Yesterday Sarah Teather, Children's Minister at DfE and Ian Duncan Smith Work & Pension Secretary announced the setting up of a new independent commission into early intervention, which aims to ensure that children at greatest risk of multiple disadvantage get the best start in life. This will be chaired by the Labour MP Graham Allen (who has previously worked with IDS on a a similar joint review entitled "Early Intervention: Good parents, great kids, better citizens" in 1998).
The earlier report is well worth reading. Essentially, they suggested that 'early' intervention means within the first 3 years of a child's life. The earlier report was of course written when IDS was in opposition, but for this Commission to do a further review now interests me for 2 reasons.
Firstly, and I have to declare an interest here, Surestart. The Surestart programme has been running since 1998 but NESS (National Evaluation of SureStart) found that there was little evidence of positive impact from the first part of the programme (and this was after a great deal of public money had been spent). It was not until the programme switched to Children's Centre provision after 'Every Child Matters' in 2006, that impact was measurable although the evidence is still patchy and the evaluation is ongoing. It's also worth bearing in mind that Surestart covers children aged 0-5. ( http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/).
The future of the Surestart programme via Children's Centres has of course been the subject of heated debate over the part few weeks with Ed Balls in particular, suggesting that the Coalition government intends to cut and even abolish it. But if 'Early Intervention' means anything it means Surestart.
So I 'm wondering whether we are not seeing, with the setting up of this commission, a first step towards a re-organisation of Surestart, possibly narrowing the age criteria and also I suspect the number and type of programmes offered by Children's Centres. Speaking both as a parent user and Chair of Govs of a Children's Centre, I have to say I would have no problem with this. When the money was flush, it was perhaps not a problem that the majority of mums accessing services when I attended as a parent, were just like me ie over 30, middle-class. But let's be honest - it was not set up for people like us.
Secondly and this is simply an observation, made elsewhere too, that Ian Duncan Smith looks and sounds very different to how he did when he led the Conservative Party. It renews my faith in human nature to observe how his views seem so entirely different now and that, no longer having any ambition to lead the party or the country, he is freed up to actually make a difference worth making, using research-based evidence and not simply ideology.
My question I suppose is, was he always like this and was our view of him simply distorted by the prism of media coverage OR following his departure as Leader, did he undergo his own Damascene coversion on the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow? Either way, he seems an altogether more human politician now and that is surely a positive thing and leads me to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Surestart.