So what would YOU do?

My blog-post "Social Justice or Something Else?" (here: has had a second lease of life on the back of Polly Toynbee's comments in the Guardian on Friday 26 August about Social Impact Bonds (here: In my blog i am critical of the likely impact of Social Impact Bonds and of the assumptions which underpin them. This has led some people to tweet me with the question "well, what would you do?"

I had thought that the original blog-post was pretty clear, but I can see that what seems obvious to me, already working in Early Intervention, won't necessarily be so obvious to all.  These are my views in summary:

1) I am in favour of 'early intervention' (both intervening early in a child's life, and early in the manifestation of a problem later in life). I believe it is an effective way of helping families resolve their problems and secure better outcomes for individual children and whole families together. It is therefore likely to reduce the long-term dependency of families on state intervention and to reduce the total likely cost to the state of supporting those families.

2) I believe 'early intervention services' (of which there is already a range, depending on the type of intervention most necessary and appropriate) should be professionally delivered and funded out of general taxation. All taxpayers will reap the rewards of financing such interventions because of the general improvements to wider society they bring and because the lower costs overall will free up funds for other services, or for a reduction in taxation.

3) I don't believe the government is committed to this work. If it was truly committed, it would not have reduced the overall funding available through the Early Intervention Grant (EIG), and it would not have removed the ring-fence from this funding.

4) Social Impact Bonds are not a type of early intervention, they are principally investment vehicles for individuals or organisations with surplus capital.  They are a potential method of funding early intervention work. But for them to be a successful 'investment vehicle' they would require early intervention to be managed in a way that is antithetical to its long term and holistic aims.

5) Social Impact Bonds will lead to prioritisation of short term over long term objectives, of easily measured outputs over harder to measure outcomes, will lead to competition rather than collaboration between programmes, cherry-picking of families who are easier to reach / work with, and include no incentive to actually achieve long term success – because genuinely successful programmes would kill this bond market.

What would I do instead?

– I would fund early intervention from general taxation.

– I would increase the value of the early intervention grant (EIG) not decrease it, (recognising that this is an 'invest-to-save' opportunity).

– I would ring-fence the EIG to be spent on evidence-based programmes designed to support families and individuals to take greater control of problem-solving in their own lives.

– I would co-ordinate support for families and access to these programmes through the use of trained professionals from relevant disciplines acting as 'key workers' and selected by the families themselves. Many local authorities already work like this through Family Intervention Programmes, the use of a Family Common Assessment Framework (or 'Family CAF'), and the application of the principles of Family Group Conferencing. (Although few are – as yet – bold enough to take the approach outined here by Hilary Cottam: which I would love to extend to my patch).

– I would avoid amateurish, do-gooding interventions (such as Working Families Everywhere, which Tanya Gold takes apart so thoroughly here:, because I know that families who are dealing with multiple, complex problems need skilled, trained, well-supported, professional help to increase their capacity to solve problems for themselves. Enthusiastic cheerleading is just not enough.

– I would strengthen contact between professional disciplines, collaboration between services and an integrated approach to working with families, understanding that 'success' depends on good, trusting relationships and that these take time and energy to nurture and sustain.

– I would not look for quick fixes. I would understand that doing things 'for' families increases dependency, doing things 'to' families increases hostility and disengagement, but that doing things with families is the foundation of future success.

– I would build on the significant success of existing programmes, delivered through Sure Start Children's Centres, through community schools offering extended services, through integrated youth support services and other established arrangements. These deserve recognition, reward and greater investment to enable them to target specialist support more effectively while maintaining a universal offer to help them to identify families at risk.

– I would champion the professional skills and dedication of the children, young people and families' workforce, currently operating on a thankless frontline of social injustice. I would invest in their training, celebrate their successes and learn and share those lessons from the interventions that don't always work, so that our evidence-base of good practice grows.

What would you do?


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