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About prevention and early intervention strategies

The abuse and neglect of children and young people can have detrimental and far-reaching consequences. Increasingly organisations are expanding their focus to intervene as soon as possible with families, to help prevent problems from occurring or escalating.

The importance of prevention and early intervention programs is based on well-established evidence that the first years of a child’s life, and at the commencement of changes or stages of development, are crucial in setting the foundation for life-long health and learning outcomes.

Early provision and coordination of services

Early provision and coordination of services for children, young people and their families can assist with giving children and young people a good start in life and can reduce or avoid the need for other services in the longer term, such as mental health treatment, and/or the need for protective action or involvement with the child protection or justice systems.

Prevention and early intervention is the process of identifying and responding early to reduce risks or ameliorate the effect of less-than-optimal social and physical environments.

Prevention services are designed to promote the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children, young people and their families and prevent the development or emergence of problems and issues. They may be targeted to specific community groups who have a history or greater chance of developing certain problems or issues due to the existence of known risk factors or vulnerabilities.

Early intervention

Broadly, the term ‘early intervention’ refers to activities, programs and initiatives designed to alter the behaviour or development of individuals who show signs of an identified problem, or who exhibit risk factors or vulnerabilities for an identified problem, by providing the resources and skills necessary to combat the identified risks.

Early intervention includes intervening early in life or at an identified transition phase in a person’s development to ensure that they are supported in their most formative years. Alternatively, it refers to intervening as soon as a problem is apparent.

One of the goals of early intervention is to prevent the escalation of serious issues that may require a more intensive response involving the statutory child protection or justice systems.

Prevention programs

Prevention programs and early intervention programs together operate across the full continuum of service supports. They include programs that assist and promote the necessary conditions for a child or young person’s healthy development.

Prevention and early intervention services can be classified into two main groups:

  • Universal/primary interventions: offered to all families and generally preventive in nature.
  • Selected/secondary interventions: target at risk families, based on single or multiple risk factors, such as poverty or parental mental illness.

While services across the spectrum vary considerably in character and intensity, the following are some common principles which link all prevention and early intervention services.

Voluntary participation is usually voluntary. This promotes family empowerment, including participation in making decisions about their lives while they are involved in a program.

Strengths-based - a strengths-based approach involves recognising, fostering and building on a person’s skills, capacities and competencies. This approach recognises that each person already has skills and expertise in relation to their lives, and their families. A strengths-based approach aims to enhance motivation, participation and realisation of identified goals and positive outcomes.

Child centred - a child-centred approach means that the focus of intervention is on the child or young person and on realising positive outcomes for that child or young person.

Family focused - while services are child-centred they are also family-focused. Outcomes for children and young people can be achieved by enhancing family wellbeing and supporting parents to develop the necessary skills and understanding to enable them to appropriately nurture and parent their children.

Flexible -there should be a certain level of flexibility in all prevention and early intervention services to allow them to be responsive to the particular needs of each family.

Collaborative entry into prevention and early intervention services should be coordinated and there should be communication and cooperation between services so that families can access the different services and supports they require. This promotes efficiency and consistency of service provision and reduces complexity for families.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019