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Early intervention is a public policy approach to identify and support children and their families, to prevent problems developing later in life, such as poor physical and mental health, low educational attainment, crime and anti-social behaviour. The Early Intervention Foundation note that policies in this area can take many different forms, from home visiting to support vulnerable parents, to activities to support children’s early language development.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee report Evidence-based early intervention (November 2018) highlighted the correlation between experience of adversity or trauma in childhood and the prevalence of encountering a range of problems in later life. The Committee also referred to the potential for effective early intervention to improve outcomes and to save money, with the cost of ‘late intervention’ estimated to be at least £16.6 billion each year in England and Wales. Public Health England state that: “evidence shows that prevention and early intervention represent good value for money. Well-chosen interventions implemented at scale, help avoid poor health, reduce the growth in demand on public services, and support economic growth”(see Public Health England Business Plan for 2018-19).

Early intervention policies are not limited to early years but due to the rapid pace of physical and social development in very young children, policies are often targeted at this stage. This briefing therefore looks at early intervention in terms of policies targeted at children from conception to age five. While some early intervention policy can be universal in scope (such as mandated health visits and access to children’s centres) most policies are targeted at children deemed to be at higher risk of disadvantage.

This paper provides an overview of the development of early intervention policies and sets out recent developments and Government programmes in the following areas:

  • Health
  • Educational development
  • Social development
  • Benefits and financial assistance

In addition, this paper also provides information on the evidence base for early intervention policy, as well as government commissioned reviews, select committee inquiries, and reports from All Party Parliamentary Groups. It also notes some approaches to early intervention and prevention taken by local authorities.

As many significant areas, such as health, education and local authority children’s services, are devolved; this briefing paper focusses on early intervention policy in England, unless otherwise stated.


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