With child abuse and neglect, it’s the emotional cost that hits us all the hardest. But when it comes to providing the services that could reduce the number of victims and the severity of the damage done, the language of Government is that of money. As such, how such services could be afforded is the ultimate question.

For many working in local authorities nowadays, it’s a grim subject to address. The pressures they face to provide effective children’s services were laid bare in a recent analysis [1] by the Local Government Association, which showed that their attempts to do so in 2015/16 led to an overspend on their children’s social care budgets of £605 million. Sadly, this dwindling pot of money is being increasingly focused at the point of crisis, while attempts to prevent such issues developing in the first place are being pared back. Aside from the untold suffering being allowed to manifest as a result, this approach is nothing more than a false economy.

There is a general consensus among experts from the World Health Organisation, the Royal College of Midwives, the Institute for Health Visiting and UNICEF that investing in prevention and early intervention saves money in the long run. This saving is by no means meagre: the 2011 Christie Commission in Scotland estimated [2] that 40 percent of local public spending is only needed due to the failure to intervene early enough to prevent dysfunction. Ultimately, the earlier you intervene, the better, which is why the most cost-effective approach to saving the greatest number of children from trauma is to stop the next generation of would-be perpetrators from going down that route in the first place.

This is because there are reasons why some people commit acts of cruelty and why others don’t. Like a trigger without a bomb, people don’t normally react violently or abusively towards others if there are no psychological impulses pushing them to do so. For many, these “bombs” were placed in their heads as a result of maltreatment they experienced as children themselves, most crucially during their first few years of existence.

From birth to age three, a child’s brain is developing at its fastest rate and is highly influenced by the nature of its surroundings. If a child is raised well during this period, they will most likely go on to be a non-violent, non-abusive parent and citizen. But if a child experiences maltreatment at this age, the impact upon their psychology is at its most profound and their chances of going on to become a perpetrator later on increase with the severity of the trauma faced.

Because of the extent to which people’s psychology is formed during this brief window, ensuring that every child is protected, nurtured and well-raised during those crucial early years is the most cost-effective way to reduce the number of violent people in society, and with it the number of children who fall victim to their crimes.

If the country as a whole had taken this approach years ago, we’d be spending far smaller amounts on fewer victims by now. Instead, we’re spending more money to witness more suffering. Let’s invest wisely in a fully-funded early years prevention strategy for every local authority and end this cycle of saddening, costly violence for good.

George Hosking OBE is the CEO of WAVE Trust, a charity committed to reducing the number of children experiencing maltreatment by 70% by 2030. You can find out more about this 70/30 Campaign at www.70-30.org.uk

[1] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/childrens-social-care-breaking-point-council-leaders-warn
[2] (Point 2.14) http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2011/06/27154527/4

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