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Where Are the Champions for Young People With Higher Level Needs?

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The Children and Families Bill will have many champions as it advances the early intervention agenda.

It's an agenda that many of us who work in services for children with high level needs have been working on for years.

With this bill the government seems to be heralding a reinvention of services. This is intended as a change of head, heart and hands. The breaking down of barriers and protecting children's rights are goals many of us have been working for over decades. So why is our celebration tempered by rising anxiety?

There are many agencies who champion for resources enough to meet straightforward needs better and earlier. Early intervention must save money in the longer term.

There are vocal advocates for extending the inclusivity of early intervention to young people with a long history of disability, difficulty or disruption, including abuse or neglect and who can benefit from community and family-based care.

And then? There is another group of young people. Beyond those for the autistic spectrum continuum and disability, where are the voices for those with the highest level of need?

Who speaks for young people with extensive, enduring and complex psychological needs, compounded by very difficult behaviour and who need specialised and intensive resources?

In the strong current of early intervention, there is every potential that this small but crucial group, from where many practices used in early intervention originate, will be omitted from policy and planning.

Public money is needed in developing early intervention. It is predicated on saving money in the longer term. It needs to be made now. Where is it to come from? We no longer live in the world of 'invest to save' but making more with what we've got. High level needs are more costly and funds are diverted to make the necessary investment.

Yet this does not come at nil human cost to the young people who needed those services. The experience of children at children's homes is salutary. Previous placements are rising solidly into double figures with serial use of other community and family based services and settings now common.

The early intervention drive must also to be a high-level needs drive. Unless sustained, this vital sector could wither through lack of income. It cannot keep going through kindness.

If the argument for early intervention is good, it is also as solid in saying that it is more financially and humanly effective to make timely and direct use of high-level needs, where assessed as necessary.

This means we should take another look at what we see as 'all our children' in all their needs. We cannot humanly afford to be mesmerized by early intervention. We have to rehabilitate the idea of the psycho-social. Sometimes the social is not enough.

So whilst the Children and Families Bill is a good start it isn't enough. Over the last twenty years, governments have taken a universal and general approach to early intervention and missed out the small but crucial group of children and young people with higher level needs.

We need strategy that starts with meeting the needs of all children and builds resilient services. We need champions and alliances 'for all of our children.'