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Prevention does work and there is a powerful economic case for it

Prevention/early years (age 0 – 3) intervention is fruitful and cost effective. Negative family cycles can be transformed and children given the opportunity to grow into fulfilled contributing adults - and great future parents.

Currently the UK spends money in exactly the opposite way to what would be most effective, on later ages, when trouble is visible but when the impact of the money spent is least effective. This is because tiny children are not yet causing trouble to society, although this is the age when spending has the greatest impact. 

Research, e.g. by the RAND Corporation, confirms that prevention and early years intervention work in terms of improving health, social outcomes and reducing future crime. WAVE’s research shows primary prevention will prevent the development of propensity to violence, e.g. by fostering empathy.

The financial benefits of early intervention far outweigh the costs. The RAND Corporation made economic evaluations of 5 approaches to reducing crime. This evaluation took a narrow view of the financial benefits of parent training, and put no financial value on the prevention of child abuse or of any other benefits besides crime reduction.

Even with this restricted view, parent training emerged as highly cost-effective for preventing serious crime. In addition, the programme called Nurse Family Partnership (or Family Nurse Partnership in the UK) was found to deliver benefits four times its cost over the life of the child, and to have repaid its cost by the time the child was 4 years old.

The very earliest intervention is to teach children how to be successful parents while they are still at school themselves. A wonderful programme for doing this is Roots of Empathy, in which a baby (with either its mother or both parents) is brought to the classroom regularly and the schoolchildren learn about the infant’s stages of development from 3 to 12 months of age. The method exposes the children first-hand to nurturing parenting – sometimes for the first time in their lives. Side benefits include significant reductions in bullying and increases in children being able to talk about their feelings.

The cost-effectiveness case for prevention and early years intervention can be found on pages 61 – 66 of WAVE’s 2010 InternationalEarly Intervention Review and in The economics of early years investment in Conception to Age 2 – the age of opportunity.