The Early Help Handbook aims to explain how early help works in Birmingham. It is a guide for any practitioner working with children, young people and families across every sector, including, health, voluntary community, education (from early years to post 16), SEND, social care and youth justice. The handbook is organised into a series of questions and answers, with links that signpost the reader to further information throughout.

Early help is not a service, but the way professionals, communities and families work together across Birmingham. The definition we use in Birmingham is from central government:

Early help is the total support that improves a family’s resilience and outcomes or reduces the likelihood of a problem getting worse.

Early help could include the provision of emergency financial assistance, food, support with an emerging learning difficulty or advice on breast feeding. It could be a youth intervention that helps a young person get involved in positive activity or it could be emotional support that prevents a mental health problem from developing.

This (DRAFT)  vision from Birmingham Children’s Partnership, developed in partnership with young people. It points to the following priorities:

  • Be a children friendly city
    We celebrate our youth and super-diversity, value our children and young people, and we are a Child Friendly City.
  • Invest in early help
    Early help is everyone’s business, and the responsibility of all
    We are investing to support families earlier.
  • Lift children out of poverty
    Through this investment we will reduce the number of children
    growing up in poverty, invest in jobs and education, and reduce
    needs such as mental ill-health, substance misuse and domestic abuse.

So every child and young person has a brighter future.

Professionals working with children and young people in Birmingham who have a concern about a child, should apply the Right Help Right Time threshold.

To seek advice from the Children’s Advice & Support Service (CASS) call 0121 303 1888. In an emergency where a child’s safety is at immediate risk of significant harm, contact the Police.

Initially discuss your concern with your line manager, a Designated Safeguarding Lead or contact Children’s Advice & Support Service (CASS) for advice.

Signs of Safety

The Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership has adopted the Signs of Safety and Wellbeing Practice Framework,  to provide practitioners and families across Birmingham with a meaningful way to ensure assessments and interventions are purposeful, inclusive and help guide decision making. Signs of Safety and Wellbeing provides practitioners with a clear method of how to practice effectively. The framework is used internationally by professionals working to safeguard children.

Key elements of the Signs of Safety and Wellbeing Practice Framework:

  • Signs of Safety and Wellbeingenables professionals to use a strengths-based methodology to talk about strengths and concerns with children, young people and families.
  • The views of the child(ren) and family are important within this framework and we have a range of tools to help professionals to identify, understand and respect their views.
  • There are 4 key steps to using our practice framework:
  1. What is going well?
  2. What are we worried about?
  3. How worried am I? using the scaling tool
  4. What needs to happen?

Birmingham’s thresholds for need have been agreed by the Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership. Our thresholds document is called Right Help Right Time (RHRT). The document sets out ‘four layers of need’ to provide everyone with clear advice about what to do and how to respond if a child and their family need extra support.

Universal needs = A range of services such as maternity services, health visitors, school nursing, GP practices, early years, school and education settings, housing and youth services are provided as a right to all children including those with universal plus, additional and complex needs. These services are also well placed to recognise and respond when extra support may be necessary. This may be because of the child’s changing developmental, health and wellbeing needs or because of parental or family circumstances.

Universal Plus needs = Best supported by those who already work with them such as health professionals, children’s centres, school settings, organising additional support with local partners as needed. This can be through an Early Help Assessment and an Our Family Plan.

Additional needs = a co-ordinated multi-disciplinary approach is usually best led by a professional already known to the family. The lead professional will engage the family and other professionals to co-ordinate support through one plan. Where the support needed is more than a lead professional can organise effectively, the Family Support / Think Family services can work with the family in a more intensive way.

Complex/ significant needs = Those where statutory and/or specialist intervention is required to keep children safe to prevent significant harm or serious risks to their health or welfare, or to ensure their continued development. Examples of specialist services are Children’s Social Work Assessment (Section 17) or a Child Protection Enquiry (Section 47). Professionals from all agencies are expected to exercise their judgement around the indicators and ensure that they have considered the context in which it is occurring.

The Right Help Right Time E-Learning Course is for organisations working with children, young people and families in Birmingham. This training is to support understanding and application of the thresholds.

Making Every Contact Count (MECC) is an approach to behaviour change that utilises the tens of thousands of daily interactions professionals have with citizens, to support them in making positive changes to their health, wellbeing, debt, housing, adaptations, environment, social needs, etc.

