Skip to main content

Early Years Interventions

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the benefits of early years interventions on people’s welfare and social mobility later in life.

My Lords, we know that the early years are key to children’s later life chances, and effective early support is crucial. That is why we have put unprecedented investment into childcare over the past decade, committed £153 million to support education recovery in the early years, rolled out the proven Nuffield Early Language Intervention, and have announced £300 million to create a network of family hubs and transform crucial Start for Life services.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Answer. Given the crucial lifelong impact of the early years on individuals, the economy and society, and that we spend so much time, money and resources attempting to fix things later in life which could have been prevented, how do the Government plan to build on Start for Life and ensure that benefits are sustained for children beyond the age of two through the early education and childcare system?

The right reverend Prelate is a great champion of young children. We have both worked with a charity called the Nelson Trust, which looks after disadvantaged children. There is £300 million to transform Start for Life services and create a network of family hubs in half the councils across the England. It will provide thousands of families with access to support where they need it. The Department for Education, the DHSC, the DWP and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities are working together to ensure that those who need the help get it.

My Lords, perinatal mental health issues cost the NHS and social services £8 billion a year, much of that because of the impacts on children, yet half of such cases go undiagnosed and even those who are diagnosed rarely get evidence-based treatment. We welcome the women’s health strategy, but what more is being done to address this frequently overlooked cause of misery and sometimes death?

This is such a distressing time for all mothers. They have babies and expect things to be very special and magical but so often discover the opposite. We must make sure that things are put in place to help them. As of April 2019, all areas in England now have comprehensive specialist community perinatal mental health services in place, which saw 30,700 people in 2020-21, re-expanding access to psychological and talking therapies with specialist perinatal mental health services. This will see 26 hubs, with 10 new hubs in the process of being set up and the rest due to open in April 2022. These hubs will offer treatment for a range of mental health issues, from postnatal depression to severe fear of childbirth to around 6,000 new parents in the first year. The new centres will also provide specialist training for maternity staff and midwives, as well as services for reproductive health and bereavement.

My Lords, acquisition of language and communication skills are absolutely essential for children in their early years, as they underpin their future development and life prospects. However, awareness among parents and support is lacking. Support and training for early years teachers is inadequate and there is a high level of turnover in the early years workforce, which is losing experienced staff due to low salaries and lack of career benefits. There is concern about the viability of the sector. The House of Lords Public Services Committee report, Children in Crisis, published on 19 November, highlighted research by the LSE which showed that “the economic cost”—

It is coming. The research showed that the

“economic cost of failing to invest in the early years in 2018/19 was £16.13 billion”.

Does the Minister agree that investing in early years provision, such as increasing parental engagement and support and sustaining a high-quality early years workforce will be better value for money and socially beneficial? Can she please draw this to the attention of the Treasury?

As part of the Covid recovery strategy, we have invested £17 million in the delivery of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme, improving the language skills of reception-age children who need it most—language skills are so important. Of course, it will not be possible to put that in place unless we have the workforce to do it. The department is committed to supporting the sector to develop a workforce with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to deliver high-quality early education and childcare. We are investing £20 million in a high-quality, evidence-based professional development programme for practitioners to target disadvantaged areas and a further £10 million in funding a second phase of the programme, which will be announced shortly.

My Lords, children in deprived areas benefit most from early years education and childcare. Problems can be identified and appropriate interventions arranged. They are better prepared for school and learn valuable social and cultural skills. Big nursery chains are expanding when they can charge fees. Poorer children’s needs are often met by smaller, stand-alone nurseries that cannot survive without adequate local authority funding. The projected increase next April will not be enough to cover the increases in costs of the minimum wage, national insurance, energy, pensions, resumption of business rates and so on.

My Lords, may I please remind noble Lords that this is Question Time, not speech time? Can we please have pithy questions so that everybody can ask what they want?

How do the Government hope to sustain those nurseries’ vital contribution to social mobility if their funding remains inadequate?

Of course it is very important that the independent nursery schools carry on. We are investing additional funding for the early years entitlement worth £160 million in 2022-23. This is for local authorities to increase the hourly rates paid to childcare providers for the Government’s free childcare entitlement offers and reflects cost pressures as well as anticipated changes in the number of eligible children. The Government have confirmed the continuation of the maintained nursery schools supplementary funding throughout the SR period, providing the sector with long-term certainty. For 2022-23, we will increase the MNS supplementary hourly funding rate by 3.5%.

My Lords, it is widely accepted that the first few years of a child’s life can influence their development, education, character and aspiration. Disadvantaged and disabled children need much more help than most, so will the Government commit to additional funding, either through the early years pupil premium or a disadvantage supplement for those eligible for the two-year offer?

That was very succinct. This is a very important area and the whole point about the family hubs we are setting up across the country is that we are bringing everybody together—families, professional services and providers—and putting relationships at the heart of family help, making sure that family hubs bring together services for children of all ages, who all need help. Family hubs can include both physical locations and virtual offices to help parents.

My Lords, the additional funding announced in the spending review to support children and families, including, as the Minister said, the creation of family hubs, is very welcome, but organisations working with disabled children and parent carers, such as the Disabled Children’s Partnership, remain unclear as to how these new hubs will deliver the care that disabled children and their families require, particularly given the backlog in the delivery of those services from existing hubs. Can the Minister outline how that will be delivered once the new hubs are in place?

As the noble Lord said, it is very important that no one is left behind. The SEND review is looking at ways to improve the outcomes for children and young people with SEND. There has been a consultation and proposals will be published in the first three months of next year, when I hope we will know more.

Has my noble friend had time to read your Lordships’ Public Services Committee’s report on vulnerable children, published a fortnight ago, finding that many fall through the gaps—going into care, being excluded, joining county lines and ending up in custody—and cost far more than if there had been early intervention? Can she ensure a positive response from the Government to the committee’s recommendation that the Government should publish and fund a co-ordinated national strategy to give a better life chance to these vulnerable children?

I have to say to my noble friend that I have not read the report, but I certainly will—it is going to be my weekend reading. We welcome the report from the Lords Public Services Committee. We are reviewing its recommendations and will respond in due course. Our work and investment towards introducing family hubs that work with children and families from birth to adulthood is so important in the field of vulnerable children and young people.