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Early Intervention

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

The Government welcome the recent publication of the second and final report of the review of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) into early intervention. The Government recognise the case for supporting prevention and early intervention and are already taking action. Today, jointly with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, I am launching “Supporting Families in the Foundation Years” which sets out the importance of intervening early and the role that different services, working together, should play to ensure that children and families receive early help where needed. It reflects the review’s vision that every child should be helped to develop the necessary social and emotional skills to form positive relationships, have self-confidence, perform to the best of their abilities at school and in later life, being aware of the needs of both themselves and others. A society without those skills will ultimately fail—and the cost is already there to see in terms of children falling behind at school, at greater risk of developing physical or mental health problems, needing to go into care and, in the worst cases, getting into crime. Failure to get this right results in substantial costs both to society and children’s life chances, with poorer health, reduced employment prospects and relationship instability in later life, and the risk that these problems cascade on to the next generation. As the Government have already set out in their child poverty and social mobility strategies, we must take action now to address these issues.

The vision of the hon. Member for Nottingham North is wide-ranging in scope. He challenges central Government to respond to this vision, to ensure that early intervention principles are embedded across Government, but particularly to focus on the needs of those who can benefit most—our children and young people. He also argues that every local area should put in place effective strategies to work not only with the most challenging families, but also to take preventive action at every stage of a child’s development through community budgets.

Today’s launch of “Supporting Families in the Foundation Years” recognises the input of the hon. Member for Nottingham North to the early intervention agenda. He has directly contributed to Government’s thinking on this statement which has taken into account many of his recommendations, for example on adopting the term “foundation years” from pregnancy to five, his emphasis on the importance of parenting, and focusing on what works in evidence-based interventions such as the family nurse partnership. He has identified approaches to innovative finance and payment by results through data collection, along with proposals to encourage people at every level to focus on intervening early, particularly in the foundation years. Much of his vision links to Eileen Munro’s recommendations on offering early help.

The hon. Gentleman has conducted an analysis of evidence-based programmes in his two reports, and argues powerfully that in a tight fiscal climate it makes sense to use programmes which are most effective, and are proven to deliver results. We agree that evidence-based programmes and practice are important and, like the hon. Gentleman, recognise that any list of the most effective programmes will change over time so should be kept under review. Naturally it is for local areas to decide which programmes suit the needs of their community. Through “Supporting Families in the Foundation Years” we are asking the sector for their views on how best to encourage the sector to make full use of those programmes, as part of the commitment to the Government’s new relationship with the increasingly autonomous and self-confident sector.

On his recommendations on wider system reform, and the creation of early intervention places, the “Supporting Families in the Foundation Stage” document sets out an ambition that this work should link closely with community budgets focused on families with multiple problems, to encourage local authorities to work not only with the most challenging families, but also to support families earlier to reduce the numbers of families reaching crisis point.

In his second report, the hon. Member for Nottingham North has investigated a number of innovative approaches to contracting for outcomes and funding to support the delivery of this vision. This is challenging and new territory, but his proposals provide a very useful input to the Government’s consultations on how they can best deploy and unlock resources to improve the effectiveness of public services. We welcome his call for an independent foundation to champion early intervention and challenge public service providers and Government. Such a foundation has an important role to play. We welcome this proposal as a way of engaging the key partners in this agenda.

The Government view both reports of the hon. Member for Nottingham North as a very positive step forward in what we know about early intervention and its funding. We are very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and his review team for their considerable efforts in clarifying the challenge, and the opportunities, arising from an early intervention approach.