MECC enables the opportunistic delivery of advice and guidance through established health and social care relationships and interactions that help nudge different behaviours. MECC is especially important now: During the COVID-19 pandemic, needs have changed, as have the way we connect; in many ways connections with citizens have reduced due to the pandemic. This means it is more important than ever to use what interactions staff do have to make every contact count.

Find out more about MECC.

Children and families have a right to confidentiality, and we should always seek their consent and cooperation when offering support and where we want to share information about them with others. Practitioners who believe a child or family requires help have a responsibility to discuss this with the family and where possible agree a way forward with them. This will ensure that parents are aware of worries and of what information will be shared. We will respect the wishes of those who do not give consent and continue to offer advice on where to get support if & when they want to access it.

However, there are exceptions to this, where there is a risk of children suffering significant harm or it is inappropriate to share as may put at further risk as a result, consent is not needed to share information in this situation.  Advice on how to respond to this can be given through contacting Birmingham Children’s Trust Children’s Advice and Support Service (CASS).

We keep records of interventions when working with families. We seek consent and record this when sharing information with others. Families can request to see their records or request that some information is kept confidential. Having consent to share information reduces the chances of families being asked to tell their story more than once.

Lead professionals can be any professional working with children, young people and families. These can include teachers or any school staff, children’s centre workers, health professionals, community workers, youth workers or children’s professionals working in a voluntary sector setting. When the level of need is screened to be greater than ‘Universal Plus’ (see Right Help Right Time), then the lead professional from the Birmingham Children’s Trust will be assigned.

The lead professional is responsible for the management of the early help case and ensuring that information appropriately recorded. They complete the Early Help Assessment with the family and partner agencies identifying the strengths of the family and the areas of needs.  Once the assessment has been completed the lead professional will then formulate the Early Help Plan.  The lead professional is the single point of contact for the family and partner agencies who are contributing to the assessment and plan.

TAF Panels are currently being developed across the city and may yet be established in each locality area.

The Team Around the Family (TAF) Panel is a multidisciplinary group of professionals that convenes every two weeks in a locality area. The aim of the panel is to advise and support any professional working with a child, young person or family. The panel facilitates multi agency case working at a locality level and it is co-ordinated by the Voluntary Sector Lead and the Early Help Team Manager. At the panels the needs of the family are discussed, actions agreed, and advice provided to the lead professional.

It may be that a lead professional is in some way stuck and in need of help from colleagues, there could be an issue relating to consent or perhaps risk. The panel is also a forum where lead professionals can bring issues, concerns and examples of excellent practice. Its role is to ensure consistent practice, assure quality, enhance the multi-agency response, provide advice and guidance and signpost lead professionals. Crucially, the panel helps manage safeguarding risks and to reduce the need for specialist or crisis intervention services.

Find out more through the Locality Team.

An Early Help Assessments can be completed by any professional working with a child, young person or family. The guidance is available on the Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Board website. An assessment is a vital step in the journey of getting families the right help at the right time.

An Early Help Plan can be completed by any professional working with a child, young person or family. The guidance is available on the Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Board website. A plan is a vital step in the journey of getting families the right help at the right time.

There are a range of tools that can be used to support please see the link from the Birmingham Safeguarding Childrens Partnership Board to support you with early help practice.

In addition to this you can also contact your  Early Help Locality Team who will be able to provide support and guidance.

An Early Help Locality Team is a core group of about 10 – 15 staff from the Voluntary Sector lead organisation and from Birmingham Children’s Trust.  The team consists of different roles – including Community Connectors, Case Workers (Voluntary Community Sector), Team Manager (Birmingham Children’s Trust) or Coordinator (VCS), Early Help Coordinator (BCT) and Early Help Workers (BCT).

There are hundreds of staff in a locality supporting families, mostly in voluntary and community organisations, Health Providers and schools, early years settings, who also do most of the early help support for families, and over time this idea of a wider team of early help workers will grow and be truly a wider partnership.

In each locality there is also an ‘allocation meeting’ that may include Birmingham Forward Steps managers and staff, and a ‘case review’ meeting where current caseloads are discussed, and ‘team around the family’ or TAF meetings where agencies in the locality might come together to support and make connections around a family.

