Editor's Blog

Early Intervention and Post Code Wellbeing

The sum total of human happiness could, there is no doubt, be vastly improved by Early Intervention - educating and supporting mothers, fathers and families to be the parents and caregivers they want to be. Yet just as with climate change, while most people would subscribe to the idea that it is better to be proactive, short-termism cripples good intentions.

Let me cite two cases. The first isn’t strictly  about Early Intervention because the opportunity to intervene at the optimum time was missed, but there was still a chance to put right significant deficits before they caused a great deal of misery for the children concerned, and before the taxpayer had to fork out thousands of pounds. I refer to a situation where three little boys under the age of 8, all of whom had been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, were referred to a Child Psychotherapist (with a wonderful reputation). The Psychotherapist saw the children and felt that she could make a difference to their lives if she offered each child one session a week for a year and then with diminishing frequency for another two years. The cost of the package for the three little boys was £51,000.

The money was not made available. The children went into care.

So where was Early Intervention in this case? There was a brief window of opportunity when it might have been possible to help these children heal from the wounds their caregivers had inflicted on them, an opportunity for them to have a (relatively) normal and healthy childhood - probably haunted by memories of their abuse, but perhaps not ruled by them. £51,000 seems very little to pay to give three people who are at the very start of their lives a chance of happiness. And think what the savings might be for taxpayers in terms of the children’s likely demands on health, social care and juvenile delinquency services if there is no Early Intervention.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has recently published figures to show that ‘school readiness’ is a postcode lottery. ‘School readiness’ means children’s ability to make the most of school when they arrive there because they already have the communication and social skills, the self-awareness and self-esteem, to move confidently into the world of early education. The EIF notes that children in the north-west and north-east of the UK and in the West Midlands are much less ‘school-ready’ than their peers in other parts of the country.  Overall, fewer than half the children eligible for free school meals manifest a ‘good level of development’ compared to nearly two thirds of other children.

Early Intervention is therefore a democratic imperative. Ensuring a level playing field for all our children begins when they are tiny. First and foremost, it’s a question of lifting every child out of poverty, and then of supporting mothers and fathers who have not themselves had good parental role models, and who are distracted by lack of income, substance abuse and domestic violence. The EIF recommends that all mothers and their partners have antenatal and postnatal education to help them understand how to build their relationship with their baby and encourage their child’s all-round social and emotional wellbeing.

Which brings me back to my well-worn soap-box: we need high quality antenatal education and postnatal support for every family in the country, and extra education and support for those who want it or need it.



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