Early intervention

Read our latest blog about the Early Intervention Foundation’s 20 “Pioneering Places”!

Acting early to prevent problems later will secure better futures for vulnerable children, young people, and families. We know much about what puts some children at risk, and the way that the presence of several factors can have a compounding effect on their chances in life.

And we also know about the protective factors that will prevent children from developing risky and negative behaviour: confidence and self-esteem, close bonds with family, positive friendship groups, positive adult role models, and authoritative, warm and consistent parenting. Although the national focus on early intervention has put a spotlight on the early years, we must not neglect the need for a preventative approach with school-age children too.

As well as improving well-being and life chances, early intervention will also help to reduce future public spending on tackling the problems later. The earlier the intervention in a child’s life, the more cost effective it is. The Department for Education’s ‘wedge’ illustrates how, as the needs of children increase, so do the costs of supporting them. Early intervention makes sense, economically and socially.

Graham Allen’s Early Intervention Review sets out a persuasive case for early intervention on both these grounds.  It identifies effective programmes using rigorous standards of evidence, and the second report proposes the promotion of payment by results through outcome based contracts, and a range of financial mechanisms, including Social impact Bonds, that could help to attract additional investment to Early Intervention. Read more about Social Impact Bonds in our Perspectives series.

Beacon CIC’s experience with Early Intervention
At Beacon CIC, we have extensive experience of early intervention, parenting and family support services. We have led a national programme to develop parenting support, and worked with many local areas to implement early intervention and prevention approaches at all levels. We are also looking at the opportunities for funding early intervention and preventative services through social impact bonds. Beacon CIC contributed evidence to the Graham Allen review on local progress with outcomes based approaches, and our work on Outcomes Frameworks.

Payment by Results and outcome based contracting
One of the key principles of social investment is that upfront investment is set against future cashable benefits, sometimes many years down the line. Children using intensive programmes now may not in young adulthood be claiming welfare benefit, or be at risk of offending. This makes it difficult to impose a timescale on when a project can be deemed to have worked. And the fact that the approach requires cashable savings to achieve a cost reduction to government in real terms means that it is unlikely to work for all early intervention areas.

We have seen a welcome language shift between the two Review reports from PBR to outcome based contracting and outcome based payments. Read more about payment by results in our Perspectives series. For these approaches to work and attract investment, strong evidence is needed that programmes really do contribute to specific outcomes for children later in life, and with early intervention, this can be hard to evidence

Graham Allen recognises these challenges and calls for the establishment of consistent outcomes, like school readiness, and improved outcome metrics.  We agree that this is vital, and the reduction of centrally reported data like the National Indicator Set has been a barrier to developing the performance monitoring arrangements that are essential to outcomes based contracting.

Implications of commissioning evidence based programmes
Whilst acknowledging the need to secure investor confidence by using programmes with a strong evidence base, and implementing them with fidelity, we would like to see mechanisms through which emerging local practice and innovation can also flourish and be tested for effectiveness.

In his second report, Graham Allen appears to have relaxed the high bar set regarding evidence (which also meant that many of the programmes included are the most expensive to deliver). We welcome the challenge to providers to build a compelling case for their programmes to be included – this will help to raise the bar around good outcome based commissioning practice. It will also help smaller providers of early intervention who may struggle to scale up to the challenge of delivering Early Intervention and demonstrate a robust track record to justify support and resources.