Opinion: Early years intervention is a smart move

It’s unusual for my morning radio alarm to bring me to wakefulness quite so abruptly as it did today with the coverage of MP Graham Allen’s report on giving disadvantaged children the best start in life. Something so important being given leading coverage is good news.

Although it probably isn’t news to most working the sector, nor many Liberal Democrats I suspect, it is very welcome that high-profile, cross party attention is now being given to idea that early intervention to improve social and emotional development will yield great dividends for
the child and society later in its life.

The report examines causes of persistent poverty in families, and identifies the “inter-generational cycle of dysfunction and under-achievement” as a major reason underlying the failures of earlier
attempts to rectify the problem. Simply put, previous policies have aimed their interventions too late in a child’s life to have been effective, and have led to more expensive interventions in schools, social services and the criminal justice system becoming necessary later on.

Instead, it suggests that tackling poor parenting from the moment a child is born through to when they start school, and cites the successes of schemes such as the Family Nurse Partnership as examples of interventions that could easily be rolled out country-wide. Such interventions will give the most disadvantaged children the chance to fulfil their potential, and save society money in the long run.

These programmes will benefit children born from now on, their families and society in the future. But what about families and children alive today? This has been the big dilemma for many social programmes for decades – how to give new generations a chance whilst ameliorating the problems – typically poverty – of their parents.

A partial answer is that existing welfare provision tackles current poverty, whilst Mr Allen responds that his focus is future generations. However, a successful intervention of these plans will require a partnership with today’s parents who, whilst recognising the benefits to
their children, are likely to want to see a dividend for them today beyond a better behaved child, particularly if participating in such a scheme raises the spectre of stigma of family and child that has often derailed earlier well-meaning attempts at intervention.

The report recognises that there is likely to be little new money available at this moment for a programme of such targeted interventions.

Mr Allen is considering novel funding schemes, such as ‘social enterprise bonds’, and will issue a second report on this in the summer. He should also take the opportunity to reflect on how best to achieve parents’ buy-in to his big idea.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Black Triangle 19th Jan '11 - 4:25pm

    It is important and a small step in the right direction – but it isn’t much, let’s be honest. It’s a pitiful amount to be throwing to the poor right now in light of all your other policies which are hitting the poor hardest.

    It seems that these days the LDs only speak out on poverty when they think they’ve done something “good”. You’ve been remarkably and pathetically silent on your coalition’s anti-disabled and anti-ill-people policies. So, yes, you might be helping children from the poorest backgrounds but this will not amount to much when their sick or disabled parents lose their benefit (or their home, as some of these changes will result in). You’re also taking part in the gutting and privatisation of the greatest healthcare provider in the world, the NHS. Your party is now saying nothing about this, considering the minister for health is being bankrolled by private companies. This is a shame and makes any good bits of crumbs you get from the Tories not really worth it.

    So, LDV, how do you feel about the destruction of the NHS? Don’t all speak at once.

  • This is something that should be supported by all. I do wonder though why, although you mention Family Nurse Partnership as the starting point you fail to also mention that Allen also says that it has to continue beyond that as children get older with initiatives like Sure Start and the social and emotional aspects of learning programme (Seal).
    This is where we can test the coalition’s commitment to early years intervention. We already know that as a result of coalition cuts, many Sure Start centres are set to close, and many early years intervention programmes are being axed.

  • Black Triangle 19th Jan '11 - 4:53pm

    Ok, Andrew: here’s the thing. I’m not a Labour supporter and I have not been since 2001. Since then I was a LD supporter. Voted for you every election..but no longer. While Labour attacked the sick and disabled and brought in draconian tests and cuts to lifelines for the disabled, I switched to your party. Until you joined the Tories, you talked the big talk about caring for the sick and disabled. Of course now your party doesn’t care. All your party cares about is being in power. You certainly don’t care about the people that voted for you, as I have been constantly ignored and abused by LDs here. Called a Labour troll and other worse things simply because I believed all the “compassionate” polices you had and disagree with your current policies.. Had being the important word. Now, I cannot stand your party. I hate you with the same hate I feel towards Labour and the Tories. There is now no longer any political party willing to stand up for the disabled. Your own leader demonises us and claims people who are able to work are better than people like me. As if we like handouts. Your party is now so out of touch, you discuss obscure parliamentary bollocks here, rather than things that affect people and issues people are scared about. Do you not have the courage to engage with your electorate? Or are we all Labour Trolls, everyone who voted yellow and got…blue?

    And as for the NHS, I have family in the US who cannot get health care. With my conditions, if I lived in a land of private health care I would probably be dead now. These changes your government is bringing in scare the life out of me, as I rely on the NHS to live. Hell, GPs are going to be *punished* if they don’t use private contractors under the new system. Until you’ve been seriously ill and close to death, you’ll never realise how important the NHS is to us. I’ve read the details of this reform and it genuinely frightens me.

    I’m sure this post will be deleted, but I don’t care. Have a look around at the forums where disabled and sick people post. See how frightened we are about benefit changes and the NHS “reforms”. Several disabled people have already committed suicide since these welfare changes were announced. People will lose their homes. Families will be split up. And all you people want to talk about it Labour’s messages to journalists.

