A mother and her two daughters smiling and laughing together

A guide for parents Early help and early intervention services

A guide for parents and carers about early help, also called early intervention – local authority support for children and families facing emerging challenges or difficulties not supported by other mental health or social services.

What are early help and early intervention?

A mother and her young son hold hands on the sofa

Early help – sometimes called early intervention – is support given to families when a challenge first develops, or if a new or continuing difficulty doesn’t meet thresholds for specialist support, for instance from social services or Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (known as CYPMHS or CAMHS). Early help can go beyond the support offered by universal services such as the GP or school.

Early help is always voluntary and it aims to support families to develop strategies and strengths, resolve difficulties and prevent problems escalating to an extent that specialist services are required.

For more information about Children and Young People's Mental Health Services, see our parents' guide to CAMHS.

Parents' guide to CAMHS

What situations is early help available for?

Early help may be offered in a wide range of situations within a family in which a child’s health or wellbeing could be affected. (These vary by area – see Early help in your area, below.) For instance, you may receive support if your child:

  • has disabilities, special educational needs (SEND) or long-term physical health issues
  • has mild or emerging mental health difficulties
  • is being bullied or bullying others
  • is at risk of exploitation or radicalisation
  • faces challenges at home, such as difficult relationships, domestic abuse, parental alcohol or drug misuse, parental or sibling mental or physical health problems
  • is a young carer
  • is a young parent
  • is in private foster care or returning home after being in care
  • is affected by financial or housing problems

What types of support are available through early help?

Early help can take many forms. Some examples include:

  • liaison and help in accessing and navigating other services such as school or health services
  • parenting programmes, for instance on managing challenging behaviour
  • activity groups, for instance for parents of younger children, young carers or other groups
  • individual mentoring for young people or parents, for instance to support school attendance
  • specialist help or therapy to develop speech and language, emotional or social skills; or to assist if physical or mental health needs within the family impact children
  • relationship support, for example to help with parental conflict
  • support to improve housing or living conditions

How to find urgent help in a crisis

Early help is not a crisis service.

If you are worried that you or your child is at immediate risk of harm, cannot keep safe, or is already injured, call 999 or go to A&E.

If a health professional has given you a crisis number and the situation is not life threatening, call them.

If your child is under the care of CAMHS or another mental health team and has a crisis plan for urgent care, follow this.

You can also call your 24-hour local NHS mental health helpline or 111 for urgent advice.

two mums are smiling while talking to each other during an activity

Who delivers early help and where does it take place?

Early help teams often include a range of professionals such as mental health nurses, health visitors, therapists, psychologists, social workers, as well as family support workers/practitioners. Our glossary explains some of these roles. Early help may also be provided in conjunction with a charity or voluntary organisation.

Sometimes early help is offered alongside support from CAMHS. Families may also be directed to early help if they do not meet the thresholds for health or social services, or to provide ongoing support after being discharged from them.

Early help may be individual or group-based, and it could take place in your home, in school, at a health centre, a children’s centre, or – if your area has one – a mental health hub.

Early help is often subject to waiting lists and these can vary considerably by area.

Parents have told us about their early help experiences:

  • I attended a three-month parenting course to help with my daughter’s violent and harmful behaviours, alongside her CAMHS support. I learned useful tips on parenting challenging behaviour, like to only ‘strike while the iron is cold’.
  • The thing I found most valuable from my parenting course has been forming a network with other parents in similar situations. I feel less isolated and have had a lot of help on dealing with school and finding support for myself.
  • Early help offered support for siblings caught up in their brother’s behavioural and emotional challenges and helped us put in place a safety plan if we felt the family were at risk of harm.
  • My experience of early help was of an individual relationship being formed with the whole family over time, so they had a good understanding of our family's needs resulting in effective signposting. The word "advocate" comes to mind.

How to get early help support: referral and assessment

The first step to getting support is an Early Help Assessment (EHA). This may be suggested by a professional working with your family – such as a teacher, school special educational needs and disabilities coordinator (SENCO), health visitor or GP – or you could ask them to do an assessment. An EHA can only be done with your consent. In most areas you can also self-refer directly to your local authority for assessment.

