Council's Early Help Consultation - Have Your Say

Published: 25 September 2018

A 10-week consultation on Early Help services launches today, Thursday 4 October. This is to find out the public’s views on proposed ways to provide early help services to support vulnerable families and children in Buckinghamshire.

Early help services should provide families going through difficulties with the right help at the right time. This should be done in a proactive way, before their problems become harder to resolve. With targeted support, families are able to deal with the emerging difficulties they face. These could be things such as domestic abuse, poor mental health, neglect or substance misuse. A connected early help, with the Council working with its partner organisations, means families are far more likely to avoid future social care intervention. Evidence shows that an estimated 31% of 0 to 19 year olds in Buckinghamshire may benefit from early help support, and the current service is not reaching all of them. It is vital for the Council to focus its resources on helping them.

Early help is everybody’s business and local organisations such as schools, the health authority, voluntary organisations and district councils already contribute to it. This consultation relates only to the proposed changes to the County Council’s early help services, not health services.

In 2017/18 only 15% of the families using the Council’s early help services had an identified need for support. An even smaller number (5%) of families, with children aged 0-5, who used children’s centres had an identified need for support in 2017/18.

The County Council is having to reduce costs across services because of public sector funding reductions. It wants your views to help decide how to reach and support children and families in need as effectively as possible.

The consultation proposes three options for the service. These are informed by data on current service use and work done by talking to existing service usersThere has also been learning from authorities across the country who have adopted similar plans to our favoured option. These authorities now have targeted, proactive and connected services and have seen dramatic improvements in their early help service delivery.

Warren Whyte, Buckinghamshire County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “The research and evidence tells us we are not reaching enough of the children and families most in need with our existing Early Help service. This has to change. We know Children’s Centres are popular, yet a small percentage of people currently using them (5% in 2017/18) actually have an identified need for their support.

“To reach the people most in need and provide the best possible early help service, we must make services more connected, proactive and targeted. This way, the money spent on the service can go further to help the children and families who would most benefit. A new early help service can be about far more than physical buildings - it can ensure we give the right professional support to children and families at the right time. We need to help people before their problems escalate and become harder to resolve. With no central government funding, the Council has less money than ever before and must make every penny count toward helping those children and families most in need.

“Our preferred option (Option B) would retain the use of some existing children’s centre sites, expanding their offer of support as Family Centres, and strengthen all aspects of the Early Help service to provide more targeted support to people in need. This would let us work with health providers, schools and others to ensure families get the right service at the right time.

“But we need to know what the public think – particularly those using early help services or who may benefit from them. The views we hear will matter in helping us decide on or even reshape our proposals.”

The consultation runs until midnight on Thursday, 13 December 2018. Access to the online survey and more detail on the proposed options will be available on the Buckinghamshire County Council website.  No changes will be made to early help services until September 2019.

Several public meetings are being planned during the consultation period to support people in understanding the options in filling out the survey. More information will be given about these soon.