Improved Early Years Interventions

Evidence suggests early years interventions can be effective in improving children's life chances but there remain calls for a national strategy. This House of Lords Library briefing provides background information on this issue ahead of a debate on the subject scheduled to take place on 27 February 2020.

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Early intervention is a loosely-defined term that refers to trying to resolve problems as soon as possible, before they become more difficult to reverse. In an early years context, widely but not exclusively considered to be from conception until a child reaches the age of 5, there is a strong body of evidence that early interventions can be used to identify children who may be showing atypical development. Such interventions can help develop their skills and competencies in a range of areas. These include in relation to health, cognitive development, and social and emotional skills.

As well as improving lives and life chances in the short, medium, and long term, several reports in recent years, including those from parliamentary committees, have argued that early years interventions are also cost effective. In 2016, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), a government-supported research charity, estimated that £16.6 billion was spent on ‘late interventions’ by the public sector each year in England and Wales—equivalent to almost £290 per person. It was noted that this sum “does not capture longer-term cumulative costs which will be considerably larger; it also does not capture wider cost to individuals and society”.

Recent parliamentary committee reports have argued for a national strategy for England. This strategy would coordinate early intervention programmes implemented by both central and local government. The chief executive of the EIF, Dr Jo Casebourne, has also recently called for an increase in the financial support given to local authorities in England by central government. She also argued for a longer-term, evidence-based plan on early intervention across government.

In respect of recent developments in the new parliament, the Conservative Party general election manifesto stated that a “strong society needs strong families”. It added: “We will improve the troubled families programme and champion family hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children—from the early years and throughout their lives”. In early February 2020, the Government announced that the EIF had been commissioned to investigate the family hub model and effective local practices. It is expected to report in spring 2020. The Government has also given the troubled families programme up to an extra £165 million.

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