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Support for vulnerable families 'undermined by short-termism'

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Vital early support for disadvantaged children and families is being undermined by short-term approaches to funding and policy alongside a lack of joined-up thinking in Whitehall and local areas, according to a report.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) said evidence shows that proven targeted approaches to supporting vulnerable families can have a positive impact on children’s physical, cognitive and behavioural development.

However, it said the potential of early intervention is not being realised due to the absence of a long-term commitment to investment and evidence-based approaches which do not necessarily produce results in the short-term.

The report, published a day after the Budget which included £650m extra funding for social care, some of which could be used for children’s services, added policy-makers on a national and local level are often required to develop “attractive but unproven initiatives to tackle the issues of the day”.

It said that small, short-term pots of funding directed at specific problems can also use up significant local resources in the process of developing bids and lead to services being established which could have to be withdrawn when funding ends.

The report added pressures on local government finances will result in an estimated reduction in funding of up to 72% for early intervention between 2010 and 2020.

This, it said, “leaves little space for early intervention, as councils inevitably prioritise immediate pressures and statutory duties over discretionary services with longer-term benefits.”

It said: “Locally it can be difficult for service leaders to deliver on a long-term strategy where this requires investing in services in a coordinated way across relevant agencies”.

“The siloed nature of government finances at both national and local level limits the incentive for politicians, policy-makers and service leaders to invest their own budgets in early intervention…[as] the long-term benefits of early intervention are unlikely to accrue to the department or agency that has made the initial investment.”

The EIF called for a new long-term investment fund to test the impact of a whole-system approach to early intervention in a small number of places, as well as an “acceleration fund” to enable other places deliver effective approaches.

It also said an independent panel of experts should advise the government on research strategy and a taskforce created to co-ordinate the work of relevant Whitehall departments.

The EIF has also called on local leaders to “articulate a clear, long-term vision… and a strategy that is achievable”, which is not “founded on the promise of achieving short-term savings” and is “realistic about the likelihood of reducing pressure on children’s social care”.

EIF chief executive Jo Casebourne said action is urgently needed as the four million children living in poverty in the UK is expected to rise to five million by 2020.

She said: “Our current short-term, piece-meal approach to supporting children and young people dealing with disadvantage is just storing up problems for generations to come.”

“The government recently published long-term strategies for housing and the environment because of how critical these issues are for our country. The future of vulnerable children is just as critical.

“We need to face up to the scale of the challenge and the commitment required. Big problems need bold solutions, like a 25-year plan for early intervention, if we are going to truly change the course for a generation of children before it is too late.”

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