• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 20th July, 2011

The day good news got buried

Lost in the melee surrounding the parliamentary select committee’s grilling of Murdoch father and son, Rebekah Brooks and top police officers caught up in the scandal enveloping the police and the media was the government reaction to four reviews on child development.Sarah Teather and Anne Milton, respectively education and health ministers published their response in Supporting Families in the Foundation Years.The broad thrust of the document will be welcomed by policy makers and practitioners in England. It promises a new focus on child development and greater investment in skills for those working with pre-school children. There are repeated references to evidence- based interventions, an acknowledgement of the economic case for investment and a commitment to test experiments that pay by results. There is also a clear commitment to target resources on the neediest families.Talking to the press, ministers gave priority to four initiatives. First, as already announced, the Department of Health is increasing both health visitor numbers and places on the proven model, the Nurse Family Partnership.Teather and Milton stressed a payment by results experiment that will try to get the best from the flagship Sure Start children’s centres’ early years provision now available across England and Wales. Thirty of the 150 English local authorities will be rewarded for reaching the most vulnerable families, improving family health and wellbeing, and raising attainment of children at the age of five.A strong push is being given to strengthening the early years workforce, with an independent review of qualifications, the testing of ten “early years teaching centres” and funding for leadership training at a national level.Finally, Teather and Milton drew attention to increased government support to provide information for families with young children. A website developed by the not-for-profit 4Children will help new parents make decisions that better balance work and family life.Teather and Milton were responding to four reviews commissioned by the Coalition government when it came to power in May 2010. Labour MP Frank Field pushed for a shift of funding towards the most disadvantaged in society with the goal of closing the widening gap between prospects for rich and poor children in the UK. His Labour colleague Graham Allen gave stress to evidence-based programs and the testing of financial incentives that favor cost-beneficial interventions.Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, in her review, majored on boosting the competency of practitioners and giving them more access to the resources they need to do their jobs well. Professor Eileen Munro from the London School of Economics called for greater practitioner autonomy as part of a broader drive to strengthen child protection arrangements.Writing in his blog today, Michael Little, Prevention Action executive editor who contributed to two of the reviews, noted that “perhaps the most significant aspect of the government response are the people doing the responding. The drive for change has been coming from the Treasury, Number 10 and the Department of Work and Pensions but it is the owners of children’s policy, Education and Health, that have provided the primary reaction. This may or may not signal future priorities”. [See Blog: Response to the response]Graham Allen MP, the primary champion of issues of concern to Prevention Action readers was more optimistic when he said: “For the first time, government have formally accepted the need for an independent early intervention foundation, something I argued strongly for in my review. The three leaders of the main political parties are strongly behind the foundation. We now have a chance to deliver to scale a set of evidence based programmes which will massively improve life prospects of babies children and young people. We can give them the social and emotional bedrock they need to fulfil their potential. Changing government's culture from one of late intervention to early intervention allied to the introduction of new sources of investment will enable us to move from talking the talk to walking the walk. There is much still to do but real progress has been made." As part of its response the government has announced two further reviews. Professor Cathy Nutbrown will consider how to strengthen qualifications and career progression for people working in the early years, while Dame Elizabeth Fradd, assistant chief nursing officer for the Department of Health, will chair a task force to prepare a national health service model by 2015. ReferencesSupporting Families in the Foundation Years, Departments of Education and Health, 2011 - LinkEarly Intervention: The Next Steps, An Independent Report to her Majesty's Government, Graham Allen MP, 2011 - LinkThe Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults, the report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, Frank Field, 2011 - LinkThe Munro Review of Child Protection; Final Report, A child-centred analysis, Eileen Munro, 2011 - LinkTickell Review of Early Years Foundation Stage - Call for Evidence, Clare Tickell, 2011 - Link

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