The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee calls on the Government to draw up a new national strategy for early intervention approaches to address childhood adversity and trauma. Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:
“Adversity in childhood appears to be the biggest single risk factor in the emergence of mental ill health in childhood and teenage years, and beyond. If we are to make any impact on the high prevalence of mental ill-health in childhood, we have to transform how we address the causes.”
“Early intervention offers young people who have suffered adversity in their childhood an opportunity to avoid the long-term problems associated with such experiences. When delivered effectively, there is strong evidence that early intervention can dramatically improve people’s lives, whilst also reducing long-term costs to the Government.”
“The Scottish and Welsh Governments and some local authorities in England have made using early intervention to address childhood adversity and trauma a priority. We urge the UK Government to do the same. During our inquiry, we have seen examples of good practice being delivered around the country, but a national strategy with co-ordinated support for local authorities could see the transformative benefits of early intervention offered to all children who need it, irrespective of where they live.”
The report says there is no universally agreed definition of what an adverse childhood experience (ACE) is, but that the following issues are typical:
- verbal abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- physical neglect
- emotional neglect
- parental separation
- household mental illness
- household domestic violence
- household alcohol abuse
- household drug abuse
- incarceration of a household member
Children and young people needing or using supported and supervised child contact centres will have experienced one or more these traumas. We know that more than a million children have no contact whatsoever with one or other parent after separation. Unfortunately some children experience behavioural issues including antisocial behaviour, distress, unhappiness, and both physical and emotional problems. The NACCC is the only charity in the UK dedicated to solving this problem, by providing safe spaces where children can meet the parents they don’t live with. Please support NACCC in carrying out this vital work.
The report states that “whilst there is evidence of good practice in some local authority areas in England, there is no clear, overarching national strategy from the UK Government targeting childhood adversity and early intervention as an effective approach to address it. Nor does there seem to be effective oversight mechanisms for the Government or others to monitor what local authorities are doing. This has led to a fragmented and highly variable approach to early intervention across England, with evidence of a significant gap between what the latest evidence suggests constitutes best practice and what is actually delivered by many authorities. Where local authorities are not providing early intervention based on the best available evidence, vulnerable children are being failed.” The report goes on to say that co-ordination between the different Government departments whose areas of responsibility relate to childhood adversity or problems associated with this could be improved. It recommends that the existing ‘Healthy Child Programme’ should be bolstered as this is the only national mechanism in place through which all children in England should receive early years practitioner support before the age of five. The future of Sure Start centres are currently in limbo which has resulting in no centres being inspected by Ofsted since 2015. The committee urges that this be addressed.
Despite the long-term savings associated with effective early intervention, the amount of funding available to local authorities that is nominally destined for early intervention is declining which can result in early intervention activity being sacrificed in favour of statutory duties. The report calls for improved awareness of the importance of early years experiences on child development, and knowledge of the latest science in this domain, across the early years’ workforce – a very broad range of professions including child contact centre staff and volunteers.
In 2010, Graham Allen, the then MP for Nottingham North, was commissioned by the Coalition Government to review early intervention in the UK. Two reports were published by Mr Allen the following year. Following his recommendations, the Early Intervention Foundation was established in 2013 as the ‘What Works Centre’ covering this area. In 2016, the Early Intervention Foundation estimated that the cost of ‘late’ intervention in England and Wales reached at least £16.6bn, and in 2017 reported a “significant gap between what is known to be effective from peer-reviewed studies and what is delivered in local child protection systems”. The committee consequently decided to launch an inquiry to examine the evidence base underpinning the arguments for early intervention as an effective strategy to address childhood adversity and trauma, and to assess the extent to which this evidence base was informing early intervention practice across England.