01.05.2011 Creating a level playing field for all children and adolescents

Early identification and early intervention in schools and municipalities. The majority of children and adolescents in Switzerland are healthy and cope well with the challenges facing them. But about 10 to 20% of all young people are at risk of developing difficulties of a health-related or social nature (e.g. addiction, violence, social marginalisation or emotional pressures). Municipalities and schools are well advised to consider their approach to such problems at an early stage so as to have the necessary structures and procedures in place before any actual cases become too serious for the pupils or schools to handle.

Pictures Creating a level playing field for all children and adolescents


The aim of early identification and early intervention is to enable children and adolescents to cope with developmental phases and problems without harming their health or putting their social integration and further development at risk.
Most children and adolescents are perfectly capable of resolving such difficulties, whether on their own or with help from their social environment. But a small, not clearly quantifiable number of young people slip through the social net and may fall into a downward spiral. To be able to help these adolescents and to increase equality of opportunity, municipalities and schools need to have a culture and a system of observation and support. This is also in their own interests because personal problems and behaviours often create challenges for and consequential pressures on these systems. Observation and support are the cornerstones of the concept of early identification and early intervention. It should be understood as an integrated concept because the two areas – identification and intervention – are interdependent and have to be regarded as a single unit. There can be no intervention without first identifying the problem. Conversely, early identification of pressures and negative developments does not help if those affected cannot be offered appropriate support.

Successful early identification and early intervention requires
a systematic approach
The aim of early identification and early intervention services is to ensure timely recognition and support for young people at risk and find appropriate assistance for them to develop healthily. The focus is on promotion of the individual. This goal requires setting-based activities,  i.e. cooperating in school and community settings with locally active people and specialists who work with children and adolescents. These include clubs, youth workers, the authorities, teachers, school management and specialists in prevention, counselling and treatment.
For successful early identification and early intervention, certain elements and measures have to be in place in both settings. These have to be defined in the framework of a project. Once a defined mandate, project management and project group are in place, knowledge has to be communicated and an awareness of early symptoms created in all participants. A shared attitude has also to be developed. This relates to such questions as how to deal with problematic behaviour, for instance whether integration- or exclusion-based methods are to be used. In addition, common goals and rules of conduct have to be developed. Lastly, at the implementation level, the respective tasks, procedures and responsibilities of all those taking part or involved have to be defined. The core element of early identification and early intervention approaches are the intervention guidelines and/or action plan which emerge from the project and which lay down binding procedures, responsibilities and interfaces.

Early identification and early intervention programmes in schools and municipalities
Since 2006, RADIX – the Swiss centre of excellence for health promotion and prevention – has been implementing early identification and early intervention programmes in schools and municipalities on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). To date, it has reached 57 schools and 36 municipalities in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, and a wide range of experience has been gathered. Looking back, it is becoming clear that every project is different in terms of its structures, processes and outcomes. This is due to the differing starting situations, problems and needs involved.
In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, RADIX initiated two new three-year early identification and early intervention programmes for communities and schools in March 2011, to run parallel to the ongoing programme of “Intervention précoce dans le champ de la formation (2010–2012)” [Early intervention in the educational field (2010–2012)]. The focus in the next three years will not be on implementing the largest possible number of projects but on drawing up and developing the groundwork and tools, documenting good practice models and ensuring multiplication of the knowledge acquired. This will involve collating the experiences of the last few years, transforming them into a form suitable for practical use and implementation and making them available to other interested parties. A total of up to nine municipalities and nine schools can take part in the programmes. They are implemented in cooperation with RADIX and receive on-site support from a local or cantonal specialist unit. RADIX sets up these contacts. Municipalities and schools can join the programmes as their needs and resources dictate. Joining a programme will be possible until about mid-2013, provided there are places available.

The following goals and services constitute the core of the 2011–2014 phase of the programme:
– The RADIX programmes for early identification and early intervention in schools and municipalities are geared to nationwide application (German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland).
– RADIX develops the groundwork and tools in cooperation with the partner organisations and makes these available to the municipalities, schools and specialist units taking part in the programme and subsequently on www.radix.ch.
– Good practice models are documented and made available.
– RADIX networks the programme participants across cantonal boundaries and helps develop cooperation between the responsible cantonal authorities, the specialist units and the projects.
– RADIX organises various knowledge transfer and experience sharing events.
The participating municipalities and schools benefit from the following free services:
– Use of all RADIX groundwork documents and tools and of the experience gained to date.
– Participation in the annual exchange of experience for participating municipalities and schools.
– Participation in the annual exchange of experience for the specialists providing support from the participating municipalities and schools.
– Reduced rate for taking part in RADIX’s early identification and early intervention conferences.

Expectations to be met by the participating municipalities and schools:
– Development and introduction of early identification and early intervention services in accordance with RADIX’s general specifications.
– Cooperation with a specialist unit (as a rule, these assume responsibility for providing support as laid down in their prevention mandate).
– Participation in meetings organised for the exchange of experience.
– Documentation of their efforts to multiply knowledge (www.radix.ch).

Early identification and early intervention services are an investment in the future not only of children and adolescents, but also of the schools and municipalities themselves, and help create a level playing field for vulnerable young people in Switzerland. They are a proactive, targeted and sustainable form of prevention that calls for self-critical examination of the effectiveness of structures, processes and cooperative alliances within the institutions and for improvements to be made to them as required.


develops and implements health promotion and prevention services for everyday practice. It cooperates closely with the federal authorities, cantons, municipalities, schools and also many specialist organisations. Early identification and early intervention are a focal point of its activities. Further information on the programmes: Carlo Fabian, head of RADIX Northwestern Switzerland and head of Healthy Communities, fabian@radix.ch
Information on the programme “Intervention précoce dans le champ de la formation (2010–2012)”: Gaël Pannatier, pannatier@radix.ch or Marie-Claire Rey-Baeriswyl, Marie-Claire.Rey-Baeriswyl@hef-ts.ch

Publication: “Früherkennung und Frühintervention in Schulen. Lessons learned”. [Early identification and early intervention in schools. Lessons learned.] Fabian, Carlo & Müller, Caroline. (2010). Berne: RADIX. Order at www.radix.ch/f-f.


Pia Oetiker, Drugs Section, pia.oetiker@bag.admin.ch

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