The Prime Minister recently unveiled plans to make parenting classes accessible to more families as part of its ongoing pledge to tackle poverty and improve children’s life chances.
I’ve read media reports indicating a growing emphasis on parenting skills and child development within the Troubled Families programme too.
It seems that early intervention and prevention will continue to be a golden thread in local authorities for improving outcomes for the most vulnerable in 2016 and beyond.
Some local authorities may identify the need for a greater focus on initiatives aimed at the early years to help ensure children get the best possible start in life. And in many areas, effective early intervention schemes are making a real difference beyond the provision of targeted services for babies and toddlers too.
Early help for all
I know of local authorities that have introduced a raft of truly innovative early help initiatives to improve outcomes for babies and young children – from ante-natal support groups for teenaged or lone parents to programmes for families with under-fives aimed at ensuring children are school-ready. Schemes like these can give children the foundations they need to thrive and could provide a critical life line for a family in crisis.
Imagine a situation where a sixteen year old mum-to-be we’ll call Emily has just found out she is pregnant, but she is reluctant to go to the GP and is too anxious to return to school. A few visits from a specialist outreach worker based in the authority’s teen parenthood unit might be all that is needed to help her prepare for giving birth, keep her and her baby healthy and prevent her from dropping out of education.
With the right help, Emily could find work and gain some key parenting skills that her child – and any future children – will benefit from for many years to come.
Effective early intervention can reap rewards at any stage of life – from birth, through education and working life and into old age.
Supporting the life journey
Circumstances can change at any time for children, young people and families. For local authorities, getting the right support in place at the earliest possible point to tackle the issues affecting their lives is the essence of a successful early help programme and can be critical to preventing problems from escalating into a crisis.
The challenge is knowing what help is needed in their area, where and by whom.
There is a wide range of information that local authorities routinely record and store in their systems – this could be attendance or achievement records from schools, population or employment forecasts or statistics on the number of over 60s living in the area. This data is valuable by itself, but incorporated with other sources of information, staff can get real insight into the issues their communities are struggling with. Knowing this is key to making good decisions on where early help should be targeted.
An authority might want to look at the progress looked-after children are making in school, for example. Are girls doing better than boys? Are there one or two schools where the achievement of this group stands out? And if so, what is happening here that might help other schools in the area to improve outcomes for these children?
There might be a sudden increase in the number of young people getting involved in crime. The authority will want to uncover the reasons behind this in order to target services at preventing recidivism. Has there been an increase in gang related activity? Are more young people leaving school without the qualifications they need to go into further education or get a job?
Getting knowledge from data
With the right tools, local authorities could join up the information already available in their systems to answer these questions and more.
Whether the aim of an early help initiative is to strengthen early years provision, boost achievement in school or tackle the often complex challenges that vulnerable families face, unlocking knowledge from data is key to success. And successful early intervention can make a difference to the most vulnerable children and families, at any point in time.