Early intervention and evidence-based programmes are key to improving outcomes for at-risk children and saving money for the taxpayer in the longer term. This was the clear message to Government from the 'Whats Working for Children' conference in Dublin yesterday. The conference, which was organised by Archways in association with the Office of the Minister for Children and Atlantic Philanthropies, was addressed by a number of international experts in the field of child services and, specifically, early intervention programmes.
Speaking at the event, Aileen O'Donoghue, chief executive of the children's charity Archways, said the Government needed to radically shift its approach to providing child and family support services. She cautioned against the Government's dominant strategy of late intervention, explaining that it requires setting aside money for the resultant failure that is early school leaving, anti-social behaviour, unemployment or even life in prison. Highlighting the importance of prevention and early intervention, she said,
“Prevention and early intervention, by contrast, requires small amounts of money, which, when invested as early as possible, brings about immediate results for children and families as well as economic benefits for society as a whole.”
Steve Aos, director of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy in the United States, shared the findings of his groundbreaking cost benefit study on the policy options for reducing crime in Washington State. His research has prompted the state authorities to adopt a different approach to fighting crime by redirecting money away from a proposed prison-building programme and into child support and early intervention services. The shift in policy has helped Washington State significantly reduce juvenile crime rates to well below the national average, providing a major saving to the taxpayer in terms of a lower take-up in adolescent services and a lower adult prison population, the conference was told. He warned delegates of the dangers of implementing juvenile services that are not based on any rigorous scientific evidence.
The conference continues in Dublin today.