Thursday, 20 October 2011

Starting at the beginning

Naomi Eisenstadt, who among other things used to be the Director of Sure Start, is quoted in Children and Young People Now as saying that Sure Start failed to reach the under-twos. She says that Sure Start was originally a minus nine months to plus four years programme but "we lost the babies”.

I can’t help thinking that this shows just how loose some of the thinking behind ‘early intervention’ is. There is substantial evidence to demonstrate that the first two years of a child’s life are crucially important in terms of development and future functioning. Huge changes in the brain during this period can be adversely influenced by early experience of abuse and neglect, resulting in long-term damage. Not only that but we know that pre-verbal infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect and particularly to some of the more extreme forms. A large proportion of child abuse deaths concern this age-group.

So, if I were developing an early intervention programme I would work from minus 9 months forward, rather than from five years down. Why policy makers did not get hold of this simple message baffles me. Perhaps it is the same kind of thinking which allowed the number of health visitors in Britain to decline to an all time low under the last government?