Don't take early intervention for granted

Anne Longfield
Monday, October 15, 2012

When the Deputy Prime Minister made the welcome announcement at the Liberal Democrat conference that £100m of capital funding would go to help nurseries and childminders increase the number of places they offer, it felt like the party conference season was getting off to a promising start for early intervention.

However, when the same day it came to light that critical funds allocated for early intervention are now subjected to significant reductions, it seemed that what was being given with one hand was being taken away with the other.

It is proposed that £150m from the Early Intervention Grant – which funds children’s centres alongside other core services for children and young people’s learning, development, health and wellbeing – will be held back for central spending and a further £286m is being removed and is currently unaccounted for.

In total, £436m is to be taken from the grant over two years – 21 per cent of its total.

These proposed changes pose serious risks to both the future funding of Sure Start children’s centres in England and wider efforts to provide early help. Early intervention is crucial in reducing the financial burden on public services, as well as benefiting the lives of millions of troubled and disadvantaged families across the country. Removing local authorities’ ability to invest in early intervention is unthinkable at such a crucial stage in the move to redesign services away from crisis and towards prevention.

Worryingly, the changes to early intervention funds do not end with these reductions. The consultation document outlining the changes to the grant proposes that it be merged with councils’ general revenue scheme from next year, effectively closing the grant entirely.

While early intervention funding is not ringfenced, the existence of the grant plays a significant role in raising the profile of early intervention. Those championing the new approach locally talk of the grant’s symbolic importance in galvanising support for early intervention and in forging a more joined-up, integrated approach to support for children and families.

These are just the kind of approaches the forthcoming Early Intervention Foundation will want to showcase – demonstrating evidence of what works and disseminating information to commissioners. The demise of the Early Intervention Grant makes all this much harder, putting a question mark over the importance of the work just as it needs to start expanding.

Children’s centres have shown considerable resilience in the face of budget reductions in the past, as 4Children’s 2012 census has shown. The positive news is that many centres are coping with significant budget reductions and have responded flexibly and innovatively to cuts. Furthermore, the census revealed that a significant number of centres have seen their budgets remain the same from the previous year. This would suggest that a number of local authorities are protecting the budgets of their centres in the face of cuts. But with 50 per cent already stating that their finances are less sustainable, these further reductions are likely to test even the most buoyant provision.

The government’s commitment to early intervention has been a welcome aspect of its desire to save money in the long term, with Graham Allen’s two reports giving strength and urgency to the argument. At this year’s Labour Party Conference, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott joined the call, arguing that policing needs to be delivered in the context of an integrated framework to be able to tackle effectively the causes of youth crime, such as alcohol and drugs. Only by intervening early, he argued, can we begin to prevent young people from committing crime and ending up in the justice system. These proposals cast doubt over how this can happen within the timescale needed. 

If we are to offer children and young people the support we know they need before problems become entrenched, proposals to reduce early intervention funding and abolish the Early Intervention Grant must be halted and a plan for year-on-year increases put in place. Only then will we make the savings and gains that children and young people deserve.

Anne Longfield is chief executive of 4Children

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