Millions of children face a bleak future, neglected, homeless and living in poverty because help isn't getting to them and their families soon enough. Spending time and money on preventing a problem early on can avoid greater cost, effort and future harm.
For our most vulnerable children, help often comes only once they are in serious danger. Too often, that is too late. The human and financial costs of picking up the pieces afterwards can be huge.
As someone once said at one of our workshops, "By the time you ask for help, you're past the point of needing help."
For example, supporting a mother through a relationship breakdown, unemployment and a difficult pregnancy so she doesn't become overwhelmed would prevent her from reaching a point where she neglects herself and her children. Neglect in the most extreme cases can lead to appalling injury, even the death of a child. The high profile and heart breaking stories of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan highlight the plight of what children endured because there was no help.
At present, councils, social services and charities spend huge amounts of time and money helping people out of terrible situations once they are in them. This help is important, but is it the best system?
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have all gone on the record to argue that there needs to be more early action. But while discussion continues and evidence mounts, the pace of change is much too slow or even in some cases going entirely in the wrong direction. Investment is being cut by councils as they face another 10 per cent reduction in their budgets next year. That trend is hardly likely to stop so don't we need to make the very best use of the resources that we have to achieve the best possible results for children?
And if any future government is in doubt of what people think, the message from the British public is loud and clear. Polling found that 73 per cent said taxpayers' money should be spent on early support services for children and 54 per cent of people thought there was not enough help available for families who need it.
We have joined forces with Barnardo's, The Children's Society, NSPCC and Save the Children and are calling on the next government to be brave, think differently and champion early support across all its services for children and families. We would like to see a significant shift in the balance of spending from reaction to prevention.
We want to see a five-year commitment to funding so local authorities can make long term plans. This means children could stick with the same support staff for longer, rather than having them shuffled around as services change in response to each annual budget.
I know of many families who have benefited from our early support services - a family like Caroline and her kids. The children's father sadly died last year and the trauma of his death really affected two of the four children, who began misbehaving and this had a knock on effect on their school life. Their mum contacted us - a support worker was assigned to the family, the kids attended play sessions, their mum a variety of classes including parenting skills and a cooking course. The kids enjoyed the new dishes their mum was bringing home from the cooking course and the introduction of a rewards chart. Behaviour changes after a traumatic event are completely natural and understandable and these were the beginnings of problems that could have got a lot worse. This is simple, early, support but it works. The children (and their teacher) say things are much better now and they are all happier about the future. We really must learn from what we already know - that prevention is almost always better than cure.
The report A stitch in time: The case for Early Support can be downloaded here, it is a joint publication of Action for Children, Barnardo's, The Children's Society, NSPCC and Save the Children.