Early child and family support ‘wishes’: The urgent need for a leap forward (with reference to Portugal 25)

The TAC approach with its multi-agency keyworker is straightforward, easy to manage and effective in family terms

Editorial: TAC Bulletin readers might have seen my ‘wishes’ for content in the coming Portugal conference 2025. These started with:Early child and family support conference in Portugal (September 2025) by ISEI and Eurlyaid. An opportunity for an evolutionary leap forward. 1

and followed a paper by Michael Guralnick: Thoughts following Michael Guralnick’s 2023 paper on design of early child and family support

In these comments I have suggested the pace of development of early child and family support around the world is extremely slow and might even be losing ground as the proportion of the world’s children we are helping is reducing for various reasons.

I am guessing that those of us in the early child and family support world share an ambition which I describe as:

That there will be a well-organised early child and family support system in each part of each region of every county that is effective in family terms, is integrated between local agencies and is available at the time of need to all families in the locality.

The children in this description are those babies and pre-school children who have significant challenges to their development and learning. Those of us in the early child and family support world include: family members; early child and family support workers and managers; interested people who have disabilities and interested academics. As it stands, this is a small enclosed world that the bigger world is hardly ever aware of.

It is logical to expect that early child and family support will eventually become as universal as education is for school-age children. This is fitting because in my view early child and family support is largely an exercise in education. I wonder how much progress we can make towards this in the next 50 years.  We must take stock and agree ways to leap forward because the years pass by so quickly.

Fifty years ago I was in a UK project supporting the closure of the institutions for children and adults (called ‘long-stay mental handicap hospitals’). This was an entirely valid effort but I have come to see since that any move in any country to keep babies and pre-school children at home with their families instead of in institutions requires local systems of effective early child and family support: See: One-to-One: An experiment in community participation in long-stay hospitals

Twenty five to thirty years ago I was supporting families and writing about the team around the child approach (TAC): When the Bough Breaks: An independent survey into families’ perceptions of One Hundred Hours keyworker service (1994).

and: Team Around the Child: Multi-agency service coordination for children with complex needs and their families (2001). Free PDF of the whole book

The TAC approach with its multi-agency keyworker was straightforward, easy to manage and effective in family terms. It is an approach that has transferred to some other countries but it has never managed to gain the interest of academics who could have researched its working and helped spread the approach. I sometimes think the idea was not complicated enough for them: The Keyworker: a practical guide (in family support)

and: Collaborating to deliver excellence and equity for children with disability and their families - Preci in Australia

But I always imagined that by 2024/5 we would be much further forward than we are.  If we continue at the present pace the needle pointing towards universal early child and family support for children with special needs will barely flicker on its dial during the next 50 years!

So, what are the main obstacles to progress? What is holding us back? I want to give my view on these questions in a series of ‘leaping forward’ articles in TAC Bulletin. My focus will be the experience of children, families and early support workers at the grass roots. The first one will be a fresh look at families. Following the five wishes for the Portugal conference this will be number 6. 

Peter Limbrick, Interconnections. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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