Early help, also known as early intervention, is support given to a family when a problem first emerges. It can be provided at any stage in a child or young person's life.
Statutory guidance in each nation of the UK highlights the importance of providing early intervention, rather than waiting until a child or family’s situation escalates (Department for Education (DfE), 2018; Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2017; Scottish Government, 2021; Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2020).
Early help services can be delivered to parents, children or whole families, but their main focus is to improve outcomes for children. For example, services may help parents who are living in challenging circumstances provide a safe and loving environment for their child. Or, if a child is displaying risk-taking behaviour, early help practitioners might work with the child and their parents to find out the reasons for the child's behaviour and put strategies in place to help keep them safe.
Providing timely support is vital. Addressing a child or family's needs early on can reduce risk factors and increase protective factors in a child's life (Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), 2021).
Protective factors can reduce risk to a child's wellbeing. They include:
- developing strong social and emotional skills
- having a strong social support network for the family – including support
- for good parental mental health
- income support, benefits and advice
- good community services and facilities
(EIF, 2021; Cleaver, Unell and Aldgate, 2011).
It is more effective to provide early help when problems first arise than to intervene later (DfE, 2018; EIF, 2021).
Early intervention can also prevent further problems from developing – for example, as part of a support plan for a child and their family when a child returns home from care (DfE, 2018).
Types of early help
Early help can take many forms, such as:
- home visiting programmes
- school-based programmes
- mentoring schemes
Early help services should be part of a continuum of support which enables practitioners to respond to the different levels of need children and families may experience (DfE, 2018).
It's important that early help services are holistic, looking at the wider needs of the family and how to provide appropriate support.
Why early help is important
Early help can offer children the support needed to reach their full potential (EIF, 2021). It can improve the quality of a child’s home and family life, enable them to perform better at school and support their mental health (EIF, 2021).
Research suggests that early help can:
- protect children from harm
- reduce the need for a referral to child protection services
- improve children's long-term outcomes
(Haynes et al, 2015).
Early help can also support a child to develop strengths and skills that can prepare them for adult life (EIF, 2021).