YES - Val Smith, Oxfordshire County Councillor for Blackbird Leys
Early intervention – stepping in as soon as possible when things are going wrong – works.
It is an approach which offers us a real opportunity to make lasting improvements in the lives of children, to forestall many persistent social problems and end their transmission from one generation to the next.
It has been proven in so many ways. It works for children, it works in healthcare, it works for young offenders. A 2011 report on early intervention by MP Graham Allen said: “The culture of late intervention is both expensive and ineffective”.
Ideally intervention should be as early as possible, that is why the fabulous children’s centres and family centres are so important to us all.
Children’s centres are for children under five and their families.
They are places where they can find a variety of activities, information and support from professionals, whatever their background or circumstances. It’s all about working with and for families.
When we talk about early intervention we must also give praise to organisations like Home Start and PEEP (Parents Early Education Partnership).
Home Start’s volunteers offer befriending, as well as practical and emotional advice in the homes of families who are having difficulties managing parenting.
This is introducing support for those who need it most.
PEEP, which was born here in Oxford, was the inspiration for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
It helps whole communities of children improve their education from an early age by working with parents and carers.
Much as we want intervention to be early, stuff happens. Families break up, people lose their jobs and people get into debt.
It can happen overnight or it can take years before the consequences are apparent.
Families can get missed and do not get the intervention when needed – but it is vital never to give up on a child, young person or the family.
People have a great capacity to change.
It is often a question of giving confidence, the right support and the inspiration when most needed.
Decent housing is crucial. People and families need chances and deserve a decent home. We must build more houses that are affordable so people can be independent and that children can have space to do things like homework.
Stable housing gives children the chance to stay at the same school and not have to move on every couple of years, which is what so often happens when families are stuck in private rented accommodation.
Government cuts to local councils make it increasingly hard to give the support which is needed.
This is not only tragic for the families concerned, but the consequences will cost society dear in the long run.
NO - Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for children, education and families.
I am a strong follower of Iain Duncan Smith’s “Broken Britain” agenda, and when I read his book on the subject, and before Oxfordshire County Council had any money or any support from Government, I thought we should be working with families to try to help them sort out their lives.
The Thriving Families project is part of a Government initiative to identify the most troubled families in society and directly tackle problems such as crime and antisocial behaviour, poor school attendance, unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse.
Sometimes the problems families have are so many and varied that it is difficult to work with them, but this agenda does just that.
Each family taking part meets national criteria identifying them as among the most troubled in terms of poor school attendance and behaviour, antisocial behaviour, youth offending and adults out of work. They are assigned a dedicated worker from the county council’s Thriving Families team who acts as the single point of contact for the family.
The worker liaises with other agencies to deliver an agreed plan of action geared towards achieving specific results.
Families’ progress is measured through real-terms improvements in school attendance, behaviour, and reductions in levels of offending over a sustained period of time.
In taking on this challenge the county council is confident that the families we manage to turn around will be much less of a burden on society in that they will be in work, their children in school and making progress and that they will contributing to society.
We are committed to the long-term savings from this project and therefore reduce the financial burden these issues place on society.
New figures show the programme, in which a dedicated worker is assigned to each family to give hands-on support, has brought about positive outcomes for 444 of Oxfordshire’s most troubled families with real-terms improvements in these areas.
This means more than half (55 per cent) of the 700 families the council has worked with so far, have turned their lives around.
The results we are continuing to see in Oxfordshire demonstrate that, with early intervention into the lives of some families, the scheme is working well.
By taking a firm but positive approach, our dedicated staff are helping families overcome their problems and make positive contributions to society.
It is in everyone’s interest that these families take the necessary steps to get their lives back on track.
If we can do something about chaotic families, we can set people back on the right track in life and give them chances, hopes and (hopefully) happiness and could also save everybody huge amounts of money.
The council has invested £1.6m in the scheme and is on course to secure a further £3m through the Government’s ‘payment by results’ model so that this work can continue in future years.
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