How much do we really believe in early intervention?

January 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

by Claire McEneaney

I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh as I read the news that Westminster Council is set to cut Sure Start funding. We know that the early years is vulnerable to cuts, and as I discuss in a previous post, this doesn’t always have to spell doom and gloom. However, the repeated attack that early intervention is under is worrying.

Making the case for early intervention has always been complicated. Logic tells us that it must work and, indeed, there are numerous studies that demonstrate this robustly. However, for local councils it is a tricky one to manage. Successful early intervention can require significant investment upfront – both in terms of people and cold hard cash. But the cost-savings are not realised for many years, and the savings are not always redeemed by those who fronted up the money in the first place but by the prison service, benefits system etc. This presents a dilemma for local councils. There is a clear social and moral imperative to fund early intervention services, but justifying the financial return on investment is difficult. In this environment of cuts, perhaps it is not suprising that early intervention falls victim.

However, Michael Little, director of the Social Research Unit, said early intervention has slowly attracted more attention and money from politicians over the last seven years.

“I think with the huge economic downturn there is a sudden interest in this kind of information…there is going to be a reduction in expenditure on children’s services of around 25% in the next five years. In that context I think it would be very difficult for any politician, any civil servant, any LA policy-maker or manager to ignore he information that is now before us about the economic benefits of prevention and early intervention.”

The government is shortly due to publish a review of early intervention services, chaired by Graham Allen,  and it will be of great interest to see if this prompts more protection of early intervention in local councils, or whether we continue to hear it talked about in the same in relation to the cuts as we are at present.

Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Government Departments, Local Authorities, Local Innovation, Public Services, Research.

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