    We disabled people, those who can still fight, are gearing up for a big campaign. What will you do when we chain ourselves to your London HQ? When we tip oursleves out of our wheelchairs? That’s just a small bit of what is coming your way. Your government is threatening disabled and sick people. Every time you do this, will will fight back. We trusted you, voted for you in our thousands. Now you just don’t want to know. Just like Labour and Tories.

    Just remember that you can’t constantly attack the vulnerable (“scroungers” to you guys) and not expect us to eventually fight back. You used to be the nice party. No longer. No longer.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 19th Jan '11 - 4:53pm

    One would hope that on something as important as this there would be all party agreement on the objective and that an evidence based approach would be adopted to determining the best policies for achieving the stated objective – and as Andrew T states we would hope that there would be some attempt to will the means.

    However, the Coalition would appear to be jumoing the gun on the matter already – and many councils are already looking to axe substantial numbers of Sure Start schemes which are generally seen as making a very positive contribution in this regard. Only yesterday Sussex County Council announced that it was closing 8 of its 30 Sure Start schemes.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 19th Jan '11 - 4:56pm

    Perhaps a golden opportunity for Clegg to show that that Government isn’t Tory led?

  • John Darking 19th Jan '11 - 5:03pm

    @Black Triangle is right:

    This policy, while definitely good news, does not amount to much considering the other regressive cuts which, by and large, hit the poor. We won’t see rich people missing the Sure Start centres which are being closed and the richer among us won’t miss the NHS when it’s gone, too. The fact is that these cuts, which we are behind, are not affecting the rich at all. I do agree that the focus of talk lately has been very narrow and mainly for political anoraks. Voters will inevitably find this site, especially Liberal voters who feel let down. We should be more mindful of engaging positively with the public, even if we see them as “trolls.”

  • All of which is fine except the changes to the NHS are currently leaving Health Visitors in no mans land. These are a key element to any early years interventions and need their role protecting. They offer invaluable help and advice to young parents and interface with social workers and other agencies where appropriate.

    In my area, GP’s have been mooting that they should change their remit from birth to primary school to birth to 18. There will be no extra visitors or funding, and as they work for the PCT there is yet to be agreement on who will be their employer.

    If you want to achieve early don’t upset elements of the system that currently work well.

  • dave thawley 19th Jan '11 - 10:40pm

    I like the bit about novel funding schemes which is just for those running the tory party. I I recall correctly the schemes will be set up so that they can’t fail and the investors could earn 9% per year. If we borrowed the money to fund them in the conventional way we would pay 3.5% per year – this is another liberal democrat sell-out and lie – I totally agree that we should be looking at it but crafting in a way which maximised profits to millionaires is just a load of crap. It is becoming increasingly clear our party leadership are not telling even us the full story on many of our policies – just the bits that they think sound liberal and that will get us to support them i.e. they are turning into tories in more ways than one.

  • Yeah this is good news but I’m not overly enthusiastic, much the same way as if I had ‘found a pound but lost a tenner’

    @Black Triangle
    Keep up your posts about the disabled, keep banging on about the effects of these reforms on us, your doing a far better job than I could do and hopefully you may get at least some of the more (allegedly) compassionate LD activists to think again on the direction the Coalition is heading, it might be a small victory I know but at least it’s something.

  • Black Triangle 20th Jan '11 - 4:19pm

    @nige, @Geoffrey:

    Thank you for the kind words. That is about the only positive response I’ve really seen here on LDV. You know, before the election, our campaign told our members to vote LD, as they were the only party who were talking as if they really cared about disability issues. Since the spending review, however, whenever the topic of disability is brought up, nobody here wants to know. Most people want to defend LD policy of cutting benefits for the disabled and if that was not enough, label me a “Labour troll” because I disagree with the new policy of the party I voted for. My posts have also been moderated quite heavily, because nobody wants to know or deal with the consequences these policies have. Sorry., guys, but with power comes great responsibility and you need to engage with your voters, especially those you’ve broken promises to.

    Fortunately, the cuts to disabled people is starting to hit the news. It’ just sad that something so tragic is having to happen in order for this to even become news. Still, we at Black Triangle are stepping up our campaign. Those of us who are able to, of course. If the LibDems continue their anti-disabled policies, we will indeed be showing up soon as Cowley Street (and Tory HQ as well) to show our disdain. Most of us may be physically disabled and living in great amounts of pain, but we are not stupid and we are human beings who deserve to be treated as such.

    We would much rather be able to work with the government, especially the LibDems. But we keep getting fobbed off, even by LD minister Stephen Webb. But there is a light of hope: Lord Freud, minister for welfare, has admitted most people on benefits actually are deserving and elegible, that the government has misled the public and media on disability benefits as well. This doesn’t surprise me: even Clegg got in on the disabled-bashing act with his Alarm Clock Britain article.

    We would be happy to work with LDV, but so long as our posts are deleted and we’re abused as “Labour Trolls” (even though we’ve had nothing but scorn for Labour for years). We just want our voices to be heard. You simply cannot cut lifelines for the most deserving and vulnerable and not expect us to fight back. We are not a soft target, as party HQ must think..

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