1.1.4 Early Help / Early Support / Early Intervention

1. Introduction – What is Early Help?

Providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges, at any point in a child's life, from the foundation years through to the teenage years. Early help can also prevent further problems arising; for example, if it is provided as part of a support plan where a child has returned home to their family from care, or in families where there are emerging parental mental health issues or drug and alcohol misuse.

Effective early help relies upon local organisations and agencies working together to:

  • Identify children and families who would benefit from early help;
  • Undertake an assessment of the need for early help;
  • Provide targeted early help services to address the assessed needs of a child and their family which focuses on activity to improve the outcomes for the child.

Local organisations and agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs of individual children and families. Local authorities should work with organisations and agencies to develop joined-up early help services based on a clear understanding of local needs. This requires all practitioners, including those in universal services and those providing services to adults with children, to understand their role in identifying emerging problems and to share information with other practitioners to support early identification and assessment.

Practitioners should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:

  • Is disabled and has specific additional needs;
  • Has special educational needs (whether or not they have a statutory Education, Health and Care Plan);
  • Is a young carer;
  • Is showing signs of being drawn into anti-social or criminal behaviour, including gang involvement and association with organised crime groups;
  • Is frequently missing/goes missing from care or from home;
  • Is at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation;
  • Is at risk of being radicalised or exploited;
  • Is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as drug and alcohol misuse, adult mental health issues and domestic abuse;
  • Is misusing drugs or alcohol themselves;
  • Has returned home to their family from care;
  • Is a privately fostered child.

Effective assessment of the need for early help.

Children and families may need support from a wide range of local organisations and agencies. Where a child and family would benefit from co-ordinated support from more than one organisation or agency (e.g. education, health, housing, police) there should be an inter-agency assessment. These Early Help Assessments should be evidence-based, be clear about the action to be taken and services to be provided and identify what help the child and family require to prevent needs escalating to a point where intervention would be needed through a statutory assessment under the Children Act 1989.

A lead practitioner should undertake the assessment, provide help to the child and family, act as an advocate on their behalf and co-ordinate the delivery of support services. A GP, family support worker, school nurse, teacher, health visitor and/or special educational needs co-ordinator could undertake the lead practitioner role. Decisions about who should be the lead practitioner should be taken on a case-by-case basis and should be informed by the child and their family.

For an Early Help Assessment to be effective:

  • It should be undertaken with the agreement of the child and their parents or carers, involving the child and family as well as all the practitioners who are working with them. It should take account of the child's wishes and feelings wherever possible, their age, family circumstances and the wider community context in which they are living;
  • Practitioners should be able to discuss concerns they may have about a child and family with a social worker in the local authority. Local authority children's social care should set out the process for how this will happen.
In cases where consent is not given for an Early Help Assessment, practitioners should consider how the needs of the child might be met. If at any time it is considered that the child may be a child in need, as defined in the Children Act 1989, or that the child has suffered significant harm or is likely to do so, a referral should be made immediately to local authority children's social care. This referral can be made by any practitioner.

2. Assessing Children and Families with Additional Needs

Each area has its own local process for assessing and supporting children and families with additional needs Please see below:

REMEMBER - The Early Help Assessment is not for when there is concern that a child may have been harmed or may be at risk of harm. In these circumstances, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care Services (see Referrals Procedure).