James Edmondson

How to target early intervention

December 11, 2015

children park

Over the last year, I have worked with a number of iMPOWER’s clients to tackle demand on social care services by reviewing and bolstering the role of their early intervention (or early help) offer. On some of these projects we’ve used iMPOWER’s Service Effectiveness Review (SER) tool – a methodology developed in-house to evaluate existing services which are contributing to the council’s early intervention aims. The tool looks at the effectiveness of each activity within the service (Is it measurable? Is it changing lives for the better? Is it tackling the root causes of social care demand?) and at how effective the service is at targeting those most in need (How easy is it for families to access the service? Is there a waiting list? How are families identified?).

Where we’ve used the tool, similar themes have emerged, including the lack of attention paid to measuring service impact (the classic output vs. outcomes scenario) and the often anecdotal evidence used to prove how families’ outcomes are changing.

What’s as interesting is how councils are targeting their scant resources on those families who are most in need of support. In other words, how can councils be confident that the investment they’re putting into services is concentrated on those families who need it most? We’re starting to explore the answer to this with one of our clients but here are my thoughts:

  1. Data, data, data. You need to know exactly what’s going on, not just county-, city- or borough-wide, but down to the most detailed level possible. Are there specific needs within each locality? Is there a prevalence of particular issues within a ward? By understanding the communities you work in, you can ensure your staff are trained to target, identify and tackle the problems presented
  2. Know the community. Each member of front line staff should be assigned a geographical ‘zone’ where they focus their attention, get under the skin of what’s going on (such as working with the voluntary sector to drop in on courses they might be running), build relationships with families who might need support and use these relationships to encourage them to engage
  3. It’s not all about Children’s Centres. This might sound counter-intuitive but I believe having a high number of Children’s Centres can act as a false ‘security blanket’ for staff. Front line workers need to understand the importance on reaching out into the community. Councils need to enable a more agile way of working and, for staff, Children’s Centres should be considered as touch down points with hot desks for those exceptional circumstances when they’re not working in the community
  4. Performance should be aligned to priority family engagement. It’s no good measuring success by the number of families walking in through the Children’s Centre front door, or to simply believe you’re making a difference if registrations are up. Just because a ‘stay and play’ service is fully booked, what’s to say it’s not the local ‘yummy mummies’ taking advantage? Within the requirements of providing universal services, the critical focus must be on prioritising access to those families most in need, and the measure of success should be about the engagement of those families.

Our Chief Exec recently wrote “with a 59% reduction in central government funding over the next five years there is no one service that can be protected without damaging another. Local politicians will be forced to choose”. Focusing on using data better, targeting families most in need and gathering community intelligence will be needed now more than ever if early intervention is to survive and thrive in 2016 and beyond.

In these challenging times, how can councils ensure they target those families who might currently be ‘off the radar’? I’d be keen to hear from councils and organisations who have started to tackle this issue.

Image from Kaboom pics

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