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Early help is a critical public service

Friday 25 February 2022
Mother with her two children in the living room of their home. The mother is holding a baby and the other little girl is laughing and looking at the camera while sucking her thumb.

Early help services can prevent children from coming to harm and needing to go into care. But not enough early help is happening

‘Early help’ is the name for services that support children and families before they meet the threshold for intervention from children’s social care. Every year, hundreds of thousands of families of the UK access early help support in some form or another.

Accessing early help services can prevent children from coming to harm and needing to go into care. Because of this, it can also save local authorities money.

But early help services are under threat.

Funding cuts to local authorities and the rising costs of social care has squeezed budgets for preventative services like early help. However, because early help is not a statutory service, there is no national data on how this has affected services and the number of children that are offered help.

This is why we submitted a Freedom of Information request to collect data from local authorities in England on early help provision, covering the period from 2015-16 to 2019-20.

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What we found

  • Not enough early help is happening, and there are big variations between places.
  • There are over missed 60,000 opportunities to provide early help every year.
  • Spending on early intervention has fallen and isn’t equitably spread.

What we recommend

  • Introduce a legal duty for early help.
  • Increase funding for early intervention.
  • Collect data on early help provision and outcomes.