Last week, the Department for Education announced the launch of a new independent commission into early intervention. This commission will identify the best approaches for helping disadvantaged children to make a good start in life and overcome the challenges they face. It will also advise on how these approaches can be scaled up.
Early intervention is an issue that’s close to our hearts at NPC. In fact, last Monday we held a seminar on ‘Intervening early for the Big Society’, which brought together charities and funders to debate what early intervention means in the context of the Big Society. Three charities—the Place2Be, Chance UK and Volunteers in Child Protection (which is part of Community Service Volunteers)—discussed their work in this light, and you can watch their presentations on NPC’s new YouTube channel.
I think the commission sounds like a really positive initiative. But it will have some difficult questions to answer. Few would dispute that early intervention a good thing. The question is, how should it be funded when budgets for public services are being slashed left, right and centre? If you ask people whether they’d like to see support for early intervention, I expect most would answer yes. But if you tell them they have to choose between that and funding for crisis support, I suspect their answers would be rather different.
The commission clearly recognises this funding conundrum—it plans to explore innovative funding models, which (surprise surprise) draw on ‘non-Government streams’ of money. But, as well as bringing in new money, I think it should look at sharpening up the financial case for early intervention by exploring the cost savings it can achieve.
We often think of early intervention as something that brings benefits down the line, such as increasing children’s chances of getting employment when they reach adulthood. But the immediate costs savings can also be substantial. Take Volunteers in Child Protection, for example. As we noted in Scaling up for the Big Society, its work keeping children off the child protection register costs about £2,400 per year, whereas developing a child protection plan can cost as much as £40,000—and that’s before you factor in the costs of a children’s home or foster care.
It’s these more immediate cost savings that are going to catch the attention of commissioners making difficult choices about what to fund. So, as the commission investigates different models of early intervention over the coming months, I hope they’ll take a close look at the cost effectiveness of each and build this into their assessment of best practice. By doing so, they will help to ensure that funders, including the ‘non-Government streams’ they hope to attract, understand the real value of early intervention and can make more informed decisions about what they fund.