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Early Help in Dorset

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Providing early help is recognised as being more effective in promoting the welfare of children and more cost efficient than reacting later when problems have escalated. Early help is everyone’s business (see Section 10 of the Children Act 2004) – children and families say that they want to tell their stories once, to a person they trust and who knows them. During the implementation of Family Partnership Zones in Dorset there has been a positive shift in the approach of the local authority and its partners to engage in more proactive early help/intervention, and the focus of services in improving the lives of children, young people and families from a ‘whole family working’ perspective.

The Family Partnership Zones are based on the ‘children’s zones’ approach first developed in Harlem in the USA – the principle being that it is hard to raise healthy children in severely deprived communities, but this impact can be reversed by drawing the community together around common interests and activities.

At the heart of good early help is understanding the strengths and needs of families and the foundation of this is a high quality, multi-agency assessment process that leads to deliverable action plans. Partners previously used the on-line ‘eCAF’ system to record assessment information. The CAF (common assessment framework) was launched nationally in 2000 as a tool for facilitating the co-operation of partners. It was a shared assessment and planning framework for use across all children’s services and local areas in England. It aimed to help the early identification of children and young people’s additional needs and promote coordinated service provision to meet them. It was one of a number of integrated tools and processes designed to help practitioners assess and address the needs of a child or young person. Over time it has been recognised that focusing on one child in a family does not lead to best outcomes for children, young people and families, and through programmes like the Troubled Families initiative, whole family working is becoming more embedded and demonstrating sustained and significant improvement in outcomes for children and young people.

The on-line eCAF system in Dorset has been decommissioned as it was not meeting practitioner or children and family needs, following a review in late 2018 and agreement at the Strategic Alliance for Children and Young People. Practitioners were asking for continued guidance around whole family assessment and planning and the Early Help Assessment (EHA) for Dorset has been developed in partnership with other organisations.

If as a practitioner you do not currently have a mechanism for recording assessment and planning information, this downloadable document is for you (see document opposite). If you already use a system or tools, please continue to do so. If you would like advice and guidance around assessment and planning in early help, contact your local family partnership zone (contact details opposite). We recommend that you attend the ‘Early Help: Understanding Your Role’ 2.5 hour training which is bookable via Nexus (see link opposite). This covers the basics of your role in early help, where to get advice and support and covers what good assessment is.        

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