MPs have called for a “fundamental shift” in the government’s approach to protecting children from adversity and trauma, through the introduction of a national intervention strategy in England.
In a report published today, the Science and Technology Select Committee said England needed a strategy that would “empower and encourage local authorities to deliver effective, sustainable, evidence-based early intervention”, underpinned by clear lines of accountability across relevant government departments.
The report concluded a seven-month inquiry examining how issues affecting children – such as verbal, sexual or phisical abuse; domestic violence; various forms of neglect; drug dependency within their home; or difficult situations such as the imprisonment of a parent – could be tackled early on.
Around 50% of adults in England are thought to have suffered “at least one adverse childhood experience” such as those described, according to the report.
“There is now a pressing need for a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to early intervention targeting childhood adversity and trauma,” it concluded. Enacting such a shift could not only improve lives but also save the government money, it said.
“In adopting a new national adversity-targeted early intervention strategy, the government should see effective early intervention as an opportunity to make long-term cost efficiencies – as well as improve people’s lives – rather than a demand on resources,” it urged.
The government should be willing to make funding available to support the strategy where necessary, it said, and drive a “general shift in the focus of current expenditure on ‘late interventions’, required where problems have escalated, to earlier intervention”.
To support the strategy, the committee told the government to improve coordination between departments whose work relates to childhood adversity. It said a ministerial group announced in July to improve family support for parents of young children should help to ensure this happens.
“This group should: make tackling childhood adversity a focus of its work; improve cross-government co-ordination on this issue; and ensure that there is clear accountability for driving this agenda across all government departments,” it said.
The strategy must address skills, given that many evidence-based interventions require “ongoing, accredited supervision” from specialists, the MPs said. They called for the strategy to identify and define the early intervention workforce and review the training available to people within it.
The apprenticeship levy could be used to fund training for this workforce, they suggested, adding that the strategy should include monitoring of local authorities that are already using the levy in this way.
The report stressed that the strategy must have clear, measurable aims, which MPs said should be developed in consultation with child development experts and local authorities.
It should also set out goals for improving data collection nationally and locally, they said, to address the fact that “the local collection and analysis of data is not conducted as widely or as thoroughly as it should be around the country”. Data could then be used to identify families who might benefit from early intervention, they suggested.
One area where the report said data collection should be improved was monitoring how many children received five health visits from their local authority at key stages of development, as required by the government’s Healthy Child Programme.
The strategy should include a review of how the Healthy Child Programme is being implemented across England, it said, in light of Public Health England data showing only 80% of children receive the five required visits. The committee also said it was concerned about how staffing pressures were affecting the quality of visits.
MPs also urged the government to clarify its position on Sure Start centres, including whether it intends to hold a consultation on the future of the children’s centres, after the Department for Education said it had dropped plans for a long-awaited consultation in August.