ConservativeHome is today beginning a series of policy-orientated pieces looking at how we take young people off the conveyor belt to crime. We begin with this article from Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice looking at the importance of early intervention.
The best time and place to apply the crowbar to the conveyor belt to crime is before it starts moving – early in a vulnerable child’s life or at the first signs of trouble. When police were first faced with rioters they were criticised for collecting evidence of acts of disorder and not preventing it from happening in front of them. Yet that’s precisely what we tend to do with our most troubled families: we condemn their parenting when their children and young people fall foul of the law but are reluctant to step in – and help – before the line is crossed.
The emphasis on Early Intervention that runs through almost every important report on improving social mobility cannot remain a lofty concept in social policy – or be used to justify even more state intrusion into family life. Early intervention rests on a recognition that children’s physical, social, intellectual and emotional development is heavily influenced by their early experiences. Healthy brain development, in particular, requires a nurturing and responsive parent or caregiver. Abused and neglected children are at least 25% more likely to become involved in delinquency, to fall pregnant in their teenage years and to become drug users, as well as to suffer from mental health problems.
All too often this repeats a dysfunctional cycle – perhaps one of their parents was an addict or severely depressed and unable to meet their emotional and physical needs. Sometimes a tragedy strikes an otherwise robust family, parents find themselves unable to cope and there is no one else around to prevent the children falling through the cracks. Divorce and separation can also hit children hard. It’s not all about the early years but they do set the tone.