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2.3 Early help
Providing ‘early help’ is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting when problems become more serious. This help may be needed at any point in a child’s life, from early to teenage years.
All professionals, particularly those in universal services, should be alert to signs that a child may require early help. This may include 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, including gang involvement and association with organised crime groups
- is frequently missing/goes missing from care or from home
- is at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation
- is at risk of being radicalised or exploited
- is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as drug and alcohol abuse, adult mental health problems and domestic violence
- is misusing drugs or alcohol themselves
- has returned home to their family from care
- is a privately fostered child
- has a parent/carer in custody
In schools, it is important that staff are aware that mental health problems can, in some cases, be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation. Only appropriately trained professionals should attempt to make a diagnosis of a mental health problem, however school staff are well placed to observe children day-to-day and identify those whose behaviour suggests that they may be experiencing a mental health problem or be at risk of developing one. Where children have suffered abuse and neglect, or other potentially traumatic adverse childhood experiences, this can have a lasting impact throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. It is key that school staff are aware of how these children’s experiences can impact on their mental health, behaviour and education. Effective assessment of the need for early help.
If a professional identifies a need for early help, they have a responsibility to share that information and work together with other agencies to provide children with the support they need. Indeed, effective early help relies upon local agencies working together to:
- identify children and families who would benefit from early help
- assess the need for early help, and
- provide targeted early help services to address the assessed needs of a child and their family in order to improve outcomes for the child.
In cases where agreement to an early help assessment cannot be obtained, practitioners should consider how the needs of the child might be met. However, practitioners should still inform individuals that their data will be recorded and shared and the purpose explained to them. 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 practitioner.
Further guidance is available in the thresholds/level of need criteria guidance in Section 3 of these procedures. These explain the inter-agency processes for early help assessments and the type of early help services provided.