Early help needs to harness childhood adversity data

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

For many years, medical practice and policy has relied on epidemiology to identify the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. It has been instrumental in identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive healthcare.

By contrast, children’s practitioners have tended to rely on instinct and experience to identify those children at greater risk of developing social, emotional or health problems in adulthood. Experiencing long-term health conditions, the death of a close family member, abuse, a family fractured by divorce or separation, and disability, are all factors that can not only harm the emotional development of a child but negatively alter the course of their life.

Recent research has shown that adults are many times more likely to have addiction problems, be imprisoned, perpetrate or be the victim of violence, and be a teenage parent if they have suffered four or more adverse childhood experiences.

Now that studies have identified the connections between poor life outcomes in adulthood and traumatic childhood experiences, the challenge is to find ways to prevent them happening in the first place or intervene earlier to instil the resilience needed to overcome them.

Using data on adverse childhood experiences to better target those vulnerable children most at risk could become a valuable tool for children’s services early help work. This will not be easy. In this period when resources are shrinking and demand for intensive support is rising, it is early intervention budgets that have taken the brunt of council funding cuts. In addition, the return on investment in terms of better life outcomes in adulthood could, by definition, take decades to realise and may not reduce pressures in children’s services.

However, better understanding of adverse childhood experiences cuts to the heart of what early help is about, and is why it should be increasingly used to improve children’s life chances.

Free childcare pilot fees must meet providers’ costs

The key to the success of the 30-hour free childcare policy has always been about ensuring councils receive enough funding to pay providers a sustainable hourly rate.

The funding provided to the pilot councils only allows for a small uplift on existing rates – between 26p and 97p an hour – and only for the second 15 hours of free childcare. By contrast, a recent study from the National Day Nurseries Association found on average that providers were underfunded by £1.68 an hour per child. This suggests providers taking part in the pilots will be expected to stomach a loss of between 71p and £1.42 an hour per child.

Given this, dozens of providers in one of the pilot areas have already said they cannot afford to take part. Childcare minister Sam Gyimah has said funding arrangements for the national scheme will not reflect those used for the pilot. But the uncertainty this has created has only fuelled concerns in the childcare sector about the national rollout of the scheme.

If the government is serious about making early education a key tool in improving social mobility, it must heed the evidence and allocate enough funding to at least meet providers’ costs so that they can deliver quality free childcare for all children.


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