Putting children and families first with an Early Offer of Help

This is the second blog in our series on the Early Help Offer, as an addition to universal preventative services for children and troubled families.

Back in 2011 Professor Eileen Munro recommended that the government place a statutory duty on local authorities and their partners to ensure enough early intervention services were in place.

This would ensure the need to make every child and family that falls beneath child protection thresholds an ‘Early Help Offer’, effectively of tailored services and resources. The wider Early Offer of Help refers to support in the critical early years of a child’s life when the fundamental building blocks of a child’s development are laid. This also gives support throughout a child, young person’s or family’s life and enables them to respond quickly when issues emerge. It helps to prevent difficulties escalating or becoming entrenched.

Improving the life chances of children

Preventative services and appropriate identification are more efficient for families and more cost effective than reactive services. They are also more effective in improving the life chances of children, young people and their families.

Universal preventative services, including pre natal support, are widely available to the whole population, to prevent problems developing in the first place. There are processes in place for assessing whether a child or family is in need of Early Help and Prevention.

It is accepted that most families achieve these outcomes while accessing universal services such as health visitors, schools, GPs etc. The key principles for consideration are:

  • Child first – ensure that the welfare of children and young people is the main priority and that the view of the child is considered at all stages.
  • Family focused – acknowledge that working with families as a whole is often vital in achieving wellbeing for children and young people. Parenting skills and practices, for example, will have a major impact on outcomes for children and young people.
  • Staying safe – be certain that any issues relating to the safety of children and young people are effectively and rapidly identified and addressed.
  • Easy access – enable people and practitioners to gain access easily to appropriate support.
  • Early Help – provide appropriate support as early as practicable to prevent problems escalating, reducing the demand for more intensive and expensive services.
  • Consistent approach – provide consistent information, advice and support by ensuring local agencies are working to consistent approaches and processes.
  • Skilled generalists – these are practitioners assigned to families and individuals facing a wide range of issues and problems that meet certain needs thresholds. This will help to provide co-ordinated and consistent support to people and avoid them having to deal separately with a wide range of services.
  • Promoting independence – encouraging and enabling families to maintain their quality of life through accessing provision in their local community (helping them to help themselves).
  • Accessible and delivered locally – where practicable, providing services within local communities.
  • Trust and respect – trying to develop a trusting relationship between children, families and support services, ensuring the views of all are respected when trying to work together.
  • Strengths-based approach – recognising people’s strengths and building on them to help reduce risk.
Approach to more severe and challenging problems

Nevertheless, there are some families that experience greater difficulties, and are more likely to access high cost services. They are also more at risk of achieving poorer outcomes than their counterparts.

Targeted interventions are initially offered to identify the children, young people and their families with existing risk factors to mitigate the severity of problems that have started to emerge, to prevent further escalation (and avoid entrenchment if left unaddressed).

There is a strong ethical, financial rationale and evidence base for Early Help within a whole family model. Several publications have highlighted the need for partners to deliver a co-ordinated, targeted and evidence-based Early Offer of Help; particularly to those families who are most vulnerable or have more complex needs.

Professor Munro said: “Although the co-ordination of early intervention services was best delivered locally, the government needed to provide a clear legal framework to set out what vulnerable children and young people and their families should expect from local agencies.”

Local authorities therefore should aim to review and develop their Early Offer of Help alongside their partners to embed a whole family approach. This will ensure families have increased resilience and increased protective factors, reducing expenditure on expensive reactive services and ad hoc purchasing.

The current challenging financial context, however, requires exploring innovative methods of achieving this and it is important to consider how best to support and deliver early intervention and focus on the families that are increasing costs (known as Troubled Families).

By Marisa De Jager