Early Help Assessment

1. Introduction

Multi-agency working can make a unique contribution to preventative and early intervention services, because it has been shown to be the most effective way of addressing the wide range of risk factors that contribute to poorer outcomes for children and young people.

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 wellbeing of all children in the authority's area, which includes protection from harm and neglect. The local authority's relevant partners are listed in Agency Roles and Responsibilities Procedure.

2. Early Help Assessment

Providing Early Help Assessment is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early Help Assessment 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.

Effective Early Help Assessment relies upon local agencies working together to:

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

3. Identifying Children and Families who would benefit from Early Help Assessment

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.

Professionals should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for Early Help Assessment for a child who:

  • Is disabled and has specific additional needs;
  • Has Special Educational Needs;
  • Is a young carer;
  • Is showing signs of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour;
  • Is in family circumstances presenting challenges for the child, such as substance abuse, adult mental health difficulties, domestic violence, poverty, inadequate housing;
  • 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 what types of interventions are the most effective.

4. Effective Assessment of the Need for Early Help Assessment

Local agencies should work together to put processes in place for the effective assessment of the needs of individual children who may benefit from Early Help Assessment services.

Children and families may need support from a wide range of local agencies. Where a child and family would benefit from coordinated support from more than one agency (e.g. education, health, housing, Police) there should be an inter-agency process in place. Early Help 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 1989 (see Working Together to Safeguard Children for more information).

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 coordinate 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 coordinator. 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.

For an Early Help Assessment to be effective:

  • The assessment should be undertaken with the agreement of the child and their parents or carers. It should involve the child and family as well as all the professionals who are working with them;
  • A teacher, GP, health visitor, youth worker, early years' worker or other professional should be able to discuss concerns they may have about a child and family with a professional from Early Help Assessment and/or Social Care in the local authority. Local authority Children's Social Care should set out the process for how this will happen; and
  • If parents and/or the child do not consent to an Early Help Assessment, the Lead Professional / Practitioner should make a judgement as to whether, without help, the needs of the child will escalate. If so, a referral into local authority Children's Social Care may be necessary.
If at any time it is considered that the child may be a Child in Need or that the child has suffered Significant Harm or is likely to do so, a referral should be made immediately to Children's Social Care. This referral can be made by any professional. See Referrals Procedure.

5. Provision of Effective Early Help Assessment Services

Early Help Assessments carried out for an individual child and their family should be clear about the action to be taken and services to be provided (including any relevant timescales) and aim to ensure that Early Help Assessment services are coordinated and not delivered in a piecemeal way.

Local areas should have a range of effective, evidence-based services in place to address assessed needs early. The Early Help Assessment on offer should draw upon the local assessment of need and the latest evidence of the effectiveness of Early Help Assessment and early intervention programmes. In addition to high quality support in universal services, specific local Early Help Assessment services will typically include family and parenting programmes, assistance with health issues and help for problems relating to drugs, alcohol and domestic violence. Services may also focus on improving family functioning and building the family's own capability to solve problems; this should be done within a structured, evidence-based framework involving regular review to ensure that real progress is being made. Some of these services may be delivered to parents but should always be evaluated to demonstrate the impact they are having on the outcomes for the child. Practitioners from each agency involved should contribute to on-going assessment (including analysis) and implementation of the plan, and its review.

6. Accessing Help and Services

The provision of Early Help Assessment services should form part of a continuum of help and support to respond to the different levels of need of individual children and families.

Where need is relatively low level individual services and universal services may be able to take swift action. For other emerging needs a range of Early Help Assessment services may be required, coordinated through an agreed process, as set out above. Where there are more complex needs, help may be provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (children in need). Where there are child protection concerns (reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm) local authority Social Care services must make enquiries and decide if any action must be taken under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

It is important that there are clear criteria for taking action and providing help across this full continuum. Having clear thresholds for action which are understood by all professionals, and applied consistently, should ensure that services are commissioned effectively and that the right help is given to the child at the right time. For more information see Thresholds for Access to Services for Children and Families in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Children's Social Care.

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should make a Referral - see: Referrals Procedure. For example, referrals may come from: children themselves, teachers, a GP, the Police, health visitors, family members and members of the public. Within local authorities, Children's Social Care should act as the principal point of contact for welfare concerns relating to children. Therefore, as well as clear protocols for professionals working with children, contact details should be signposted clearly so that children, parents and other family members are aware of who they can contact if they require advice and/or support.

When professionals refer a child, they should include any information they have on the child's developmental needs and the capacity of the child's parents or carers to meet those needs. This information may be included in any assessment, which may have been carried out prior to a referral into Children's Social Care. Where an Early Help Assessment has already been undertaken it should be used to support a referral to Children's Social Care, however this is not a prerequisite for making a referral.

Feedback should be given by Children's Social Care to the referrer on the decisions taken. Where appropriate, this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold to be considered by Children's Social Care for assessment and suggestions for other sources of more suitable support.