Early Intervention has been a buzz-word in social care for some years and is again a focus of central government. The definition however, is understood differently by a whole range of professionals.
A Report from C4Eo and the Association of Director of Children’s Services defined Early Intervention as “intervening early and as soon as possible to tackle problems emerging for children, young people and their families or with a population most at risk of developing problems. Early intervention may occur at any point in a child or young person’s life”.
Over the past decade most of the focus of local authorities has been at preventative and crisis intervention levels alone. This has partly been due to a confusion as to the exact meaning of “early intervention” and therefore confusion with research findings. Many early intervention projects have, in the past, been “too universal” spreading services across the community regardless of need when more targeted early intervention would have provided better outcomes.
This skewed the “early intervention” focus for some time. This is no surprise. We are passionate about targeted early intervention – for instance when we work with schools who have implemented our Early Intervention programmes – this has positively affected children’s confidence as learners. Where we have trained front line Children & Families teams in their work to reduce difficulties escalating – it is clear that this is a cost-effective and successful strategy.
Children’s Centres are a prime example of how Early Intervention with a targeted group can bring about best outcomes. Historically, the Centres were avoided by the very group the needed intervention – those families who deliberately stay under the statutory radar and have no interest in “social services interventions”. Because Children’s Centres are uniquely placed to offer both universal services as well as targeted help to the most challenging families – we work with Centres to devise radical and creative strategies that do attract and engage those troubled and challenging families who have not historically accessed community resources.
Where local authorities provide targeted early intervention services, this can help reduce demand for the child protection services that are under severe pressure and improve the experience and life chances of some of the most vulnerable children in society.
Where children receive support or connection within their family and community (even inclusion in the day-to-day interactions within the immediate neighbourhood) this is helpful in the wider context of building emotional and mental health building blocks. Children are able to draw on these early building blocks at later stages in their life should they need to.
Difficult family culture factors, characteristics or structures that make individual children more vulnerable, are risk factors. These include:
- · Poor educational experiences/ special educational needs
- · Poor housing/low income
- · Poor physical or mental health of children or parents
- · The impact of domestic violence
- · Drug & Alcohol misuse by parents or children
- · Homelessness or unsettlement
- · Family separation, death or parental loss Child as Carer
The significant protective factors in the lives of children and young people are:
Nurturing and secure attachments in early life are essential emotional and mental health building blocks and can help to maintain good mental health in later life.
Nurturing Parenting: World wide research shows that parenting is the single most important influence on a child’s immediate life and future life chances.
Good social and emotional skills: the opportunity to develop good social and emotional skills. The skills include the ability to manage feelings, motivation, empathy.
Personal Achievement: supported in early years in the process of self-learning.
Good sense of self: A positive sense of self is key to self-esteem and forms the resilience that helps children and young people to overcome setbacks and barriers in both their young and later life.
Positive activities and opportunities to experience individual skills
Without doubt, children and young people need support to overcome the ‘risk factors’ in their lives and improve the ‘protective factors’. Local authorities can, through proactive, early interventions even at post-natal stage, help parents to provide these protective factors and work in partnership with primary agencies in a child’s life to provide a common thread of interventions to build resilience and provide positive influences in the community without the need to restructure their Children & Family frameworks.
Often, local authorities consider the cost and energy of moving services towards early intervention as prohibitive – we maintain that it can often be achieved by better use of existing resources. Our experience of implementing cultural change at “preventative” and “crisis intervention” levels within local authorities have often highlighted how these resources could be developed for each tier of targeted services to pre-empt the escalation of needs.
The C4EO report sets out Five Golden Threads:
• The best start in life
• Language for life
• Engaging parents
• Smarter working, better services
• Knowledge is power
We believe that Early Intervention, in real and practical ways, is achievable and effective in the work with children and families without huge shift in resources. Early intervention strategies should include Foster Carers, who, by the nature of their work will be the primary carer for children who have already experienced difficulties and who are well-placed to build on children’s resiliences and personal resources in the time they are with them.
The report states:
“Most parents are largely unaware of the conditions that promote early brain development and some members of the workforce know less than they might. Traditional, cross-generational support networks are often weaker than they were as a result of changes in society. So universal services, such as children’s centres and schools, are more important in transmitting the knowledge and information to ensure a good early start…”
Initially, we at the Consultancy, deduced that the “Knowledge is Power” element of the Golden Threads actually referred to a recommended focus on informing parents of the conditions that promote early brain development and to continue this with child development information as their child progressed. However, it transpires that this Knowledge is Power relates to professional data. Ironically – the report highlights that many Child & Family professionals do not themselves have sufficient knowledge of these development factors.
