A young girl looking happy with her parents outside their home

Early help and early intervention services

What is early help or early intervention?

Early help, or early intervention, is support given to families when:

  • a challenge first develops
  • a new or continuing difficulty doesn’t meet the threshold for specialist support - for instance from social services or the NHS mental health service for young people, known as CAMHS

Early help is always voluntary. It can go beyond the support offered by universal services such as the GP or school. It aims to support families to develop strategies and strengths, resolve difficulties and prevent problems from escalating.

Early help teams often include a range of professionals such as mental health nurses, health visitors, therapists, psychologists, social workers and family support workers/practitioners. Our glossary explains some of these roles. Early help may also be provided alongside support from a charity or from CAMHS, or to provide ongoing support after being discharged from a service. 

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

A child jumping off a wall and her mum is ready to catch her.
Our early help contact is helping us to get our son’s additional needs met at school. They organise meetings with school and help us hold them accountable. It has been so great to have that support.
A parent

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 type of support is available through early help?

The support offered by early help may be individual or group-based. It can take place in:

  • your home
  • your child's school
  • a health or children's centre
  • a mental health hub

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
  • 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’.
    A parent
  • 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.
    A parent
  • 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.
    A parent
  • 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.
    A parent

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.

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 and GP.

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.

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

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
  • 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 mental health support for your child.

Getting support from mental health services

Useful helplines and websites

While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • 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
  • Family Lives

    Emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday to Friday; 10am - 3pm at weekends
  • Citizens Advice

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

    Webchat service available.

    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 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
  • Youth Access

    Provides information about local counselling and advice services for young people aged 11-25.

    Put in your location and what you need help with into their 'Find help' search, and see what services are available in your area.

  • Hub of Hope

    A national database of mental health charities and organisations across Britain that offer mental health advice, including for family members.

  • Bayo

    Bayo has a list of organisations that work specifically with Black young people, including places where Black young people can get mental health support in their local community.

  • Barnardo's

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

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This page was reviewed in July 2022.

It was created with parents and carers with lived experience of supporting their child or young person around early help and intervention.

We will next review the page in 2025.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

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