Effective early intervention programmes can reduce risks to child development, a new report has found – but there isn't sufficient research into what works.
The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has called for greater investment in more high-quality evidence of the impact of such schemes.
The charity’s report, which looked at 75 programmes that aim to improve outcomes by supporting positive parent-child interactions from age 0 to 5, found those that target interventions based on early signals of risk – such as child behaviour problems and insecure attachment - are most effective.
The EIF review concludes that many of the programmes have the potential to enhance development, improve children’s achievement at school, and prevent mental health problems when they’re older.
But the charity, which worked alongside the What Works centre, has warned that more still needs to be done to test early intervention programmes in the UK as the current evidence base is limited.
The report, which makes a number of recommendations on early intervention, also calls for a national benchmark to assess development and progress in the first year of primary school.
But it says it shouldn’t about a “set of tests at age 5”, instead it should help practitioners identify gaps in development and support effective responses
Carey Oppenheim, chief executive at EIF, said: “Our review reveals there are a good number of well evidenced programmes that if carefully commissioned and implemented are likely to be effective.
“Reduced funding in local authorities and other local services makes it more critical to use the best evidence available to inform commissioning decisions.”
"Government and Trusts and Foundations should prioritise supporting much better testing, monitoring and evaluation of early intervention programmes and approaches, testing impacts over longer periods with a particular focus on voluntary organisations who struggle to find the funding to assess their impact.”
She added: “Too few early interventions have been tested in the UK and we still rely too much on evidence from other countries such as the US and Australia which, whilst important, does not remove the need to test programmes as they operate and adapt for the demands of the UK.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers’ union NAHT, said: “This report shows clearly that a child’s life chances are heavily influenced in the first five years of life, and that effective early intervention can be vital.”
Over the next year, there will be major changes to early years education, including the extended free hours for three and four year olds of working parents and the introduction of the Tax Free Childcare scheme.
Mr Hobby added: “Funding for early years education in general is insufficient and our members report that it often fails to cover the full cost of delivering the provision, especially when they want and need to employ the most highly skilled staff.
“We need to see an increase in early years funding based on a clear, transparent and consistent national funding framework.”
The Department for Education said it was up to councils to work closely with providers to indentify children in most need of support.
“Councils are ultimately responsible for deciding what services are needed in their area and we are giving them almost £200 billion to spend on local services by 2020 to support this," a DfE spokesperson said.
“We are also increasing funding for childcare by £1 billion a year by the end of the Parliament, and providing a £100 million investment to support and improve the way councils deliver children’s services including early help for children and families.”