Emma works in children’s services, is a councillor in Waltham Forest and is fourth on the Londonwide list for the GLA election in May 2020.
I was overjoyed in the early hours of December 13th as Iain Duncan Smith, our local MP in Chingford and Woodford Green, was returned (there’s a rather unflattering BBC clip of me from the time which attests to this).
Of course, as a councillor in the constituency, a Brexiteer, and someone who experienced first-hand the vile hard-left campaign Labour ran here, there were many reasons to celebrate.
The most pertinent for me was seeing Duncan Smith returned to the Commons, and through him a strong voice for early intervention. In fact, it is his work for the Centre for Social Justice (which he co-founded in 2004) and belief in early intervention measures that I would often focus on when talking to undecided voters – which resonated far more than discussing the intricacies of Brexit.
That night (or morning), with our job done locally, we began to focus on the excitement of the emerging national picture. Activists, councillors and our newly re-elected MP bundled into cars from the count to a hastily prepared celebration party (no one was counting any chickens) where, in a crowded living room in Woodford, cheers went up at almost every result announced. With every victory it felt increasingly as though we were entering the dawn of a new political era. It also was clear people across the UK were crying out for a change in direction.
I recall thinking: “It’s time for us to do something special beyond Brexit”. Personally, I’ll be hoping that’s IDS, and other MPs sympathetic to the cause, making the case for a trauma-aware early intervention agenda that transforms the way in which we approach individuals presenting with social, legal, physical, and mental health issues.
Our friends on the left have often failed when it comes to early intervention measures, becoming too distracted by creating fancy job titles and what is easy but not effective. I fear this has led to early intervention being characterised by poor practice and dismissed as a New Labour fad where excess money was spent ‘rewarding’ bad behaviour.
In the much-needed move to streamline public services over the past decade it seems to me, in some circumstances, this view has seen the baby thrown out with the bathwater. We cannot forget that the principle of early intervention not only presents the best outcome for children and families – it is also markedly better for the public purse.
So now, with a thumping majority, we must pick up the gauntlet and get it right. The whole parliamentary party must listen to evidence linking the impact of early life trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to brain development. It must recognise early life trauma causes toxic stress that when experienced through developmental years literally alters the way in which brains are wired.
This leads to a massive rise in the likelihood of experiencing mental and physical health issues and a far greater susceptibility to substance misuse and violent behaviours. Like any underlying health issue, when we fail to inoculate children against the effects of trauma we set them up for future pain. We must inoculate against trauma as we do physical illness. The antidote is a society that understands its effects, and support from families or trusted adults.
It seems obvious we aren’t effectively intervening and inoculating at present. Speak to teachers, doctors, support workers, housing officers, and key workers across the public and charitable sector. They could often tell you in primary school the children that they expect to see in gangs, with issues with violence, addiction struggles, and with health issues later in life.
But too often, while children are identified at this stage, their behaviour is easier to manage and we neglect to address the issues which sees behaviour become progressively more serious throughout adolescence and adult life.
That’s why the rising rate of permanent exclusions from state schools is so worrying. Each one represents a missed opportunity and personal tragedy for the young person involved; with a reduction in life chances and increased risk of involvement in crime.
Through my work in children services and as a councillor I’m always struck by how many young people and families are let down through missed opportunities to tackle the root cause of their presenting problem – invariably leading to expensive and reactive solutions focused on symptoms not cause. Our collective approach in public services is too often akin to giving a plaster to someone with a gaping wound, and then wondering why they keep needing more plasters.
Many of the answers on how to implement early intervention effectively already exist. Hopefully the Government will put at the heart of its agenda David Burrowes’s work on the Family Hubs Network and Manifesto to Strengthen Families as well as the NSPCC’s Sharing the Science and Look, Say, Sing, Play programmes (which educate professionals, parents, and carers on the science behind brain development).
My personal wish list includes seeing expectant mothers complete ACE questionnaires to break the cycle of early-life trauma and schools adopting trauma-aware strategies to better identify and support children before the penalty for problem behaviour increases.
A new era beckons, the strings on the public purse are loosening, and it’s time to show what a compassionate, one-nation Conservative government can achieve through an early intervention revolution.