Embargo for 00:01, Thursday 21 March
New guidance published by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) highlights the challenge facing local authorities seeking to understand better whether their strategies are working to improve the lives of children and families, and the need to improve capacity in local areas to gather and analyse data on the impact of their early help offer.
Writing in a foreword to the new guidance, Donna Molloy, director of policy & practice at EIF, said:
“Nationally, there is ongoing debate about the extent to which early help makes a difference to children’s outcomes. While there are a range of early intervention programmes which have been shown to improve outcomes for the children who receive them, and qualitative work which shows the difference families feel that early help has made in their lives, we have not found evaluations of the impact of early help offers that we would consider to be robust.
“But an absence of evidence doesn’t mean something doesn’t work. It means we don’t know.”
Writing for the EIF blog, Donna Molloy said:
“Locally, as authorities try to find savings, there is a real danger that early services are cut, not because they don’t work, but because they haven’t been evaluated.
"And nationally, this is problematic, in the run-up to a spending review where evidence for the impact of early help services will be requested.”
Additional risks arise if, in place of robust impact evaluation, the effectiveness of early help is assessed using other measures, such as reducing spending on early help or reducing numbers in the child protection system. Donna Molloy said:
“The absence of evidence at the population level should not be used as an excuse to withdraw funding from services that have been shown to make a difference at an individual level. And it is really important that we don’t lose sight of the wider outcomes that we know effective early intervention or early help can achieve, such as improving attainment and behaviour, or reducing the risks of becoming involved in crime.”
This lack of evidence for the impact of early help is concerning, but it is not surprising. Donna Molloy said:
“Generating good-quality evidence of impact, particularly of systems involving a range of agencies and services, is difficult. It takes time, and requires capacity, resources and capability, all of which are in short supply in local services.
“Local authorities have a vital role to play in taking this forward, but they cannot do it alone, particularly in the current financial climate. We need to build capacity to use and generate evidence in children’s services.”
New EIF guidance – Evaluating early help: A guide to evaluation of complex local early help systems – provides principles and practical tips on how to evaluate the complex systems that make up local early help offers, which may involve many partners and multiple programmes and services. Action is also required at a national level, to put in place the support local areas need to develop and implement systems to robustly evaluate their early help arrangements. Donna Molloy said:
“We know that applying these principles will not be easy for councils and their partners locally in the current financial climate. We urgently need more good-quality evaluation impact evaluation of early help services, and the central support and resource to make this happen. It should not be left to the charitable sector to demonstrate the system-level effectiveness of early help.”
Head of Communications, EIF
T: 020 3542 2481 (switchboard)
- The guide will be available from 00:01, Thursday 21 March, at: https://www.eif.org.uk/resource/evaluating-early-help-a-guide-to-evaluation-of-complex-local-early-help-systems. Available in advance on request.
- Available at: https://www.eif.org.uk/blog/why-supporting-local-evaluation-is-vital-to-developing-the-evidence-on-the-impact-of-early-help
- The six principles are summarised in a blog by guide co-author Sarah Taylor, at: https://www.eif.org.uk/blog/is-your-local-early-help-offer-helping-families-six-principles-to-help-you-find-out
- The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people at risk of experiencing poor outcomes. For more information, see: http://www.eif.org.uk/