Editorial comment: Early warning systems

As well as a plan to appear on Blue Peter and Songs of Praise before he hands over the reigns at Number 10, Tony Blair revealed a further item on his wishlist this week: his desire to be remembered as the prime minister who conquered social exclusion.

By his own admission, existing universal services and anti-poverty measures continue to fall wide of the mark when it comes to the hardest-to-reach families with the most problems. As a result, about 25 in every 1,000 people of all ages still seem stuck in a lifetime of disadvantage.

But Blair’s answer to this problem – the ever-earlier spotting of risk factors associated with subsequent antisocial behaviour, followed by ever-earlier intervention – has provoked warnings about labelling, stigmatisation and self-fulfilling prophecies.

To allay these fears, it is essential that the government’s imminent social exclusion plan takes steps to ensure that an “at-risk” label is seen as a ticket to a better life, not a sign of presumed failure.

Just as a statement of educational needs is the bargaining tool many parents crave to ensure their children receive the extra support they need in the classroom, early identification as a child at risk of exclusion must be seen as a chance to access better support earlier. Only then can Blair have any hope of leaving behind the legacy he so desires.

Additional reading
Social work leaders’ fears over Blair plan to screen babies and children

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