Frontlines – Targeting resources at vulnerable families

The film Minority Report posed the question as to whether there was such a thing as predestination – and if so, was it possible to intervene in events in such a way as to alter the predetermined path.

While the idea put forward by Tony Blair of identifying children at risk of truanting or offending even before birth at first glance smacks of predeterminism, most of us have come into social care precisely because we believe that change is possible.

But I’m not sure we can honestly say we’re not guilty of predetermination already at some level. Who has never looked at a child and thought, or even said to colleagues, “he’ll end up in prison…” or “she’s going to really miss out on her education if we don’t get in there quick”.

We already know the markers, whether poverty, family lifestyle, educational background or support systems. We hope that,
by intervening in a family’s life, we can influence behaviour and beliefs in such a way as to give options. OK, it’s not foolproof,
but neither is it rocket science.

If we find the idea of targeted state intervention repugnant there’s always the alternative of universal provision. But, of
course, we can’t trust the “right” people to take up services if they’re provided on a voluntary basis. So we’ll go for a bit of
both then? But that risks spreading resources too thinly and doing neither properly. So we’re back to targeting
resources where we believe they’re most needed and most effective.

Several thoughts. First, if services are offered respectfully, people are more likely to choose to take them up or, even if under
compulsion, to partake in an open and receptive way. Second, most people do want the best for their children; they just may not have the resources, personal or practical, to achieve that. Finally, we already live and work in a society that believes that change is possible and holds us to account for failing to intervene; the same society that has an ambivalent relationship with  technology in all its forms.

Throughout Minority Report, and in real life, there is the possibility of error, but for us there is no going back. We may not like
it but, once we know it, are we morally obliged to act? 

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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