Early Help

Local authorities under section 10 of the Children Act 2004 have a responsibility to promote inter-agency cooperation to improve the welfare of children.


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; and
  • 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

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 he authority's area, which includes protection from harm and neglect. The local authority's relevant partners are listed in Working Together 2015 Table A Appendix B

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-soacial 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 knwoledge 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 effectice.

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.

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, early years' worker or other professional should be able to discuss concerns they may have about a child and family with a social worker in the local authority. Local authoritychildren'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, then the lead professional 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 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 professional.


Provision of Effective Early Help Services

The early help assessment 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 for the assessment) and aim to ensure that the early help services are co-ordinated 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 offer should draw upon the local assessment of need and the latest evidence of the effectiveness of early help and early intervention programmes. In addition to high quality support in universal services, specific local early help 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 capacity 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.

Accessing help and services

The provision of early help 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 services may be required, coordinated through an early help assessment, 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.

Local DocumentsHartlepoolMiddlesbroughRedcar and ClevelandStockton
Assessment Protocol**Download           Download

The Early Help Assessment (EHA) has been designed to help practitioners assess needs at an early stage and then work with the child and parents/carers, alongside other practitioners and agencies, to meet identified needs.

The aim of EHA is to:

  • ensure that children receive the required services to meet their needs at the earliest opportunity and be a mechanism for involving additional services to address any unmet needs
  • facilitate multi-agency working and communication
  • avoid children and families having to undergo unnecessary, repeat assessments

Where children and families have received a multi-agency, coordinated approach and the lead professional and team around the child (TAC) believe that concerns for the children remain or have escalated, and their outcomes remain poor, a referral to children’s social care should be considered.

Further information regarding EHA is available from the following Local Authority/LSCB by clicking on the links below:


Middlesbrough - My Family Plan

Redcar and Cleveland


Anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to Local Authority Children’s Social Care.  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, including the early help assessment, which may have been carried out prior to a referral into the local authority children's social care. Where an early help assessment has already been undertaken it should be used to support a referral to local authority children's social care, however, this is not a prerequisite for making a referral.

Feedback should be given by local authority 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 local auhority children's social care for assessment and suggestions for other sources of more suitable support.


Other Related Assessments

Where a local authority is assessing the needs of a disabled child, a carer of that child may also require the local authority to undertake an assessment of their ability to provide, or to continue to provide, care for the child, underr section 1of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995. The local authority must take account of the results of any such assessment when deciding whether to provide services to the disabled child.

Under provisions in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, local authorities will be required to establish Channel panels from 12th April 2015. The panels will assess the extent to which identified individuals are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and arrange for support to be provided to those individuals. Panels must include the local authority and the chief officer of the local Police. There are also a number of panel partners, including those within the Criminal Justice system, education, child care, health care and police who are required to co-operate with the panel in the discharge of its functions. Local authorities and their partners should consider how best to ensure that these assessments align with assessments under the Children Act 1989.