While our messages have been widely accepted at the strategic level of national government, they are only being put into practice in a few local authorities.
As an educational charity, we set about communicating our findings via reports, conferences and presentations to policy-makers, including senior civil servants, politicians and local authorities, as well as to police, other voluntary organisations and relevant professionals.
Achievements in changing thinking and policy
Today both Government and Opposition state they are committed to a strategy of early intervention. In September 2008 a joint Smith Institute / Centre for Social Justice policy booklet promoting early intervention, and directed by former Conservative Leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and former Labour Whip, Graham Allen, received the written support of Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The publication, which was initially drafted by WAVE, was later described by Frank Field as ‘the most important report, official or unofficial, produced in parliament since I became a member 30 years ago’.
WAVE’s prime recommendation, the intensive American home visiting programme Nurse Family Partnership, was introduced into the UK and has now been rolled out to 50 pilot sites (benefiting 5,000 at risk families). Evaluation of the first two years of the experiment has been very positive.
In addition, our proposal for the creation of a pilot early intervention city was taken up by the Home Office, with Nottingham selected as the pilot site for this experiment. Unfortunately, against the wishes of both WAVE and the local MP Graham Allen, the implementation in Nottingham did not follow the blueprint agreed between WAVE and the Home Office, and indeed the average age of children in the Nottingham project is 13, which we would hardly call early intervention. We remain committed to the idea of what we would now call an Early Years Intervention City.
Gap between conviction and implementation
There have been numerous other successes, but the reality is that levels of child maltreatment do not appear to be reducing. While adoption of our ideas has been very successful at the strategic level, take-up is still minimal at the level where new policies need to be implemented – local authorities and primary care trusts.
The reasons for this are understandable: basically, the available funding is scarcely enough to cover essential reactive work let alone investing in prevention. Moreover, UK systems are almost universally designed to react to abuse and neglect, rather than to prevent them in the first place. However, recent research indicates that primary prevention (i.e. before abuse or neglect take place) is operationally and financially more cost-effective than responding after the initial damage has been done. In reality, we need to react effectively while we develop proactive, preventive systems. That will mean investing new money in primary prevention rather than seeking to compete for the already stretched funding for treating the symptoms. Recent in-depth work by Croydon’s local authority and primary care trust, analysing how current money is spent, concludes that the vast bulk of the money needed to initiate primary prevention can be found from savings in money ineffectively spent on current reactive systems which deliver services rather than changed outcomes.