In January 2021, the Government announced a review into children’s social care. In response, the National Children’s Bureau, working with researchers from Cambridge University and the University of Kent, undertook a scoping review to explore the academic and grey literature to better understand the evidence base in relation to the delivery and effectiveness of early help, and to make some recommendations for the review.
This review seeks to contribute to the Independent Review by considering the evidence for services designated as ‘early help’. Such services are designed to provide support to children and families before problems escalate to the point where statutory services are required. As such, they may be provided at any point during childhood, although some may specifically target young children and their parents due to the perceived importance of the early years for developmental outcomes in later life
This rapid review found a range of positive outcomes for children and families for a range of different interventions to support and strengthen families. Despite the difficulties evaluating early help, there is a growing case for funding and delivering these services. However, far more must be done to define and clarify the outcomes that the offer is intended to deliver.
The research evidence broadly suggests that the provision of early help can reduce rates of child welfare intervention and improve child and parent outcomes. However, a considerable part of the difficulty in developing early help policy that encompasses the diverse needs of families and children – both those that would benefit from universal support and those at the edge of child protection intervention – is the varied interpretation of what is classified as ‘early help’ and how varied measures and definitions of effectiveness are synthesized.
Find out more in our report or summary report (which includes our recommendations summarised below) by clicking on the links at the top of the page, and read our news item about the report.
This report is part of our Living Assessments programme.
Recommendations for Government
- Government should introduce a legal duty on local authorities and statutory safeguarding partners to provide early help to children and families. This should encompass a broad definition of early help, including support to alleviate the impact of poverty.
- The Department for Education should seek to reduce variation in thresholds for early help by providing clear guidance and training on applying eligibility criteria
- HM Government should develop a national outcomes framework for early help services, building on the work of the Supporting Families programme. This framework should be co-produced with children and families.
- The Treasury should increase its funding in order to support implementation of this new duty, factoring in a local authority’s level of deprivation and current rates of interventions.
- The impact of these measures should be rigorously evaluated over a number of years. In particular, this evaluation should focus on large linked data sets that assess children and family’s journeys through children’s social care and explore the outcomes for children and families of different social care interventions and support over time.