Early Intervention

It is well established that aspects of a child’s life such as poor parental supervision, harsh, neglectful, or erratic discipline and social disadvantage significantly increase the risks of involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.  Those children who experience these factors in combination, or at their most extreme are at greatest risk of becoming persistent offenders. Early intervention means targeting children “at-risk” at an early age to provide family support and improve educational performance.  Early intervention measures aim to encourage better behaviour, create more opportunities for children and their families, and help them develop the skills to reach their potential.

Drawing primarily on an evaluation from an SRB funded project in Thames Valley which considered a range of different methods of early years interventions, have highlighted twenty lessons learned from existing good practice.  They are reproduced below.

1. The younger the child, the more pronounced the effects on behaviour.  The most successful programmes are age specific and target pre-school children.  Programmes for school aged children still have an impact, but it is less marked.

2. Programmes using cognitive and social learning approaches show the greatest impact on the behaviour of individual children.

3. The “whole school” approach produces significant anecdotal evidence of improved general behaviour at all levels of the school community, although further investigation is needed into appropriate research methods for judging whole community interventions.  The whole community approach could be especially useful for younger children in nurseries and Sure Start programmes, where it may act in a preventative way for some behavioural difficulties.

4. There is anecdotal evidence that school based programmes using therapeutic methods helped to support SEN children in school.

5. The ideal strategy is probably one that offers a layered approach: it establishes a basic emotional and behavioural structure for all children; offers a more targeted approach for those who continue to have problems; and targets specific areas of concern with dedicated solutions.

6. Parents are motivated to participate by a combination of concern for their children and desire to meet their own needs, especially for company, support and activity outside the home.  The sense that parenting is acknowledged as a difficult, wearing job is enough to keep some parents coming, even when they feel there are few changes in their child.

7. In very deprived areas, parents are likely to need other incentives to participate in groups, i.e. payment of transport costs and provision of food and refreshments.  The provision of separate childcare, whether integral to the programme or not, is essential for many parents to be able to participate.

8. The use of groups for both parents and children adds an important dimension to the intervention.  Group membership is, for many, the first time parenthood had produced more social opportunities, instead of limiting them, and this can alter their view of their children.

9. Groups work best when they are structured, but they also need to be flexible enough to focus on the particular parent’s presenting needs.

10. Groups must be led by experienced staff who can mediate differences between members, which are bound to arise. It is important to agree ground rules such as confidentiality at the outset.  Supportive relationships between group members and leaders are key in attracting and sustaining parental involvement.

11. Group leaders should model the desired behaviours, such as the giving of undivided attention.  Parents frequently note that being listened to is a welcome new experience.

12. Success breeds success, so when it comes to convincing parents to complete the programmes, it is useful to build in one or more early wins.

13. The interventions that produce the greatest impact on behaviour are those that were delivered by specialist organisations.  Nevertheless, other kinds of practitioners can benefit from receiving training to carry out the work, and may add value in other ways with their own expertise.

14. Volunteers can make an important contribution to programmes.   To be most effective however, they need to be drawn from a wide pool, thoroughly prepared for the reality of working with children with behavioural difficulties, and provided with clearly identifiable, external support.

15. The programmes assessed were not generally seen as stigmatising in the way that other professional interventions in family life often are.  The use of volunteers added a community link and helped lessen any embarrassment parents may have felt about taking part.

16. Men rarely attend parent groups and may respond in greater numbers to single sex groups.  On the other hand, some parents who have attended sessions together have reported improvements in their own relationship.

17. Families with severe, multiple and entrenched problems are most likely to find it difficult to complete the intervention and extra support will probably be needed.  Nevertheless a substantial proportion did complete the programmes evaluated, requiring considerable effort on their part, indicating they found the outcomes worthwhile.

18. There is no evidence that the programmes would be more effective if they were longer, or repeated: 12 to 15 weeks appeared to be the optimum length.

19. Many parents would value follow up support, namely advice, encouragement and reassurance.  Interventions offering parenting support can act as a gateway for other services and, where families can easily access other types of support, this adds value to the intervention.  There is some potential for parents who have “graduated” from programmes to reach other parents in the neighbourhood, through word of mouth, and to act as role models for participants.

20. Self help parenting groups should be encouraged to extend the social support beyond the duration of the
programme.  They could also consider other matters such as nutrition and early education.

Good Practice Reports

This is the first of what we hope will be many good practice reports. The reports will highlight initiatives or work that we think are particularly interesting or promising. These reports will not be hugely detailed or run to tens of pages. They will aim to provide a snapshot of each piece of work and provide contact details if you want to get further information. Of course, it is vital that you, as practitioners, know whether the approaches we refer to here have been fully evaluated. We won’t shy from bringing you details of new approaches which haven’t yet been evaluated, but where we do, we will be clear that, promising as the work may be, it will be some time before we can be confident that it has been found to be effective.

The Hackney approach to a youth crime reduction strategy

Findings from the evaluation of the Summer Splash schemes
Islington’s experiences developing
Acceptable Behaviour Contracts

Do you have any good practice to share?


The Hackney Safer Communities Executive (the statutory partnership group for crime and disorder reduction) has appointed a sub-committee to develop proposals for a Hackney Youth Crime Reduction Strategy.  The sub-committee held its first meeting recently and will meet every few weeks over the coming months. The group includes senior representation from Education, the Police, Community Safety, Drugs Action and Youth Offending.  Following the first meeting, it is to be expanded to include Social Services, the Youth Service, the Network for Youth and Housing, and the Youth Crime Prevention team.

Hackney consider their top priority to be the need to map all of the services which are provided for young people in the area. After they have completed the mapping, they intend to consider what role each service plays, or could play, in youth crime reduction, how effective those services are, and what scope there is for improving them or joining them up. Hackney recently carried out a best value review of their services for youth and they are using the findings from that review as a basis for this work.

In addition, following the first meeting of the group, they have circulated a questionnaire around the borough which attempts to capture details on all of the relevant services which are provided by Hackney. Once a strategy has been developed and agreed within the group, the sub-committee will be responsible for ensuring that it is agreed across the borough and its partners, by submitting it for agreement by the Safer Communities Executive and the Local Strategic Partnership.