The professional’s understanding of this brain development information and the cascading of this information to parents is, we think, a crucial element of early intervention and so we applaud the view held elsewhere by the authors of this report that a change in thinking on how we cascade information about how children thrive – the simple elements that parents can bring to their child’s life to put the good mental health building blocks in place – can have a crucial impact on outcomes for children.
It was clear on reading this report that many of the findings within were not widely known by the average mother to be and we consider that if it is presented, at all, at pre-natal instruction, it is, no doubt, presented as “eat healthily”. However the following finding, from the report, would we maintain, be much more instructive and powerful: It has been shown, for example, that when human foetuses have to adapt to a limited supply of nutrients, they permanently change their structure and metabolism.
We do not think that many of today’s mothers-to-be have had sight of that finding. It is a powerful statement that could be instrumental in influencing the behaviour of pregnant women if more widely disseminated.
We therefore applaud the inclusion in the report that “..it has been suggested that there needs to be a “simple, broad-based media campaign, centred around the concept of a ‘Neuron Footprint’ to put awareness of the brain’s development during the early years at the heart of the nation’s thinking on all aspects of family, social and other influences on our young children” and we consider that a cost effective, wide-reaching campaign can be instrumental in changing the nation’s understanding of the role of parent.
For instance, many parents are willing to take on board information about how children develop; what they need to thrive and flourish – if it is presented in an proactive, informative arena.
We consider it ironic that the findings and research on protective factors for children do not get reported in the media format that is most accessed by the majority of struggling families. Professionals continue to have access to information but families do not unless there is a personal intervention by social care professionals. We maintain that a cascading of this information, in a media form that is easily accessible for wider groups, i.e. tabloid newspapers; twitter; commercial TV; post offices; GP surgeries; school newsletters etc – can go some way to inform parents and therefore allow for best outcomes for children.
For families where they need support in understanding child development findings or basic parenting skills – guidance and research could be translated into simpler language – for instance, translating the piece of evidence below:
“Evidence shows that how young people spend their leisure-time really matters. Participation in constructive leisure-time activities, particularly those that are sustained through the teenage years, can have a significant impact on young people’s resilience and outcomes in later life. International evidence demonstrates that participation in positive activities can help to improve attitudes to school; build social, emotional and communication skills; help young people avoid taking risks such as experimenting with drugs or becoming involved in gangs, anti-social or criminal activities; and improve their self-confidence and self-esteem.”
(Statutory Guidance on Section 507B Education Act 1996 , March 2008)
We would consider that this could be presented to parents as:
“It has been found that the things that young people do with their free time and playtime really matters. Taking part in things like a game of football with a parent or with friends, on a regular basis or having one-to-one time with a parent sharing a hobby or an activity is very helpful for the child. Research from around the world shows that taking part in healthy hobbies can help with children’s behaviour and focus at school; help with the way they relate to others and help to avoid risk-taking behaviour like drug-taking, anti-social behaviour, getting involved in ganags. Encouraging a child early in life to get involved with an activity can improve their self-confidence and their self-esteem”.
As an example of early intervention, even at post-natal stage with young, unsupported parents, local authorities, in partnership with Health Authorities could provide talks, leaflets, DVDs that could be presented in a pack covering 0-3 months;3-6 months; pre-school; 5-7 and so on. Local authorities could send these packs out on the child’s birthday for instance, to keep updating parents when the child reaches the age appropriate to the DVD information.
A general child development DVD could be played in catchment GP surgeries and a regular monthly viewing of “update information” could be run at local children’s centres.
A continuous theme of encouragement for parents to focus their attention on their child’s strengths and developmental assets would have good outcomes for family communication as well as building good self-esteem and resilience for children.
Where parents are encouraged to understand that children experience differing degrees of vulnerability to problems based on risk factors related to their personality, genetics, family upbringing, peer group, school, community, culture and so on – the children benefit in their most important years.
We would also consider that Primary and Secondary school teaching staff be alerted to the very important role they can play in building those good mental health blocks by keeping class rules simple and clear, encouraging play at appropriate times rather than, as we have recently seen at a primary school, a overly disciplinarian regime even at playtime. Such regimes can make children unnecessarily anxious as they try to conform with institutional mindsets.
For further information on our Early Intervention Frameworks for Local Authorities and for details of our Effective Early Intervention Training programmes, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel 0208 947 8093 & Mobile 07779 242 289