Thursday, 29 July 2010

Early intervention

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.  (    

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.


  1. I believe that Surestart should be a service accessed by all as it is sometimes the people who are "30" something and not a target group who befriend those who perhaps have an extra need and can help them into getting help in a friendly and informal way.
    I also believe that a review of early intervention should not be based on statistics and data but it should be led by a focus group of REAL PEOPLE who live and access services everyday.
    The higher echelons of the civil service, in Whitehall ,have no concept of what the needs and requirements of the community really are.
    You have to be living and breathing it everyday to really understand it.
    A good point to raise BM.

  2. Just had another thought about this. Who's to say that 30 something Middle class mums aren't in need of intervention (post natal depression, Children with special needs, Children who need to access core services).

    I think that Surestart should rebranded as a community cohesion group so that we are all embracing diversity and that ALL ,disenfranchised indigenous people ,cultures and classes become aware of how we can create a better society and future generation.
    All areas of the community should have access to these very important core services.
    No ONE target group can be singled out as being specifically in need of early intervention especially in the soceity we live in today. We live in a society that deals in Equal opportunities so surely that should apply to this very topic.

    Please forward to any Members of Parliment one might know who have influence in this area.

  3. For what it's worth Pascale, I agree with you. Whatever cuts or re-organisation are coming to the service, some aspects of it should remain universal ie available to all. I do think there has to be better identification of families in need of extra support and perhaps, invitation only services offered to them eg behaviour management classes or invitation-only groups of teenage mums, or Somali mums so that their initial experience is that these groups are for people just like them. When confidence grows, then maybe they would access universal play/parent and toddler groups. So the general playgroups would survive as an important place where all parents can find support from the group or be signposted to other services. But the people who currently do not access anything, are most disadvantaged, and therefore have the greatest negative impact on other children when they start school and thereafter, will be encouraged to attend specifically targeted support or advice sessions. Maybe we can directly employ more Parent Outreach workers!

  4. I'm up for the job if it arises or would they be given to people from the target groups? I have a real passion for outreach work. Hope to see a comment here on the benefits reform later.

  5. I remember going to a surestart consultation in the early days and everyone was saying how difficult it was to get the parents who didn't come to anything to come to something! Then later set up a "buddy" scheme where parents (like you, pascale and me) who accessed services buddied up with parents who didn't and took them along. There were exceptions but in general it did NOT work and was a frustrating experience!
    It's easy to feel helpless. But I think especially targeted groups where people can go and meet others 'like them' who make them feel comfortable might be better. And maybe a different venue too?
    I also agree with pascale that although I was not the 'target audience' I benefited in uncountable ways from surestart provision and will always be grateful for it.