If you agree to assessment it will be carried out by a professional working with your child or family. They will ask you about:

  • your family and support network
  • any disabilities, special education needs or health conditions within the family and the impact of these on family members
  • any involvement with other services
  • the challenges the family is facing and reasons you would like early help
  • strengths you can build on
  • the support you feel would be helpful

Your child may also be involved in the assessment, depending on the situation, and their needs and age. This process may be followed by a further assessment with a family support worker from the early help team.

Try to give the professionals as much detail as you can so that the right support can be identified.

Early help in your area

Early help provision, referral systems and waiting lists vary significantly between local authorities and nations of the UK. Your area may use a Single Point of Access (SPA) system to process referrals for all types of local authority support, directing them to whichever is considered the most appropriate service (e.g. early help, social services or CAMHS); or it may require direct referral to one specific service.

Information relevant to your area should be available on your local authority website. Search using ‘name of your local authority and early help’. It may also be listed under your area’s Local Offer (search for Local Offer on your local authority website). Or you can ask your GP surgery or school for contact details and information.

What is an early help plan?

If early help is able to support your needs, a family support worker should consult with you to draw up an early help plan that will be shared with any professionals working with your family.
This should set out objectives, the types of support to be provided, who will provide it and whether it is to be given to your child, to you, or to others in the family. It should also name the professional coordinating the support (who may be termed the Lead Professional). Like all early help support, this remains voluntary.

Education and health professionals describe working with early help:

  • We did the EHA with a mum and daughter. Anxiety was affecting the daughter’s mental health and school attendance, and the mum had mental health difficulties. Mum got support through the charity Mind and daughter had behaviour support services and Young Carers counselling, helping her worry less about her mum.
    School SENCO and safeguarding lead
  • A child was badly affected by his brother’s mental health difficulties. The early help parenting team supported the family to manage challenging behaviour and both sons had counselling and behaviour support. This prevented the situation escalating to social care and the family felt part of the process.
    School safeguarding lead
  • We make early help referrals to provide families with additional support. The mental health of a young person having CAMHS treatment may be impacted by issues such as poor housing, family conflict or parental illness. An early help practitioner can visit regularly, helping the family access relevant resources.
    Specialist CAMHS Practitioner
  • A child was having medical problems resulting in poor attendance. The school nurse worked with parents and early help to get the support needed so that medical problems and attendance both improved.
    School SENCO

The plan should outline how and when progress will be reviewed. Reviews may be in the form of a Team Around the Child (TAC) or Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting. These bring together all the professionals working with your child or family in different settings, such as education and healthcare. Examples of TAF or TAC attendees include your family support worker, the SENCO, school nurse, education welfare officer, GP, and other professionals (e.g. from young carers, behaviour support or other teams).

Regular reviews will allow you and your family support worker to discuss whether objectives have been met and to work out next steps. These could include: extending early help support, ending the plan if needs have been met, or referring to services such as CAMHS or social services if needs cannot be met by early help.

Our early help contact is helping us to get our son’s additional needs met at school. They organise TAF meetings with school and help us hold them accountable. It has been so great to have that support.
Parent

How to find other sources of support

If your family is not offered early help support, or needs help while on a waiting list, there are other options including support at school; voluntary organisations and charities; private counselling and therapy services; as well as online support and apps your child can access directly.

Early help should signpost to suitable support. For more detailed information, including how to find what is offered in your area, see our guide to getting help.

Getting help for my child

Where to find further support

  • Family Line

    Provides information and support around family issues, as well as longer-term help through Befrienders and Counsellors.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday - Friday
  • Barnardo's

    Barnardo’s provides a range of services to children, young people and families in UK.

  • Youth Wellbeing Directory

    Lists local services where you can find support for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

  • Family Rights Group

    Provides support, information and advice to parents whose children are involved with, or in need of, social services because of safety or welfare concerns - as well as parents and relatives of children in the care system.

    Opening times:
    Opening times: 9.30am - 3pm, Monday - Friday
  • Citizens Advice

    Provides information and advice on issues such as divorce and separation, benefits, work, universal credit, debt, housing and immigration.

    Webchat service available here.

    If you're experiencing problems with debt, you can call their debt helpline or use their debt webchat service.

    Opening times:
    9am - 5pm, Monday - Friday
  • Family Lives

    Provides information and support to parents and carers facing a range of difficulties. Their website offers many useful resources around managing challenging behaviours in children.