Prevention and Early Intervention Unit

Prevention and early interventions have a strong common-sense appeal.  Most people are familiar with the idiom “prevention is better than cure”.  However, effective prevention and early interventions rely on both knowing what to do (scientific understanding of cause and effect) and being in a position to act (the capacity of the government to intervene in social life).

The focus of the Prevention & Early Intervention Unit’s (PEIU) work is on prevention and early interventions that can improve the life outcomes of children as well as the quality of life of older people dealing within long term conditions such as chronic illness (this is seen as being within the context of population health).

The purpose of this webpage is to provide access to the work of the PEIU which was established under A Programme for a Partnership Government by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform.


The PEIU has undertaken a broad programme of work.  In carrying out its work, the PEIU has examined key prevention and early intervention policies and programmes across the areas of health, older people, and children, young people and their families.  The PEIU has also held a series of dialogues with policy experts and practitioners to examine how they conceptualise prevention and early intervention.

Building on this work, the PEIU has published a number of papers that step back from the detail of the individual policies and programmes in order to identify ways of supporting the design and implementation of such public policies.

Beyond “prevention is better than cure”: understanding prevention and early intervention as an approach to public policy  (The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is freely available in Policy Design & Practice (2020) here.)

Experience suggests that enthusiasm for acting early to prevent a policy challenge from emerging or worsening often wanes when confronted with the reality of implementing effective policies.  This paper draws on insights from the policy making literature to identify key themes that support the development of prevention and early intervention as an approach to public policy.  Using qualitative data from two dialogue sessions, this paper shows how these themes reflect how policy experts’ and practitioners’ conceptualise prevention and early intervention as public policy.  Finally, this paper identifies opportunities for policy-makers to improve the design and implementation of such policies through greater understanding of the perspectives and roles of stakeholders and the use of public resources.

Understanding Prevention and Early Intervention as Public Policy: A comparison of policies and programmes in Ireland (here)

This Working Paper compares a range of key prevention and early intervention policies and programmes in Ireland to examine the extent to which a general understanding of prevention and early intervention reflects the reality of designing and implementing effective policies and programmes.  This paper finds that:

  • While government departments play a key role, they are not the sole source of ideas, expertise and resources for such policies and programmes and they operate in a context of strong expectations of engagement with local level stakeholders.
  • While evidence demonstrating what works is at the core of efforts to design and implement such policies and programmes, in a context of complex policy challenges and complex policy interventions, familiar rigorous evaluations (e.g., RCTs) may not be available or appropriate and policy makers may need to rely on evidence derived from more incremental approaches that are focused on achieving a better understand of the policy challenge and the factors that influence it.
  • While prevention and early intervention may be associated with an expectation of an almost immediate benefit of avoiding (serious) harm, it may be some time before such benefits are realised, the benefits extend beyond the individual to society more generally and may also include the promotion of factors that support an individual’s development rather than simply the avoidance of harm.

Prevention and Early Intervention – Policy Design and Implementation (here)

This Working Paper has been co-authored with officials from the Department of Health and the Department of Children & Youth Affairs.  This paper sets out key issues and provides insights into methods and approaches that lend themselves to the field of prevention and early intervention.  This Working Paper has an evidence-for-policy focus that underpins its consideration of both the design and implementation of prevention and early intervention policies and programme.  A policy cycle has been used to structure this Working Paper in order to consider methods, approaches, and issues surrounding PEI within a framework that is familiar to policy makers.