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Early help

Early help is providing the right support to families, at the right time, to achieve change that lasts. It can be provided at any stage in a child or young person’s life, from pre-birth through to the teenage years.

Early help services can be delivered to parents, children or whole families, but the main focus is to improve outcomes for children and help prevent any situation from escalating, or further problems arising.

Intervening as early as possible, regardless of the age of the child or young person, can positively improve their outcomes.

As with safeguarding children and young people, early help is everyone’s responsibility. The first person to offer support to a child or young person and their family should be the practitioner identifying the issue.

However providing effective early help is a collaborative approach not a provision and relies on local agencies working together with families to meet their varied needs. Early help can be provided through a single agency or a multi-agency response as appropriate to the needs of the child and family and the concern.

Please refer to the Portsmouth Thresholds Document as this describes the needs a family may be experiencing that indicate they might benefit from early help. This type of support is described as ‘Tier 2 – Additional’ in the indicators of need.

Signs that a child or young person may benefit from early help include:

  • displaying disruptive or anti-social behaviour
  • being bullied or bullying others
  • having poor attendance at school
  • being involved in, or at risk of, offending
  • having poor general health
  • having anxiety, depression or other mental health issues
  • misusing drugs or alcohol
  • having a particularly challenging relationship with parents or appearing to be unusually independent from their parents
  • experiencing difficulties at home, such as domestic abuse, parental substance abuse or parental mental health problems

Some groups of children may be more likely to need early help than their peers. These include children who:

  • have been excluded from school
  • have special educational needs
  • are disabled
  • are in care
  • are leaving or preparing to leave care
  • are young carers
  • are young parents (or about to become young parents)
  • are experiencing housing issues

(Department for Education (DfE), 2018)

Early help is voluntary and consent from children, young people and their families to work with them should always be sought.

When talking to families that may benefit from early help, it’s important to:

  • Be patient and calm. Listen carefully to the child and parent or carer and let them describe the challenges they are facing. Don’t try to investigate or quiz the child or parent or carer, but make sure you understand what they’re saying
  • Find out what the child and their family would like to happen. Ask what they would like to improve about the situation
  • Use non-judgmental language
  • Reassure the child/family that they can get support to move forward with their life
  • Agree on next steps with the child/young person and family.

Early help tools

The Early Help Assessment (EHA) should be used when families have agreed to receiving early help. The EHA will help to identify the family’s strengths and difficulties that they may be experiencing, and agree a plan to set strategies to support the identified needs. There is also a template to be used for reviewing the early help support a family has been receiving and a monthly progress monitoring form that can be used by the lead professional.

There is a step by step guide to the early help assessment which details how to complete this with families if you are unfamiliar with the process. There is also an example Early Help Assessment that gives a suggestion of this can be used with a family.

The following tools have been developed to help you gain the views of children and young people:

Gathering children’s views, My Voice, All About Me, views for EHA YP, Views for EHA Children, EHP review tool child.

What is a lead professional? As part of an early help assessment, a lead practitioner will be identified by the family to co-ordinate their plan and the services that will be supporting them. This can include:

  • Organising activities around the family meetings
  • Keeping the family plan on track
  • Ensuring that the family plan is up to date

Early help is provided by universal services as soon as they become aware that a family needs additional support. Any professional working with the family who identifies that a family is having difficulties that is affecting the child’s well-being should have a conversation with the family to explore the situation and work with them and other professionals to coordinate an appropriate plan of support

Some families may have difficulties that become more complex and may require a targeted intervention. A referral to Early Help and Prevention could be completed to enable this support to take place. The service is provided by Portsmouth City Council and Solent NHS Trust.

There are two routes for referrals into targeted Tier 3 services namely via either the Multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) or Step Across from locality social care teams.

For children aged 0-5 this is led by health visitors and for children aged 5-19 it’s provided by family support workers.

Some referrals into health visiting are received through allocations, but the majority of referrals are received via the midwifery service or through health visitor assessment when meeting the families in the antenatal period.

Specialist areas include: parenting, children with disabilities, substance use, education, young carers, LGBTQ+, housing, parental mental health, exploitation, reducing offending behaviour, behaviour change and loss and bereavement.

Where there is consent, the targeted service is able to work with the family to complete an early help assessment and produce a plan with actions with the aim of improving the outcomes for the family. This plan will be reviewed with the family and relevant professionals. This could be stepped across to wider partners for the support to continue once the targeted aspect of the plan has been completed.

Descriptors of the level of complexity that defines the difference between offering support at Tier 2 by universal services or Tier 3 by targeted services are set out in the Thresholds Document.

Delivery is led by both professionals and trained volunteers at a variety of venues, including family homes, schools, community centres and the city’s family hubs.

There is open access to the universal service offer that includes health visiting and midwifery services including:

  • Child health clinics and health reviews,
  • Stay & Play groups for children under 5,
  • Dadzclub sessions facilitated by the Parenting Network,
  • breastfeeding peer support and
  • School nurse/child health advice and support via the phone and/or drop-ins.

There is also specific provision for children with disabilities, Young Carers, Parenting service and LGBTQ + young people

  • Young Carers offer face to face and virtual support to young carers that attend and send out a monthly newsletter with a wealth of information and updates. The team is also available to support the wider network to understand how to best support young carers in their services.
  • LGBTQ+ Team offer direct and family work along with the 4U group (13-18), The 4ME group (18-25) and have a 4US group (under 13 with families and carers) looking to commence by the summer. We also have a great sports project that we will share more information about when we are able.
  • Parenting Services send out a termly offer that includes parenting surgeries for families without a lead professional. They also provide a range of face to face discussion groups, NVR and Repairing Relationships. For more information please email parenting using the email below.
  • Public Health Nursing Service (School Nursing) offer targeted work with children and young people around specific physical and emotional health issues and offer support and advise to the 5-19 workforce and schools. Their work covers all levels of the Healthy Child Programme from Universal through to Tier 4. Referrals into the PHN service is via GP, schools, other professionals, parents, and self-referral.
  • Locality Network Groups are run monthly within the localities that contain updates from health, early help, social care, police and education along with guest speakers sharing information about their services. Please email early help using the email below if you wish to attend or present.

For any information relating to the services above please contact Early Help and Prevention on the email below. The LGBTQ+, Parenting and Young Carers teams have their own direct email – also listed below.

You can also contact our family hubs directly using the phone numbers below:

  • Buckland Family Hub

Turner Road, Buckland, PO1 4PN

T: 023 9273 3440

  • Somerstown Family Hub

Omega Street, Southsea, PO5 4LP

T: 023 9282 1816

  • Milton Park Family Hub

Perth Road, Southsea, PO4 8EU

T: 023 9282 7392

  • Northern Parade Family Hub

Doyle Avenue, Hilsea, Portsmouth, PO2 9NE

T: 023 9266 0866

  • Paulsgrove Family Hub

Cheltenham Road, Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, PO6 3PL

T: 023 9238 5995

These One Minute Guides are useful summaries to help you understand how the Early Help process works in Portsmouth, and so that you are better able to explain it to families