• By Michael Little
  • Posted on Monday 17th January, 2011

Graham Allen is a heavy man

The Review is all about evidence based early intervention. It is about nipping problems in the bud and not waiting until they bloom in the gardens of child protection, youth justice, mental health and special education.Children’s services and their employees are usually described with strong adjectives. Foster care and juvenile detention is about the heavy end. There is the hefty burden of responsibility on those who make the tough decisions about child maltreatment. There are the intractable problems of young people in trouble, in care or in need of treatment from mental health professionals.Few people disagree with the idea of intervening early to stop these problems occurring in the first place. But that ‘soft’ work, engaging, some time in the future, with a much broader range of potentially needy children, it is argued, should not detract from the ‘hard’ job of responding to the very needy who are knocking on the doors of children’s services as we speak.True? I do not think so. Every person with an interest in the future of children’s services will find the Allen Review directly relevant to their work. Let me give some indications about the weight of his recommendations.Allen talks about giving every child the social and emotional bedrock for a healthy life. Motherhood and apple pie? More platitudes about emotions and minor misbehaviours? As the report indicates, a social and emotional bedrock for children translates into fewer conduct and emotional disorders and better school performance. The PATHS early intervention curriculum for all primary school children in Birmingham has the potential to reduce conduct disorders by two per cent in the City. That means less demand for ‘heavy-end’ services. Since happier and better behaved pupils learn more, it also has the prospect of improving school performance by over ten percentage points. Allen clearly brings out the economic potential of evidence based early intervention. Readers will rightly raise an eyebrow and question the veracity of the data. There have been many false claims in the last three decades. But the technology to predict costs and benefits of competing investment decisions is now arriving at the door of children’s services leaders. My organisation is delivering it, free of charge. Only the fool hardy will ignore it. Early intervention really can make you money. It will also improve the well-being of children into the bargain.Many of the programmes that Allen recommends are targeted at the same families that child protection, social care and youth justice target. Family Nurse Partnership is directly relevant to the task of reducing child maltreatment by high risk often teenage mothers. When I talk to the parents of three and four year olds with conduct disorders attending the Incredible Years programme in Birmingham children’s centres I can feel their reduced anxiety and need for additional help. (I have also rigorously measured it). People watching the videos of parents and adolescents participating in Functional Family Therapy will see the clients that keep social workers and youth justice professionals awake at night.So Graham Allen’s business -showing how evidence based early intervention programmes can reverse the down trend in child well-being in this country and make us some money along the way- is everybody’s business. It is not the soft end. It is the heavy end. It is child protection. It is mental health. It is about the young people we fail in foster and residential care. It is about students with special educational needs. And it is youth justice.So people reading Allen’s Review may disagree with it. But they should not dismiss it as peripheral. It is core to the future of children’s services. And our children.The first report of the review by Graham Allen MP into early intervention was published on the 19th of January. Michael Little is co-director of the Social Research Unit and contributed to the Review.

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