Meeting the needs of children and families

The majority of families will be able to access universal services and are encouraged to make use of the Family Information Service to identify services in the community that may be able to support them and the needs of their children.  They can use their own agency internal guidelines or by using specific forms / letters when requesting involvement of other additional need services.

Any practitioner, child, young person or family member can directly access the Family Information Service by following this link. This directory provides a detailed list of a variety of services that are available in the community by typing in a keyword search.

In this way families can meet the needs of their children.  However, sometimes they need help to be able to access the right resources.

Where an agency working with a family identifies additional support that is needed that their agency can deliver under Early Help, they should use their own internal processes for doing so.  Sometimes, it is helpful for them to use an Early Help Plan to identify how they will support the particular needs of the family.

Where the family needs other services to support them, the agency must seek consent from the family and then contact can either be made directly to the other agency or, using the Early Help Hub, advice can be sought about the other services that can be approached.

Parents should always provide written consent for any referrals and for practitioners to share information. In the spirit of openness and respect it is important that we ask young people who demonstrate understanding and competency[1], especially those aged over 15, to also give their consent.

Where there is more than one service working alongside a child and family, it is helpful for the family and involved services to hold a Team around the Family meeting, to share information and co-ordinate an Early Help assessment together.

Early Help Plans (EHPs) can be developed using existing assessment and planning processes within agencies. For example, schools may choose to use an SEND Support Plan. Alternatively, there is an Early Help Assessment template on the Surrey County Council website and on the Surrey Safeguarding Children Board website, which anyone working with children and families can use.

“Local authorities should work with organisations and agencies to develop joined-up early help services based on a clear understanding of local needs. This requires all practitioners, 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 practitioners to support early identification and assessment.”

“Children and families may need support from a wide range of local organisations and agencies. Where a child and family would benefit from co-ordinated support from more than one organisation or agency (e.g. education, health, housing, police) there should be an inter-agency assessment. These early help assessments should be evidence-based, be clear about the action to be taken and services to be provided and identify what help the child and family require to prevent needs escalating to a point where intervention would be needed through a statutory assessment under the Children Act 1989.”

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018

The Early Help Plan is based on a best practice approach to engaging families. The approach used in assessing families makes them central to identifying their needs, supporting them to tell their own story in their own words and being key to planning, implementing and sustaining the changes they need.

The Early Help assessment is a tool to discuss and record the family’s needs, strengths, the goals they would like to or need to achieve and this leads to a plan to support them.  Should the family require more intensive support, it is important that practitioners have completed this record as it will avoid duplication of effort, the family having to repeat their story and will enable Targeted Help or specialist sources to make an accurate decision about how best to help. Once a plan is developed, the Lead Professional will work with the family and relevant services to implement and review the plan.

Prior to requesting Targeted Help, practitioners are expected to have worked together with the family to meet their identified needs using an Early Help Plan and Team around the Family (TAF) meetings.

A wider co-ordinated response with an Early Help coordinator and more intensive engagement with the family is usually needed to address issues that are more complex.

If further support is needed, the Early Help Plan should be discussed with the Early Help Hub, who will discuss the work already done with the family and either provide advice and guidance to practitioners about continuing a Team Around the Family approach to providing additional Early Help, or commencing Targeted Help services.

An completed Early Help Plan remains the responsibility of the supporting agency / service to retain, in accordance with their own record-keeping procedures.

Early Help Plans must be given to all family members that were involved, including children and young people (age and understanding permitting).

Where children require more specialist intervention in accordance with the Children Act 1989, such as:

  • s17 (child in need) or
  • children with a long-lasting and substantial disability which limits their ability to carry out the daily tasks of living,
  • children and young people with severe and complex special educational needs and disability (SEND) requiring an education health and care plan (EHCP) and potentially a specialist educational placement
  • s47 (child protection),

Children’s Social Care (CSC) has a responsibility to respond under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. That is, children whose development would be significantly impaired if services are not provided. This includes children who have a long lasting and substantial disability, which limits their ability to carry out the tasks of daily living.

Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, a child shall be taken to be ‘in need’ if:

a) they are unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for them of services by a local authority

b) their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for them of such services; or

c) they are disabled

A referral to Children’s Social Care is appropriate when more substantial interventions are needed because the child is ‘in need’ or where a child’s development is being significantly impaired because of the impact of complex parental mental ill health, significant learning disability, alcohol or substance misuse, or very challenging behaviour in the home.

Young Carers are also entitled to request an assessment of their needs under s17 of the Children Act 1989.

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A social care referral is also appropriate where parents need practical support and respite at home because of a disabled child’s complex care needs. In these situations, Children’s Social Care will work with families on a voluntary basis, often in partnership with other professionals, to improve the welfare of the children and to prevent problems escalating to a point that statutory child protection intervention is needed.

The second area of Children’s Social Care responsibility is child protection; that is where Children’s Social Care must make enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, to determine whether a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children.

There is no absolute criteria upon which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, and the severity of the emotional and physical impact on the child. It is important to consider age and context – babies and young children are particularly vulnerable – and parental factors such as history of significant domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental ill-health.

Significant harm could occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault or sexual abuse. More often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing; for example, a child whose health and development is severely impaired through neglect.

Professionals in all agencies have a responsibility to make a referral to Children’s Social Care when it is believed or suspected that the child:

  • Has suffered significant harm – child protection
  • Is likely to suffer significant harm – child protection
  • Has significant developmental or disability needs, which are likely only to be met through provision of Children’s Social Care family support services (with agreement of the child’s parent) – children in need

Children’s Social Care engagement with children in need is on a voluntary basis. Parents, or young people who are assessed to be competent, can refuse some or all such offers of assistance. Often, families prefer a lower level of support such as that offered through their school or health centre because this is less stigmatising or intrusive.  Where consent cannot be obtained, the social worker must determine whether the child may suffer significant harm without the provision of services

When Children’s Social Care undertakes a S.47 child protection enquiry the Surrey safeguarding procedures will be used.  Partners involved in supporting the family will be asked to share relevant information and assist in further support for the family.

New referrals for service and referrals on closed cases should be made by completing the Children & Families Multi Agency Request for Support Form attaching copies of the Early Help Plan where completed) and emailing to the Family Safeguarding Hub secure email address: [email protected]

Unless there is immediate risk of significant harm, the family should be consulted by the referrer and informed of the referral.

Where there is doubt about the most appropriate service pathway to take, anyone concerned about the welfare of a child should, before they make a referral, consult with their own manager and / or designated safeguarding lead and, where they remain unsure, speak to a qualified social worker by contacting the Family Safeguarding Hub on 0300 470 9100 and asking for the Consultation line.

Completing an Early Help Plan should not delay the process if a professional is concerned that a child is, or may be, suffering significant impairment to their development or significant harm. In such cases, the professional should make a referral to the Family Safeguarding Hub by completing the Multi Agency Request for Support Form and emailing it to the secure email address: [email protected]

If a child is considered to be at IMMEDIATE risk of significant harm professionals should telephone the Family Safeguarding Hub on 0300 470 9100 and ask for the Priority Line or alternatively they can call the Police using 999.

Additional information or concerns on open cases should be made directly to the allocated social worker (or in their absence the manager or the duty social worker of that team). If you are unsure who the social worker or team is, you can contact the Family Safeguarding Hub.

The secure email address is solely for receiving non-urgent referrals and Multi-Agency Request for Support Form.  All other requests for information about children, the progress of referrals or previous involvement should be submitted via the email address [email protected]

[1] Although Gillick competence is primarily a Health tool, using the same measures, one can assess the young person’s competency to consent to an assessment

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