Community Connectors: To enable all schools, GPs, heath visitors, early years providers, VCS organisations to know which community and voluntary groups are in their neighbourhood, and to make connections work

Voluntary Sector Lead: The ten organisations are responsible for developing a network of VCS in each locality, and leading and supporting a locality ‘steering group’.  Lead allocation meetings and be a central point of contact for each locality

Birmingham Forward Steps Children’s Centres: Lead to support family with a child under 5, wide range of help, including links with health visiting, holistic response to a family’s needs

Birmingham Children’s Trust Early Help Teams: Direct interventions with families, contribute to EHA and plans, lead on EHA and plan if no other appropriate agency is able to do so. Delivery of parenting programmes and group work.  Networking in the community.

Early Help Co-ordinator (Eclipse): lateral checks, contact referrers and families, apply threshold, identify needs, follow up actions, training support and advice to partners in the localities

Birmingham Voluntary Sector Council: To represent the VCS sector as a whole, to be a partner in the Shadow Early Help Board, to support the 9 VCS lead organisations, and wider Community Connector team

Early Help Police Offer: To represent the police service and provide advice and support regarding safeguarding and community safety.

Mental Health FTB/STICK: Provide assessment and advice for CYP – 0-25, with MH needs, locality-based worker in each team, supporting training and consultation to other professionals

Senior School Negotiator: To lead the development of close working between schools, school networks, early help locality teams, and SEND and Inclusion services

The SEND Locality Team is a group of professionals that supports schools and families in the wellbeing and Special Educational Needs or Disabilities of children and young people.  The team includes an Educational Psychologist, Specialist Advisory Teachers, Speech and Language Therapist, and an Occupational Therapist.

The team of professionals attached to a cluster of schools is a revolving team who see the schools and families on a regular basis providing practical early help and support.

Community Connectors are colleagues based in each of the ten localities of Birmingham. They sit within the Lead Voluntary Sector Organisation in each locality. Their role includes asset mapping and gapping services within their area and ensuring that professionals within that locality are connected to each other. This will help support any child, young person and family that ask for help and support from one professional, become connected with other appropriate professionals (mainly through the Family Connect Form) and therefore be help to access holistic support for their needs. Any professionals can connect with them, for example teachers, social prescribing link workers, Police, GPs, other voluntary organisations etc.

In addition, to this they have a role is to train professionals in each locality so that they can connect families to community support and assets.  The aim is to enable families to get more support locally to help build the families resilience and support network.

Early Help looks different in every education setting. Schools are organised to serve children in Key Stages:

  • Early Years (Age 3-4)
  • Infant Schools – Reception, Y1 & Y2
  • Primary – Reception Y1-6
  • Junior – KS2 (Y3-6)
  • Secondary – KS3&4 (Y7-11) some also have KS5 (Y12 & 13)
  • Sixth Form – KS5 (Y12 &13)
  • Further Education Colleges – (KS5 Y12 &13)
  • Some schools are “through” schools covering Y1-13.
  • Alternative Provision/Free Schools (Y9-11)

All schools/colleges will provide some early help for their children and families although the offer may not be the same in all establishments. Schools can offer support around academic progress, Special Educational Needs (SEN), positive behaviour management, emotional and wellbeing support, safeguarding (including bullying, e-safety, attendance issues).

Most schools will be able to offer:

  • Signposting to other agencies including Foodbanks
  • Support in applying for free school meals and Travel Assist
  • Referrals to other agencies including Locality Teams, School Nurses, Forward Thinking Birmingham and foodbanks
  • Support for a child/young person from a trusted adult in school. (Learning mentors, Teaching Assistants, Pastoral Managers, Heads of Year/House, class teachers are all people who may do this work with a child/young person)
  • Clubs, activities, trips, safe spaces before and after school and at lunchtimes
  • Emergency support with uniform and other school equipment either to borrow or to purchase for a child
  • Emergency support with transport for a limited time
  • Support with ICT equipment and internet connectivity

Some schools will also have in-school counselling services and other support which they buy in from outside agencies. Many schools have breakfast clubs and afterschool provision.

Look on the school website to see if there is a named Early Help Lead, this is the best person to contact the initially. If not, then ask for the named Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), the Deputy Lead DSL or the person on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) who is responsible for Pastoral Care. These people will know who the correct person in the school to ask for help. In smaller primary schools the Head Teacher will often be the person to ask but in larger schools, early help will be delegated to others in the Pastoral Team.

