What is early help and what is early intervention?
Early help and early intervention are forms of support aimed at improving outcomes for children or preventing escalating need or risk. Because of this they are also sometimes referred to as prevention or preventative services.
These services are part of a “continuum of support” and provide help to families who do not, or no longer, meet the threshold for a statutory intervention. 1
Early help and early intervention services can be provided at any stage in a child or young person's life, from the early years right through to adolescence. Services can be delivered to parents, children, or whole families.
The importance of helping families early is highlighted in national safeguarding guidance across the UK. However, the form services take varies between local areas, depending on local provision.
Is there a difference between the terms?
The terms early help and early intervention are often used interchangeably by practitioners. However, many policymakers and researchers make a distinction between the two (Frost, Abbott and Race, 20152 and Plimmer and Poortvliet, 2012). 3
The term early help, most commonly used in England, often covers universal services aimed at improving outcomes for all children, such as:
- children’s centres
- open access youth services
- health visiting.
Early intervention is often used to talk more specifically about targeted and intensive services addressing individual risks and protective factors, such as:
- behaviour change programmes
- relationship support for parents
- mentoring schemes for young people.
Why are early help and early intervention important?
Providing timely support is vital. Identifying and addressing a child or family's needs early on can increase protective factors that positively influence a child’s wellbeing, and decrease risk factors that may be impacting a child’s life negatively.
Research4,5 suggests that early help and intervention can:
- protect children from harm
- reduce the need for a referral to child protection services
- improve children's long-term outcomes
- improve children’s home and family life
- support children to develop strengths and skills to prepare them for adult life.
ReferencesResearch in Practice (RiP) (2022) What is early help?: concepts, policy directions and multi-agency perspectives. Manchester: Ofsted. [Accessed 16/08/2023].
Frost, N., Abbott, S. and Race, T (2015) Family support: prevention, early intervention and early help. Cambridge: Polity Press
Plimmer, D. and Poortvliet, M. van (2012) Prevention and early intervention: scoping study for the Big Lottery Fund. [ [Accessed 09/06/2023].
Haynes, A. et al (2015) Thriving communities: a framework for preventing and intervening early in child neglect. London: NSPCC.
Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) (2021) About early intervention: why it matters. [Accessed 09/06/2023].