Lack of evidence-based interventions risks leaving young people behind

Date: 18 July 2013

Report findings launched today, one year into the ground-breaking Realising Ambition programme, show that there is currently a lack of evidence-based programmes to choose from in the UK. The report shows that challenges in recruiting sufficiently qualified or experienced staff, along with internal bureaucracy mean successful early intervention programmes aimed at helping vulnerable children act as a barrier to successful replication. However whilst the replication of evidence-based and promising interventions is hard, the majority of projects supported by the Realising Ambition are succeeding in replicating to new areas.

With £25 million funding from the Big Lottery Fund – the largest investment of its kind – Catch22, the Social Research Unit at Dartington, The Young Foundation and Substance are supporting 25 varied projects across the UK through the Realising Ambition programme. Working directly with thousands of 8-14 year olds, each project is being supported for up to five years to refine their interventions and build organisation capacity and build evidence of the impact of these most promising and effective interventions, allowing these projects to then be replicated across different parts of the UK.

Funders, policy-makers and commissioners often lack the evidence needed to use their resources to best effect. Realising Ambition will provide greater understanding of how organisations can deliver the best outcomes for young people. There will be an increased emphasis on early intervention ensuring that the money is invested when young people most need support.

The report presents a range of findings at the end of the first year, highlighting a lack of evidence-based programmes available for funders and commissioners to choose from in the UK. The report also highlights that whilst it is relatively easy to identify evidence-based interventions internationally, it has historically been more challenging to find promising UK home-grown projects. Less than 4% of the initial 240 programme applications met the highest standards of evidence, and most of these were internationally developed. Realising Ambition sets out to redress this balance.

The report acknowledges the challenges organisations face in undertaking replication, in particular the challenges faced in training and recruiting sufficiently qualified or experienced staff. Furthermore internal bureaucracies and politics served as a potential barrier to spreading replication across geographical areas and service delivery teams. Service providers, commissioners and funders will need to work to overcome these obstacles in order to guarantee improved UK-wide service provision for vulnerable young people.
Realising Ambition aims to improve a variety of children’s outcomes, all with the ultimate aim of reducing the likelihood that they subsequently become involved in the criminal justice system in later years. Realising Ambition projects tackle some of the most pressing issues facing vulnerable young people today, including school exclusion, substance abuse, violence and family breakdown.

Sally Morris, Executive Director Young People and Families, Catch22 said:

“Investing upstream and in evidenced-based interventions is key to transforming public services. The lessons learnt from this unique and ambitious programme have the potential to deliver real and lasting change to thousands of young people and help them to realise their full aspirations. This report marks a significant milestone in Realising Ambition’s progress towards gathering the evidence we need in order to provide young people and their families with the support they need. It is also reinforces why, despite the challenges, we need to continue to invest in the refinement and rigorous evaluation of the most promising and evidence-based interventions”.

Ceri Doyle, Interim Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund, said:

“Realising Ambition and the partnership promoting it, continues to be a major priority for the Big Lottery Fund. Replicating best practice is hard. Whilst there are programmes designed to deter children and young people from a life of offending, the evidence of their effectiveness is limited. Early findings from the Realising Ambition evaluation can help both commissioners and policy makers in understanding what works, where to invest and how to develop the most effective service delivery models in this challenging area. We’ll ensure that we continue to share the learning from this ground breaking programme with other funders, commissioners, policy makers and service delivery organisations. ”

Tim Hobbs, Social Research Unit at Dartington, said:
“Realising Ambition represents a fundamental investment shift towards replicating and rigorously evaluating evidence-based and promising services for children and young people in the UK. Not only is the Realising Ambition programme supporting the replication of ten interventions underpinned by some of the highest standards of evidence, it is also seeking to grow the limited evidence-base in the UK. As the report highlights, less than 4% of services for children and young people applying to the fund were underpinned by high standards of evidence, and most of those were developed and evaluated overseas. Realising Ambition is investing in the most rigorous evaluation of the most promising UK home-grown interventions, which includes four randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Realising Ambition will therefore make a significant contribution to the emerging evidence-base in the UK.”

For more information please contact Millie Shuter on 0203 544 4952 or

Notes to editors

About Catch22:

• A forward looking social business, Catch22 has over two hundred years’ experience of providing services that help people in tough situations to turn their lives around.
• Our programmes help those we work with to steer clear of crime or substance misuse, do the best they can in school or college and develop skills for work, live independently on leaving care or custody, gain new skills and confidence as parents, and play a full part in their community.
• In 2011/12 we worked directly with 34,000 young people, families and adult offenders in 150 localities, supporting a further 49,000 young people through national partnership programmes.
• Asked what difference we had made in 2011/12, nearly 93% of the people we supported who responded said they now had hope for the future, 86% had gained in confidence and felt they had more control over their lives, and 83% had achieved more than they expected.
• For more information visit

About the Social Research Unit at Dartington
• The Social Research Unit at Dartington is an independent charity that seeks to increase the use of evidence of what works in designing and delivering services for children and their families. We are also a strong advocate of prevention and early intervention based approaches.
• The Social Research Unit has over fifty years’ experience of researching what works in improving children’s outcomes across the education, health, social care and criminal justice systems.
• The Social Research Unit works to disseminate research on what works to people working at the frontline of services, by bridging the gap between social science evidence and everyday service delivery. The Social Research Unit have significant expertise in the design, delivery and implementation of evidence-based programmes and interventions.
• Much of their work is also focused on supporting decision-makers and practitioners to develop and use evidence of what works in decisions that get made about how children’s services are designed, commissioned and delivered.

About the Big Lottery Fund:
• The Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.
• The Fund is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since June 2004 the Fund has awarded over £6bn.
• The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.
• Since the National Lottery began in 1994, 28p from every pound spent by the public has gone to good causes. As a result, over £30 billion has now been raised and more than 400,000 grants awarded across arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment.

About The Young Foundation:

• The Young Foundation is determined to make positive social change happen. We pioneered the field of social innovation with The Open University, UpRising and Studio Schools. We work closely with individuals, communities and partners building relationships to ensure that our thinking does something, our actions matter and the changes we make together will continue to grow. ( )

About Substance:

• Substance is an experienced social research co-operative working in the youth, sport and social development sectors. We help projects and organisations delivering personal, community and social development to improve and demonstrate impact and value.