When contacting a school about early help via their enquiry or information general school e-mail address always make clear in the title of the message that this needs to go to the Lead DSL, SLT in charge of Pastoral Care or the Head Teacher as this will ensure the message reaches the correct person.

The professionals in the Locality Teams can signpost families to help and support. Including the arts, leisure, sports and recreation. Online and self-help is available addressing an array of issues from mental health to parenting skills. In each locality there are hundreds of community, faith or voluntary groups that help children, young people and families. For those struggling financially there is support from the city council.

Birmingham Forward Steps improves outcomes for young children up to the age of 5 and their families and reduces inequalities between families in greatest need and their peers in:

  • Child development and school readiness
  • Parenting aspirations and parenting skills
  • Child and family health and life chances

Providing help early as a problem emerges at any stage in a child’s life is important and there is considerable research to indicate that support early in life can transform live chances. This service consists of a range of services engaging parents and younger children to address a range of needs, this is an outcome focused approach.

Services include:

Family Support

Delivery of Healthy Child Programme

Language through play

Early Years outreach

Freedom Programme

Stay and Play Opportunities

Antenatal and infant feeding

Baby Massage

Healthy activities

Employment, training and volunteering support

KIDS family group work supporting SEND children

Home Start

Parent and community engagement

THRIVE supporting us to help families impacted by poverty

Children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children or young people of the same age. Special educational needs and disabilities fall under four broad areas:

  • Communication and interaction (including Autism)
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, mental and emotional health
  • Sensory and/or physical

If you feel that a child, you are working with, has Special Educational Needs or a Disability and may need additional help, you can suggest to the parent or carer to talk to their health visitor, the Head Teacher or Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the child’s nursery, school or college or the GP. If the family is still unsure about where to seek advice.

A&E –  Accident and Emergency

AGPs –  Aerosol Generating Procedures

BAME –  Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic

BCC – Birmingham City Council

BCCP – Complex Cases Panel

BCH –  Birmingham Children’s Hospital

BCP –  Birmingham Children’s Partnership

BCT –  Birmingham Children’s Trust

BEP – Birmingham Education Partnership

BESS – Birmingham Education Support Services

BFS – Birmingham Forward Steps (children 0-5)

BSOL – Birmingham and Solihull

BVSC – Birmingham Voluntary Service Council

C19 –  COVID-19

CAMHS – Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services

CASS – Children and Adults Social Services

CASS –  Children’s Advice and Support Service

CAT – Community Autism Team

CCG – Clinical Commissioning Group

CEV –  Clinically Extremely Vulnerable

CMT –  Corporate Management Team

CRHTT –  Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team

CSE – Child Sexual Exploitation

DA – Domestic Abuse

DfE –  Department for Education

ECHP – Education, Health Care and Social Plan

ECINS – Empowering Communities Inclusion and Neighbourhood Management System – multi-agency case management system

EH – Early Help

EHA – Early Help Assessment

EHCP –  Education, Health and Care Plan

EWB – Emotional Well Being

EY –  Early Years

F2F –  – Face to Face

FTB – Forward Thinking Birmingham (Mental Health)

GP –  General Practice

HV –  Health Visiting

IAG – Information Advice and Guidance. It has different meanings depending on context, but typically refers to money and debt advice, or careers planning

ICS – integrated care system

IDVA – Domestic Violence Advisors

IPC –  Infection Prevention & Control

IROC – Intersectional Residential Outreach Care

ITU –  Intensive Care Unit

LA –  Local Authority

MARAC – Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (domestic violence)

MASH – multi agency safeguarding hub

MECC –  Making Every Contact Count

MH –  Mental Health

NHSE/I –  National Health Service England/Improvement

PFA –  Preparation for Adulthood

PH/PHE –  Public Health/Public Health England

POG –  Partnership Operational Group

PPE –  Personal Protective Equipment

R&R –  Restoration and Recovery

RHRT – right help right time

SDG – Senior Delivery Group

SEF –  Self Evaluation Framework

SEND –  Special Educational Needs and Disability

SG –  Safeguarding

SLT –  Senior Leadership Team

SMBC –  Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

STICK –  Screening, Training, Intervention, Consultation and Knowledge

TA –  Temporary Accommodation

UPAGS –  United Paediatric Advice and Guidance Service

WMP –  West Midlands Police

WSOA –  Written Statement of Action