Time to get off the ‘pontoons’ of Early Intervention?

Time to get off the ‘pontoons’ of Early Intervention?

Time to get off the ‘pontoons’ of Early Intervention?

Early Intervention

Time to stop building the pontoons of Early Intervention?

‘There comes a point where we need to stop pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.’ Is Bishop Desmond Tutu describing Early Intervention here? Or is there another path we can take?

In my last blog on getting upstream of the river to stop people falling in, I explored some of the challenges that prevent police officers and others with a responsibility for community safety from starting that journey. Since then I’ve had a lot of feedback on how services should be adopting problem solving principles that will us to the next level of Early Intervention. There’s no doubt that there is an appetite to get a grip of the issues that create huge amounts of demand on services and a massive human cost to individuals and families. The types of problems mentioned included:

Troubled Families

Mental Health


Missing Persons

Drug and alcohol addiction

All of these problems are hugely complex and are invariably ‘Wicked’ in how they present to services in that they often overlap and require a strong partnership approach to address them.

Using Desmond Tutu’s river analogy, those who Early Intervention teams are trying to support have already fallen in. What we’ve done is to get further upstream to where they’ve fallen in and set up a series of pontoons to help get them out of the water. Depending on the service, these pontoons are at different points on the river, with some closer to where people are falling in than others. Many of the pontoons are also connected so that the staff on each one of them can cross over to the other with supportive information and skills. The Early Intervention success stories are where individuals and families are taken to the point where they can leave the pontoon on a boat that will take them back to the safety of land.

However, those who arrive on the pontoons have already spent some time in the water where for some of them it has become a comfortable place to be. Frustratingly this is the reason we often find people falling back into the river.

With Austerity we now face as new problem as the pontoons become smaller with fewer professionals on them, which has resulted in us having to build gates at the top of the pontoon steps to stop some getting out of the river. This results in those who need support having to swim over to another pontoon, either one of their choosing, or one that they have been referred to, where they might also come across more closed gates or gates with conditions of entry they can’t work out.

And so those we have pulled out of the river on one or more occasions slip past us as they fall back into the water only to be pulled out further downstream by our colleagues from police response teams, mental health crisis teams, Accident and Emergency or increasingly by third sector voluntary organisations and charities. Once out of the water we either take them on one of our boats back to the pontoons or we leave them to take the path downstream on their own. The thing is, it’s a path with very slippy banks and often we don’t see them fall back into the river again.

While all of this is happening do we sometimes forget to celebrate the successes behind those who are taken back to shore who don’t fall back into the river? And what about the influencers in the riverside community who help support and guide people away from the river’s edge?

What if we could reduce the need for the complex systems that enable our pontoons to exist? While we might always need them in the river as a safety net, is it time to embark on a new path along the riverbank – is it time to stop being public servants and to adopt a new paradigm? In my previous blog I described some of the challenges that prevent us building this path, the one that takes us directly to the community so that we can start build a fence at the edge of the river, one that stops all but the most determined from falling in.

In my next blog I’ll describe how we can start that journey. Interestingly it’s one that small numbers of innovators have already started where they’re focusing on enabling and building the assets within communities as opposed to trying to fix what is broken on the pontoons. They’ve already adopted a new paradigm, that of citizen enablers.






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