Graham Allen urges launch of national early intervention body

A national body should be set up to oversee the operation and funding of early intervention throughout the UK, according to the MP tasked with investigating the future of programmes.

The centrepiece of Graham Allen’s proposals, downloadable here, is the creation of an Early Intervention Foundation, led and funded by non-central government sources, including councils, ethical and philanthropic trusts, foundations, charities and private investors.

The foundation would be responsible for establishing “demonstrable improvements in the social and emotional bedrock of children”. It would operate primarily within 15 “early intervention places” – groups of local authorities acting as hubs for early intervention initiatives. They would be given greater flexibility to innovate and to evaluate early intervention programmes and encouraged to share findings with other local authorities throughout the country.

Labour MP Allen, who is heading the Early Intervention Commission for the government, said 25 chief executives had already expressed interest in their councils becoming early intervention hubs. Prospective volunteers include councils with troubled histories such as Haringey and Birmingham, as well as high performers such as Westminster.

The foundation would also be responsible for helping local authorities and programmes raise money from the private sector, potentially including the arrangement of payments by results or social impact bonds. This proposal will be expanded upon in Allen’s second report, due in May.

The initial report, seen in advance by Community Care, is due to be launched today by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Allen said the foundation would also take charge of a fluid list of best-performing early intervention programmes that its members believe should be fostered and expanded.

Allen’s report presented a list of 19 programmes which he and his review team had selected. It includes the Nurse Family Partnership, multi-dimensional treatment foster care, multi-systemic therapy, parenting programme Incredible Years, and behaviour improvement project Paths.

“This list should not be regarded as exhaustive or complete,” Allen said. “All entries should be reviewed and reassessed by the new Early Intervention Foundation before a ‘living list’ is evolved.”

Many of Allen’s other recommendations focused on the need for a cultural shift towards stronger early intervention in children’s services.

In his report, Allen suggested Clegg could lead the government-wide effort on early intervention through the Cabinet Office.

Allen said he purposefully made recommendations that would be difficult for the government to turn down.

“When you’re writing a report like this, you have a choice,” he said. “You can write something stunning that states a completely new agenda and criticises all that came before, or you can do what I’ve done and try to help the kids who are just being born.

“I tried to put the government in a position where my proposals were all so reasonable, they’re hard to say no to.

“Also, I made sure that no new legislation or public expenditure would be required, so this really is do-able.”

26 areas have expressed an interest in becoming an Early Intervention Place (clilck thumbnail to view)
List of selected programmes, by level (click thumbnail to view)

Graham Allen’s key recommendations

● The establishment of an independent Early Intervention Foundation to support local people, communities and agencies.

● The establishment of 15 local early intervention “places” to spearhead the foundation’s development.

● The support and expansion of 19 “top programmes” deemed to be the most effective.

Kent makes a point with incentives and intensive support

One of the top-performing early intervention programmes Graham Allen identified in his report is multi-dimensional treatment foster care (MTFC).

Kent began piloting this programme in 2004 and the model, based on behavioural principles, is now fully integrated into the council’s fostering services.

It aims to transform challenging behaviour by offering a points-based system of incentives and intensive support for children.

“Our aim is to sustain placements, so we target behaviour that causes distress to carers and threatens placement stability,” said Debbie Simmons, programme manager at MTFC Kent.

By accumulating points for good behaviour, children move through three levels of care. At level one, independence is restricted and children rarely go out without their foster carers. This allows carers to “really get to know and understand” the children, said Simmons. By level three they are ready to leave care or move on to a mainstream placement.

As of May 2010, 25 children were in Kent’s MTFC programme.

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