03/05/2012 08:48 BST | Updated 02/07/2012 06:12 BST

We Need to Focus on the First Steps in Early Intervention

Frank Field has hit the headlines again this week talking about how we measure poverty and improve life chances for children.

Frank Field has hit the headlines again this week talking about how we measure poverty and improve life chances for children.

We agree with his basic premise and his focus on early intervention. Services matter for families and children. That's why we launched our Against All Odds campaign last year calling for improved welfare support and services for parents with mental health difficulties. The Family Action experience is that most disadvantaged families need a range of support if children's life chances are to improve.

However, we do feel that he is underplaying the combined role of income and maternal mental health which can both have debilitating effect on mums and babies. We know from our work that cash counts for disadvantaged and vulnerable families.

Whilst we have given the government a gold star for their "troubled families" programme this is focused on families with a history of multiple problems - it's not so much early intervention as crisis intervention. We need a step change in services which get to the root causes of multiple disadvantage. Both the Public Health Strategy and the Allen and Field Reviews have indicated that the challenge now is to intervene as early as possible, in order to radically improve services to new parents as well as delivering the most cost effective forms of intervention.

Early intervention before and after pregnancy is critical for combating the risks posed to the most vulnerable children. While perinatal services are available for women with serious mental health difficulties, there is limited assistance for women with more moderate problems. Family Action's perinatal support project aims to fill this gap. Working with trained volunteer befrienders, we provide mothers with key social, emotional and practical support from four locations around the country.

As a new report by MPs this week about Social Mobility shows, pre-school is a key time to intervene in family life to support parents and get children school ready by focusing on family relationships and soft skills like concentration and bonding. We'd go further and say early intervention in the perinatal period is vital.

To share the learning from our projects and to highlight the exciting possibilities of joint working to support at risk mothers and their babies we've launched a new free e-magazine First Steps in Early Intervention which showcases early intervention services for pregnant women and families with babies under one. Our first issue gives an overview of the service as well as featuring an interview with a community midwife in Mansfield and a service user and volunteer befriender from Hackney, East London.

Family Action is also holding a Perinatal Conference in early July - Improving Perinatal Services: Successful Strategies for Early Intervention - which will explore strategies for supporting early intervention work with families at risk. The conference will prvide delegates with an overview of the latest government policy on perniatal services, an examination of the risk to child development and examples of good practice including a spotlight on our innovative Perinatal Support Project.

We'll be working to highlight the first steps in early intervention over the coming months before the conference. You can find out more information about the conference and sign up to First Steps in Early Intervention by visiting