Graham Allen is Labour MP for Nottingham North. In 2008, he co-wrote, with Iain Duncan Smith, a report on early intervention. In 2011 he was the author of two independent reports on the same topic for the Department of Work and Pensions. He is the Founding Chair of the Early Intervention Foundation.
Politicians of every party should know what every good parent knows: that there is no more important issue than Early Intervention. What we do as parents and as a society early on sets the future. Late Intervention has had its day. Early Intervention is a philosophy which offers our country a real opportunity to make lasting improvement in the lives of our babies, children, and young people by helping them develop their social and emotional bedrock to forestall many persistent social problems and end their transmission from one generation to the next, and to make long-term savings in public spending. For our own economy Early Intervention will enable billions of pounds to be saved from the costs of failure and dysfunction – far more than any austerity package. Early Intervention makes better kids and families, and massively reduces social problems.
My Early Intervention journey began in my tough constituency of Nottingham North. In 2005, I became the first MP to chair a Local Strategic Partnership and I set it the mission to make Nottingham the first Early Intervention City with a twenty year plan to make a real, long-term impact on children in Nottingham. We were able to put in place a dozen inter-related Early Intervention programmes around the zero to 18 intergenerational cycle, almost all of which – despite cutbacks – continue to prove their worth in Nottingham today.
One of the biggest champions of Early Intervention is Iain Duncan Smith, with whom I co-authored a small book on Early Intervention - “Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens”. Iain had has his own Early Intervention journey up in Glasgow, and it was particularly significant that we came together from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum to write this book. Early Intervention cannot be the property of one party, it must be immune to the swing of party politics if it is to impact intergenerationally.
This small book with Iain and my work in Nottingham led to David Cameron asking me to write two independent reports for Her Majesty’s Government on Early intervention and how best to progress and finance it.
The most important recommendation from the reports was centred on the creation of an independent Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), a centre pulling together the best evidence-based practice, a source of practical advice for all early interventions and an articulate advocate and champion for Early Intervention.
With the support of all parties and organisations in the field, in 2013 the EIF was launched. Two years on the Foundation is now one of the Government’s highly regarded What Works centres and is the national, cross-party authority on Early Intervention.
It is an independent, not-for-profit centre for excellence that focuses on the promotion of successful, evidence-based Early Intervention initiatives available to all. The Foundation is not a service provider but pulls together existing, proven science and programmes and bring them to scale. We have created a long term capability, a resource to be used over and over again by all who wish to “build out” the intergenerational cycle of dysfunction and disadvantage, especially for those hard to reach families who are most in need of the services on offer.
Many of the persistent and inter-generational social problems continue to grow because some of our children are not given the right type of support in their earliest years, when they experience critical periods of development. There is a well-evidenced correlation between adverse childhood experiences and later development, so missed opportunities to target and tackle a problem early on can have long-term consequences for both the child and the Government who will have to pay to fire-fight social problems later on.
The Government has estimated that the 120,000 most troubled families in England access public services at a cost of £9 billion a year – ranging from social workers, health visitors, drug and alcohol teams, mental health workers, job centre staff, housing officers and others. Early Intervention is about giving children the best possible start in life, but it is also about making savings for the public purse, too.
One of the Foundation’s most recent reports highlights just why this issue is so important. It found that one in four children – particularly those from poor backgrounds and deprived communities – start primary school in England without the necessary language and communication skills. This is just one of many shocking statistics that Early Intervention tackles.
The Early Intervention Foundation has already been working with 20 pioneering local places to explore promising practice in bringing together health agencies such as midwives, health visitors and GP’s with early education services such as children’s centres, nurseries and childcare. Better integration means better and most cost efficient public services for families who don’t have to keep repeating their story to different professionals and get the help they need more swiftly. It also helps reduce inefficiency and duplication.
This vital Early Intervention work, both at the Foundation and in localities across the country, must continue in the long term to see real change for babies, children and young people. To help tackle and eradicate social problems from the very beginning, and to end the costly and ineffective fire-fighting culture of late intervention.
While Early Intervention is proving its worth with family policy it is also a philosophy of pre-emption, planning and investment which can be applied across all policy fields from the economic to the international. Perhaps politicians will learn to use the old adages of good parenting across every political issue that “prevention is better than cure” and that “a stitch in time saves nine”.