Based on a request from Welsh Ministers, the PPIW commissioned Leon Feinstein, Director of Evidence at the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), to undertake a feasibility study on quantifying the benefits of early intervention programmes in Wales; and, in particular, Flying Start and Families First.
The resulting report outlines how Wales provides a model of what can be achieved by a devolved administration, which English regions and others might build on.
The basic science of early intervention is well understood and existing evidence suggests that initiatives in Wales, like Flying Start and Families First, will have substantial long term benefits; though their outcomes will vary between localities and will depend on the quality of implementation, and the effectiveness and continuity of the wider system of support for children and families.
Quantifying a rate of return on early intervention is extremely challenging:
- Initiatives like Flying Start and Families First include diverse interventions with different delivery models, dosage and intended impacts. This makes it very difficult to specify a single, specific rate of return for early intervention in Wales.
- Effective interventions will have multiple fiscal, social and/or economic benefits which range from short term to very long-run effects spanning generations, which means there are lags between investment in early intervention and the realisation of its full benefits.
- The costs and benefits accrue to diverse agencies and levels of (national and local) government as well as to society as a whole and families and children themselves.
Of course, these challenges are not unique to Wales and our work suggests that, in some aspects, Wales has been leading the way in meeting the data and evidence requirements for effective service delivery and for long-term evaluation.
But estimating the rate of return on investment would require more detailed knowledge of local data and decisions; improved forecasts of population outcomes; and a better understanding of how interventions achieve key outcomes.
The report also emphasises that there is a risk that Wales will not gain all of the fiscal benefits of its spending on early intervention, because of the way costs and benefits are distributed. It therefore stresses the importance of the Welsh Government, HM Treasury and others developing a better understanding of the flows of cost and benefits between administrations and across budgets.
The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is a charity and one of the Government’s ‘What Works Centres’. Since 2013, EIF is the go-to organisation for evidence and advice on early intervention for tackling the root causes of social problems for children and young people, from conception to early adulthood. A key part of EIF’s role is to use the best evidence to change practice and investment from tackling problems too late to intervening much earlier.