“MPs slam government over rejection of early intervention strategy”

By Joe Lepper

| 08 February 2019

MPs have criticised the government for failing to put in place a national early intervention strategy to help prevent adversity and trauma among children.

The introduction of a national strategy is a central recommendation of the Commons science and technology committee report on evidence-based early years intervention, which was released last October.

This highlighted strong links between childhood trauma and problems in later life, including health issues, lower job prospects and increased likelihood of being involved in crime.

A failure to intervene earlier in children's lives to prevent adverse and traumatic experiences is costing the government an extra £16.6bn a year in England and Wales, the committee found.

But in its response to the report the government has rejected setting up a national strategy and instead wants decisions around early intervention to be made locally.

"The government believes that local areas are best placed to understand the needs of their local communities, to commission early intervention services to meet those needs and to deliver interventions as part of a whole-system approach to produce the best outcomes for families," states the government's response.

In a strongly worded statement the committee has said it is "frustrated by the government's ignorance of childhood trauma".

Committee chair, the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, said: "The government response to our report is inadequate. It is extremely frustrating to see the government largely dismiss our recommendations, opting instead to list existing programmes and shifting responsibility onto local authorities. We already know that this isn't working as well as it could or should be.

"Early intervention offers young people who have suffered adversity in their childhood an opportunity to avoid the long-term problems associated with such experiences. When delivered effectively, there is strong evidence that early intervention can dramatically improve people's lives, whilst also reducing long-term costs to the government."

He added that a national strategy with "co-ordinated support for local authorities" could see early intervention benefit more children "irrespective of where they live".

Last summer, it was announced that leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom would lead a cross-governmental working group to find ways to improve support for families with children aged up to two years old.

Lamb said: "We now hope to work with the new government inter-ministerial group - set up to support families with young children - and have asked them to reconsider our report.

"The evidence we have gathered presents a valuable opportunity for evidence-based early intervention to address childhood adversity, transforming lives for the better and saving taxpayers' money in the process."

Jo Casebourne, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation, said that the UK needs a "bold new vision for early intervention" and called on the government to ensure this is a priority.

"While we agree with the government that local areas are best placed to understand the needs of their local communities, this does not diminish the clear need for greater prioritisation and investment for early intervention at the national level," she said.

"This is not an either/or choice - for the potential of early intervention to be fully realised it will take both local decision-making and national leadership."

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government is already investing in schemes to improve the lives of disadvantaged children at a young age and defended letting councils decide how best to implement early intervention schemes.

"We are investing more than £100m in projects targeted at improving the early outcomes for disadvantaged children, more nursery places and high-quality training, and we are increasing access to early education and childcare through our free offers for three- and four-year-olds and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds," he said.

"We have given councils the ability to make decisions best on their local circumstances.

"Through our local government programme, worth £8.5m, and our £10m investment to understand what works in the early years, we will identify and spread best practice to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. This will direct the steps we need to take to close the development gap, including considering any future consultation on the role of children's centres."