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Making Sense of Early Intervention

A framework for professionals

This briefing paper provides a framework for early intervention for professionals taking crucial commissioning and funding decisions at the local authority level. It distils key common threads from the plethora of recent reports on the pressing need for this approach.

Most significantly, it addresses emerging misconceptions about how an authority- or borough-wide early intervention strategy should be delivered and, in particular, challenges an overly ‘programmatic’ approach. The assumption that the goals of early intervention can be achieved simply through funding a narrow range of programmes, however well-evidenced these may be, is problematic. Although the recent Government-commissioned Allen report specified 19 programmes that fitted certain rather narrow ‘effectiveness criteria’, the report explicitly states, on several occasions, that these were not intended to constitute an exhaustive list.1 They do not prescribe what local authorities can confidently fund.

It is vital for local authority commissioners to understand the criteria which drove the development of the report’s shortlist of 19 programmes, and their applicability to business rather than social investment. Without minimising in any way the importance of an evidence-based approach to public spending decisions (indeed we published our report Outcome-Based Government in January addressing exactly this), we argue here that broader and more appropriate selection criteria should be applied when designing a local early intervention strategy.2 Local authorities adopting a near-exclusive ‘programmatic’ approach are likely to fail to achieve their desired outcomes, realise the potential of early intervention and, most importantly, transform the life-chances of children and families.