In recent years, early intervention has received growing policy attention across a number of government departments in the UK and abroad. In practice, early intervention means identifying children who are deemed at risk of being ‘poorly parented’; these children and their families are then provided with support through a range of services such as parenting classes for new mums and dads, and early identification of cognitive and behavioural challenges in children. Through such programs, EI seeks to enhance the ‘life chances’ of babies in order that they grow up to fulfill their potential, breaking intergenerational cycles of poor outcomes for families.
EI has received little bioethics scrutiny to date, which is surprising, given its complex association of social goods with public health promotion and intervention into individual biological destinies. Important ethical questions arise about the role and responsibilities of the State to intervene in the lives of citizens, and the justifications and means used by policy makers to shape the cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes of populations now and in the future.
This paper provides an ethical analysis of UK Early Intervention Policy. Through an in-depth qualitative analysis of policy documents, we excavate the normative claims, values and arguments made both explicitly and implicitly within policy. These normative arguments are then evaluated, drawing from theories of justice within the philosophical literature. This evaluation allows us finally to assess whether the ethical claims made within EI policy are justified.
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