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Prevention and early intervention

Stopping problems arising or addressing them quickly
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Debates about prevention and early intervention are increasingly prominent. But what do they mean?

Prevention is about intervening before something becomes a problem; early intervention is about responding where there is already a problem

The idea of prevention being better than cure is generally accepted. Yet services don’t often follow this principle: levels of spending on preventative measures remain low. Even where prevention has been attempted, it has not always been well-evidenced.


There are a number of reasons why prevention and early intervention aren’t widely practiced:

  • there is little clarity about how to fund prevention. What works? Where can money be saved? How should interventions be targeted?
  • when finances are tight, it is easier to cut preventative measures
  • there is a lack of strong leadership for challenging and transforming the culture of late reaction across government.

Going forward

There are opportunities to increase the role of prevention and early intervention. Our research scoping study discusses some of these options:

  • taking a long term approach -
    a minimum of five year’s funding would support longitudinal studies that could support research into prevention
  • using innovation to build the evidence base -
    supporting and evaluating new, innovative approaches would help us learn what works
  • replication and scaling-up -
    evaluation could also help us identify opportunities to replicate and scale-up successful interventions
  • taking risks -
    the lack of evidence means that risks need to be taken. We can test and learn about prevention and early intervention through risks
  • collaboration -
    partnerships could help bring together fragmented prevention efforts.

Our role

The arguments for prevention are particularly associated with children and young people, especially under-fives. The social and emotional foundations established in children’s first three years are thought to be the most important contributors to positive outcomes throughout life.

To address this, we’re funding a preventative approaching through our Improving Futures programme. You can find out more about how it’s going on our Children and families page

Our Foresight work has also highlighted the importance of early action and intervention to address emerging need.

More about the research

In 2012 we commissioned New Philanthropy Capital to review evidence about prevention and early intervention. The review discusses opportunities and challenges presented by this area. It also highlights some broad principles to consider in developing our prevention and early intervention work.

In 2013 we undertook some research about our preventative grant making in Scotland, building on a grant classification exercise previously carried out by the Early Action Taskforce in England. The study discusses the relationship between type of prevention and a variety of other factors including grant size, beneficiary group and project type. It also identifies a number of implications for the Fund if it wishes to support the shift towards prevention in future work.