Early help's new protagonist: Jo Casebourne, chief executive, the Early Intervention Foundation

Derren Hayes speaks to Jo Casebourne, chief executive, the Early Intervention Foundation.

Jo Casebourne has spent 20 years conducting research on public services, social innovation, disadvantaged groups in the labour market and childcare. She became chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) in August 2017, taking over from Carey Oppenheim who had led the organisation since it was established in June 2013. EIF is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention locally and nationally to improve the lives of children, young people and their families.

You come with a strong research background. How will you use that at EIF?

We want to build on our strong evidence base to go further in our reports, making recommendations to government and local commissioners about what they need to do to make a real difference in supporting children and families at risk.

There is lots we still don't know about what works in this area. We need to test things out and learn what works and then spread that across the system.

What is the next stage of the foundation's development? How will you broaden its reach?

We are now a more mature organisation, but I think we need to make the case for early intervention to a new generation of politicians and decision makers - regional mayors, government officials, local commissioners and ministers. We need to deepen our impact and ensure we are meeting the needs of our audiences. Are we giving them the evidence in a way that they need it?

The important thing is how the evidence is used on the ground. We need to think beyond programmes that work and also build up evidence on effective systems and practices.

How are the early intervention needs of commissioners changing?

Early intervention has evolved quite a lot from when Graham Allen MP produced his original reports. We are now seeing early intervention in children's mental health and policing for example. We are currently working on a youth gang violence project in Lambeth and Wandsworth looking at the role that schools can play in preventing gangs. We also work with a number of government departments on how they can build early intervention into their work.

Does early intervention have sufficient funding priority nationally and locally?

No. EIF analysis shows that £17bn is spent on late interventions in England and Wales every year. Part of the issue is that we don't invest in testing approaches developed in the UK. This means that we still don't know what works to achieve some of the key outcomes for children and families in this country.

For example, we have strong evidence that some parenting interventions help to improve children's behaviour when behavioural problems have been identified, but the evidence is less strong for what works in reducing the gap in low-income children's early language learning.

Children's services leaders need to know which evidence-based interventions work best and make the biggest difference to children's outcomes. It's critical that every penny spent is achieving what is required.

We will keep making the case to government to invest in funding early intervention, testing innovations and putting in place evaluations of widely delivered but still untested approaches.

Has the £1bn cut in early help spending by councils since 2010 hit the foundation's impact?

It has been a challenging funding climate for councils, but demand to work with the foundation remains high. That's because early intervention remains critical for councils, as the only way to tackle rising social care demand is to deal with issues earlier, before problems become acute.

Reductions in local capacity have impacted on local areas' ability to do evaluation and monitor service impact. We want to help local areas to do evaluation and increase their evidence base.

In your previous role you did work on regional devolution. How will this change the delivery of children's services?

The new metro mayors and combined authorities have enormous potential for ensuring wider adoption of evidenced early interventions, because they are the right scale to achieve real change across public services.

So for example, they have soft powers - such as the ability to access Secretaries of State and to bring leaders together locally to join services up - which could help develop a strategic approach to early intervention.

How can agencies work more effectively together to create an early-help-focused system?

This is critical for the future. There's a lack of evidence and understanding about how local agencies can work more effectively together. There are silos in the public sector that still remain despite efforts to join things up.

We need to see more examples of joining the different agencies - such as the initiative in Croydon to train debt, housing and money advice workers in how to provide inter-parental relationship support.


  • September 2001-March 2003 - researcher, the Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion
  • November 2006-November 2011 - director of research, the Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion
  • April 2015-July 2017 - director of development, the Institute for Government
  • August 2017 - chief executive, Early Intervention Foundation
  • November 2011-April 2015 - director of public and social innovation, Nesta
  • April 2003-October 2006 - senior researcher, Institute for Employment Studies
  • 1998-2001, PhD - University of Cambridge

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