As with many local authorities with reducing budgets and increasing needs, we are always open to looking at different ways to deliver services and identify innovative opportunities that will improve the outcomes for our children and young people.
We know that better development in childhood, particularly in the earliest of years, is linked to long-term benefits. These include attainment in school, better health outcomes and lower levels of crime. Intervening early prevents those increased costs where intervention does not happen until a later stage.
Identifying the earliest opportunity to intervene and make a difference stops issues developing, as opposed to funding expensive programmes that have to turn around already ingrained issues. As a local authority we always need to be considering not only the benefits to our families but also the impact on our finances.
The challenges that we face provided the impetus for us to look at how we could do things differently, and the partnership with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) to bring to Peterborough the programme and research was one I particularly felt could benefit our communities.
The Reach Up and Learn curriculum had already been successfully delivered in other countries, seeming to compensate for early developmental delays, narrow the achievement gap and reduce inequality later in life. As a local authority we wanted to test the approach and see if this type of programme could be adapted to fit our children and family’s needs to benefit our youngest children’s development and impact their longer-term outcomes.
The IfS’s preferred method of evaluation was a randomised controlled trial and the research it has undertaken to identify this and the potential risks when looking at individual and area level randomisation gave us confidence in its chosen method.
For this particular trial, the individual randomisation has practical benefits, with individual level trials being able to detect effects in much smaller sample sizes.
We need to make sure we are making the best use of the resources available to us and what is going to have the biggest impact.
The work that has already been undertaken, looking at the feasibility of the programme here in Peterborough, has already given us an early indication of positive engagement. The children’s centres that have worked with us as part of the project embraced the training offered and feel even in a very short number of home visits made a difference to a number of their families.
We are looking forward to taking this work forward to the next stage and, as a local authority, this has provided the opportunity to work outside our normal parameters, being part of a project that has the potential to make a real long-term difference to our children and families.
Wendi Ogle-Welbourn is executive director: people and communities for Cambridgeshire CC and Peterborough City Council and deputy chief executive at Peterborough City Council