There are a variety of safeguarding initiatives in place that have been implemented to protect children who are more at risk of harm. One of these is the Early Help Assessment (EHA), which formally replaced the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) between 2014 and 2015.
The Early Help Assessment form is the document that is filled out at the first meeting of the child at risk, with their family and care workers completing the assessment. This form is used to assess which aspects of life the family are coping well with and where they may need additional support.
An Early Help Assessment is designed to provide intervention before any harm comes to a child or family and allow both the children and adults involved to make decisions and judgements about whether they need support. The outcomes of this assessment are chosen to benefit everyone in the family and hopefully prevent any situations from worsening.
The Early Help Assessment form was brought in as a way for social workers and safeguarding professionals to assess the situation of a child or young person who is identified as being more at risk than their peers, and decide what action should be taken to minimise harm. This involves what is best for the child and also what is best for the adults in their family.
An Early Help Assessment form is filled in with the help of the child in question and any members of the family or household, regardless of their relation to the child or whether they play a part in their care. Relatives or caregivers who do not live with the child may also attend the assessment and get involved in the actions decided on as a result of the meeting.
It is important to note that an Early Help Assessment is a voluntary process, and cannot be completed without the consent of the adults involved. The purpose of the process is to allow the family and the child involved to help themselves and independently decide what additional support they need, before other services have to get involved and this choice is taken away.
Completing an Early Help Assessment means that multiple different support systems and agencies can be brought in to make a plan of action for a child and their family that results in a coordinated response from the services around them. By providing additional support such as childcare, counselling and financial advice, the chance of a social care intervention in the future is greatly reduced.
The Early Help Assessment is designed for children and families who are identified as being at a low-level risk of harm or damage in the future if an intervention does not take place. It identifies any emerging needs in areas like health, education, housing and social relationships and means that these additional needs can be met with the appropriate services.
Examples of situations that may require an Early Help Assessment are:
Different safeguarding authorities will use different formats of the Early Help Assessment form, but the basis of each is very similar. The assessment form can be divided into three different sections.
The first stage of filling out an Early Help Assessment form is to gather information on everyone who is involved in the assessment and connected to the family.
This begins with listing all of the children who are in the family taking part in the assessment, not just the child who may have been identified as having additional needs. Information such as their date of birth, gender, ethnicity, first language, the addresses they live at and their education setting may also be collected.
It is worth noting that unborn children are included in an Early Help Assessment as a member of the family, and should be considered when thinking about who might be at risk.
Once all the children involved have been recorded, the parents and other adult family members or carers will be listed. Their relationship to the child or each of the children will be ascertained along with whether they have parental responsibility, and personal information like ethnicity, address and occupation.
Other adults may be attending the assessment session who do not live with the rest of the family or be directly related to the child involved, but still play an integral role in their caregiving or want to be involved in the action plan at the end of the assessment. These adults will also need to be recorded, along with their relationship to the affected child or family.
A family undertaking an Early Help Assessment may already be in contact with some agencies that are providing additional support. It is important that you make a note of what services are already involved, who in the family they are helping and what role they play.
Finally, the assessor or assessors will record their details and identity if they are the Lead Professional in this case.
The bulk of an Early Help Assessment is focused on assessing the needs of the child and their family, based on judgments of how well they are coping with several different aspects of life.
This section usually begins with identifying what prompted the Early Help Assessment and any significant incidents or concerns that have indicated that there may be a problem. This may involve completing a checklist or just describing the relevant events leading up to this point.
Reasons for conducting an Early Help Assessment include academic issues, health issues, behavioural problems, a harmful home situation, emotional difficulties, substance misuse use or the risk of exclusion from an educational facility.
An Early Help Assessment operates by getting the child and their family to identify what areas of family life are going well and which areas they may need to improve in or require additional support. This encourages a more positive approach to preventing harm and gives everyone involved more control over what happens to them.
The bulk of the assessment revolves around three different areas: the development of the child, the parents or carers, and environmental or wider family factors.
Beginning with the child or children involved, the professional carrying out the assessment will ask the family to rate how well they feel they are coping with factors such as the child’s health, behaviour, development and relationships. If the child is old enough then they will have the most input into this section of the assessment.
The discussion may involve talking about any physical or mental health conditions that the child is dealing with, how well they are developing socially and emotionally, their perception of themselves and their identity, their independence skills and communication abilities.
The child and family will then be given the chance to identify the areas that they feel they are struggling with and decide what they would like to happen to improve this. These steps will be recorded on the Early Help Assessment form along with the ultimate goal and what could happen if the issues are not addressed now.
Next, the assessment will focus on the other family members. The family involved will be able to talk about where they feel their strengths lie in areas such as basic care, the emotional stability and warmth that they provide, and whether there are appropriate boundaries at home for all children.
Things to consider at this point will include whether everyone’s basic needs are being met in terms of food, drink, warmth and hygiene, whether the home environment feels emotionally stable and whether appropriate guidance is being given by the parents or caregivers for their children to follow.
As with the last topic, the family and child will then identify which areas they may require support in, and a plan will be put together for what they would like this support to result in and what might happen if the issue was left unchecked.
Finally, the assessment will focus on whether the family environment and other contextual factors are affecting anyone’s wellbeing and development. Positive areas will be identified, along with areas that may be having a negative impact.
The kind of issues discussed in this part of the form could include family history, wider family and their support, the emotional environment at home and relationships between family members, the financial and housing situation of the family and other social elements like access to education, daycare, health services and other people.
Again, if it is decided that additional help is needed then a plan will be made to bring these in, with the family providing input on what they would like to happen next and what might happen if support was not given.
To conclude the Early Help Assessment, the next steps will be decided on with the family and the assessor’s input. Priorities will be identified by the child and the family members, and actions will be decided based on these.
Before the session ends, the child and their family will both be consulted on their feelings about the session and whether they are happy with everything that has been discussed. This is a vital part of the assessment process, as there is an emphasis on giving everyone involved the chance to speak about and choose what they would like to happen.
Up to a month after the Early Help Assessment, a Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting is set up to discuss what was decided in the EHA and involve the additional support services that are needed. Various agencies will be brought into this meeting to coordinate a support plan for the family.
The plan drawn up after the Early Help Assessment will be reviewed every couple of months, along with how the family is doing, until all the needs identified in the additional assessment are met.
The Early Help Assessment (EHA) was brought in to replace the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) between 2014 and 2015, as part of a government move to start addressing issues of child safeguarding before they became more permanently damaging and presented serious risks.
You do not need to undertake any specific kind of training in order to fill in an Early Help Assessment form. You will benefit, however, from undertaking any level of safeguarding training to better understand what you are looking out for in terms of safeguarding risks and how to deal with or support the issues these may have caused.
Whilst official training is not required, you will need to understand how an Early Help Assessment works before conducting one. You will also need to know the child and the family involved before completing the assessment.
A CAF form is the name of the form that the Early Help Assessment form replaced after the procedure was updated in 2014. There isn’t much difference between the two, but the procedure is now generally known as an Early Help Assessment instead of a Common Assessment Framework.
An Early Help Assessment is one of the best ways to minimise the harm that a child and their family might face by providing early intervention and letting those affected decide what support they would like to receive. Filling out the Early Help Assessment form provides a framework for this support and gives a clear idea of the steps needed to go forwards to support the child or children with additional needs and the adults who care for them.
If you’d like to find out more about the Early Help Assessment form and procedures that surround it, Virtual College offers an ‘Early Help and CAF’ online course that is suitable for anyone who works with vulnerable children and adults such as teachers, social workers and youth workers.