part of their broader strategy.
‘Our £10m investment to build the evidence base for “what works” [the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care], together with the £8.5m local government early years programme, will inform the next steps in our strategy to raise outcomes for children, including considering any future consultation on the role of children’s centres.’
Commenting on the Government’s response, Dr Jo Casebourne, chief executive at the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), urged the Government to use the spending review to 'more fully take on board' the report's recommendations to provide 'leadership and coordination' at a national level.
‘The UK needs a bold new vision for early intervention,' she said. 'While we agree with the Government that local areas are best-placed to understand the needs of their local communities, this does not diminish the clear need for greater prioritisation and investment for early intervention at the national level. This is not an either/or choice – for the potential of early intervention to be fully realised, it will take both local decision-making and national leadership.
‘This matters. The evidence shows that early intervention can work to improve children’s mental health, physical health and school achievement, and to reduce involvement in crime and antisocial behaviour. Too many children in England need this support but don’t receive it.’