Book News: February 25th, 2011

The core message of this independent report to Her Majesty’s Government by Graham Allen MP, is that it is the approach which offers a real opportunity to make lasting improvements in the lives of our children, 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.

Despite the merits of early intervention, progress remains persistently patchy and institutional and financial obstacles are difficult to overcome. Social problems are well-entrenched and existing social policies continue to be followed even though they are known to be expensive and of limited success. Strong leadership by all political parties is required to overcome this bias and achieve a cultural shift to early intervention. A move to successful early intervention requires new thinking about the relationship between central government and local providers. It also needs authoritative evidence about which forms of early intervention are most successful, and about their impact.

Early intervention covers a range of tried and tested policies for the first three years of children’s lives to give them the essential social and emotional security they need for the rest of their lives. It also includes a range of well-established policies for when they are older which leave children ready to face the challenges of each stage of childhood and of passage into adulthood – especially the challenge of becoming good parents to their own children.

The rationale is simple: many of the costly and damaging social problems in society are created because we are not giving children the right type of support in their earliest years, when they should achieve their most rapid development. If we do not provide that help early enough, then it is often too late. Here are just a few illustrations from the literature:
• A child’s development score at just 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years.
• Some 54 per cent of the incidence of depression in women and 58 per cent of suicide attempts by women have been attributed to adverse childhood experiences, according to a study in the US.
• An authoritative study of boys assessed by nurses at age 3 as being ‘at risk’ found that they had two and a half times as many criminal convictions as the group deemed not to be at risk at age 21. Moreover, in the at-risk group, 55 per cent of the convictions were for violent offences, compared to 18 per cent for those who were deemed not to be at risk.

The report argues that there is a need to work together to reap the benefits that early intervention can bring. This will require working differently, to higher standards, and with focused activity and a vigorous institutional champion. Many contributors to the Report are excited by the potential for a real breakthrough on early intervention, but there is also apprehension that it could be delayed and suffocated.

The report can be downloaded here.