Early Intervention - the be all and end all?by NGN
Wed 23.3.2011 – 3.18
How useful is it to focus on early intervention?
Early intervention is carrying a lot of political weight at the moment. Since coming to power last year, the coalition government has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at breaking cycles of poverty, with the aim of preventing social exclusion being a life-long ailment.
Graham Allen’s first report on early years intervention was published in mid-January, and made a number of recommendations which are familiar to all those working in the field of early intervention, and particularly to those working in the field of nurture. Impoverished early experiences impede a child’s social and emotional development and, if left untreated, these problems exacerbate. Worse still, a child who hasn’t had positive early life experiences will be unable to nurture good developmental experiences in their own children. To combat these social ills, Allen suggests that early intervention strategies form the heart of government policy; that an holistic approach is taken to consider the social background of all vulnerable children; and that, in keeping with the Government’s “big society” agenda, that examples of strong local practice are rolled out by the voluntary sector across the country.
Frank Field’s report into preventing poverty made similarly radical recommendations – most notably, a recommendation that children have “parenting classes” at school. The various pressures on parents attempting to raise children were highlighted by Field, in addition to the fact that many parents may not have had positive parental role models or figures in their local community to turn to for advice and guidance. By training children in “the beneficial effects of tough love…set boundaries for your children, but love them within those boundaries…”, Field believes the UK can prevent the cyclical poverty of socialization which has lead to so many children suffering social exclusion at a young age.
We are also expecting the roll-out of a new programme of psychological therapies for children and young people – the rationale behind this programme being that intervening early, taking action when a child or young person first shows signs of emotional distress or mental ill-health, will prevent that child from developing chronic mental health problems in later life.
Early intervention is clearly the current buzz-phrase when it comes to policy making around vulnerable children and young people. Certainly, the social return on investing in early intervention programmes is well proven, and with a firm grounding in scientific proof. There’s some very compelling research available around the impact of excess cortisol (the stress hormone) impeding the ability of young brains to develop; indeed, it’s thought that excessive cortisol levels in early years may cause irreversible damage. The damage done to society when a significant portion of its young people are unable to participate positively in their local communities is obvious for all to see; a fascinating report from the Audit Commission predicted that early intervention can save society hundreds of pounds per child, as well as enriching our society in less immediately measurable terms.
However, can it ever be prudent to put all one’s eggs in the same basket? While investment in and profile raising on early intervention is certainly a welcome development in policy from central Government, it would certainly be ill-advised to do this to the detriment of support programmes for older children and teenagers. According to Young Minds statistics on children and young people with mental health disorders, whilst 1 in 10 children aged under 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, 2.2% of people aged 16-24 have suffered from a depressive episode, 3.6% have a generalized anxiety disorder, and 6.2% have attempted suicide. The question here is – to what extent would these statistics be lower if early intervention had been employed when these young people were toddlers? Can we truly discount the sometimes traumatic effects of adolescence? And is it ever prudent to put all one’s eggs in one basket?
Jim Rose on 9 March 2011 at 1:27am
This is clearly not an either / or debate - nor is it all about resources, i.e.how much money is there and where should it be spent? In this respect I am not at all sure the early intervention argument has been won yet, although even with current financial constraints there are some encouraging signs. What is clear, however, is that models of practice, across the age ranges and the various services and agencies working with children, young people and families, must be informed by the ideas of attachment theory and the six defined principles of nurture. This was partly the reason for the development of the BPYP - to help staff working with adolescents, in whatever setting, to think about the experiences of the young people in terms of their development and to understand their 'behaviour as communication'. Showing how this thinking may be applied is the driver behind How Nurture Protects Children (Rose, 2010 London: Responsive Solutions) - see John Healey's review in the summer 2010 NGN newsletter. NGN is well placed to stimulate this discussion and thereby influence practice across different service areas. What about the next issue of the newsletter showing examples where this sort of work with young people has been established?
Elizabeth Gardner-Fiddler on 25 April 2011 at 8:55pm
I have been concerned that there is an over emphasis on Early Intervention to the detriment of secondary aged pupils who require support. I believe that many of the early difficulties can be dealt with in Primary, with some additional support for SOME children. "Give me a child for the first 7 years..."