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.
Effective early help relies upon local 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 significantly improve the outcomes for the child/Local authorities under section 10 of the Children Act 2004 have a responsibility to promote inter-agency cooperation to improve the welfare of children
Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 requires each local authority to make arrangements to promote cooperation between the authority, each of the authority's relevant partners and such other persons or bodies working with children in the local authority's area as the authority considers appropriate. The arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the well-being of all children in the authority's area, which includes protection from harm and neglect. The local authority's relevant partners are listed in Working Together.
Identifying children and families who would benefit from early help
Local agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs for individual children and families. This requires all professionals 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 professionals to support early identification and assessment.
Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training including multi-agency training for all professionals in the area. Training should cover how to identify and respond early to the needs of all vulnerable children including unborn children; babies; older children; young carers; disabled children and those who are in secure settings.
Professionals should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:
- is disabled and has a specific additional needs
- has special educational needs
- is a young carer
- is showing signs of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour
- is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as substance abuse, adult mental health problems and domestic violence
- is showing early signs of abuse and/or neglect
Professionals working in universal services have a responsibility to identify the symptoms and triggers of abuse and neglect, to share that information and work together to provide children and young people with the help they need. Practitioners need to continue to develop their knowledge and skills in this area. They should have access to training to identify and respond early to abuse and neglect, and to the latest research showing which types of interventions are the most effective.
Effective assessment of the need for early help
Local agencies should work together to put processes in place for effective assessment of the needs of individual children who may benefit from early help services.
Children and families may need support from a wide range of local agencies. Where a child and family would benefit from co-ordinated support from more than one agency (e.g. education, health, housing, police) there should be an inter-agency assessment. These early assessments should identify what help the child and family require to prevent needs escalating to a point where intervention would be needed via a statutory assessment under the Children Act 2004 1989.
The early help assessment should be undertaken by a lead professional who should provide support to the child and family, act as an advocate on their behalf and co-ordinate the delivery of support services. The lead professional role could be undertaken by a General Practitioner (GP), family support worker, teacher, health visitor and/or special educational needs co-ordinator. Decisions about who should be the lead professional should be taken on a case by case basis and should be informed by the child and their family.