Opinion by Maeve McLaughlin ‘It’s critical that we intervene early as one third of our children are in poverty’

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As we reflect and learn from the positives and negatives from 2013 we must remain grounded in the harsh reality that 51% of Derry people live in high social need and 35 % ( one in three) of our children live in poverty.

Creggan Central( 63%) has the highest level of poverty, followed by Brandywell ( 61%) and Creggan South ( 59%) – these are stark figures that cannot be ignored

More than half of all children in Shantallow east (58%) Westland(54%) and Shantallow west(53%) also live in poverty. Everything we do must focus on changing these patterns and outcomes across our city.

I would therefore like to concentrate on the recent Child Poverty report from the Child Poverty Action Group and its link with academic selection. Whilst eradication of child poverty requires departmental focus, early intervention and of course investment and jobs there can be no denying that child poverty and deprivation has a direct link with academic selection – this is a link that is not often referenced.

In March 2011 through the One Plan we have identified 11 catalyst projects which will effect regeneration and equality. Whilst progress is at varying degrees I pose the question as to the potential for our city to lead the way in early intervention.

Increasing evidence shows us of the critical benefit of intervention in a child’s life between 0- 6 years. This benefit effects the child directly, family, community and often has wider indirect economic impact. Early intervention in Scotland resulted in a savings of £5.4million to the Scottish economy. The Economic and Social Research institute of Ireland stated that for every Euro invested you get seven Euro in return.

Its therefore evidenced to suggest that early intervention and family support can benefit a child and young person through health outcomes, educational attainment, employment opportunities and often prevents intervention with policing and the criminal justice system.

Evidence shows us that a child’s development score at 22 months can serve as a predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years.

It is clear that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to lifelong development. Whilst there are many examples of best practice across the city of organisations working in early years doing excellent work but collectively as a city we have not maximised or prioritised the importance of this intervention approach.

We have many challenges around deprivation, unemployment, alcohol dependency and domestic violence. It remains the case that family support is still seen as a service rather than a way of doing this. Whilst there is ongoing work in both the Department of Health and Education we need to an “educ- care” approach to children and young people.

However all of this should consolidate our resolve to give every child a good start. 2014 should be an opportunity for Derry to step up to the mark – to work towards becoming an early Intervention city, to target support to areas of most need, that this is a year that delivers on a rights based approach and that we become a place that cherishes all of the children of our city equally.