Hi folks – I thought it must be time to update everyone about the new early-help offer of support for families in Brighton and Hove, how it fits with the new social work (MASH) arrangements, how it all works, who it involves and how we’re all doing! Expect a bit of myth busting, a bit of clarity – and a sprinkle of jargon gardening, weeding out all those annoying acronyms etc. so we all know exactly what’s happening and how we can use it to everyone’s advantage.
The city has much to offer already with great work going on in Children’s Centres, early years, parenting programmes, health visiting, schools, special needs and mental health services, disability services, youth services including youth crime prevention and youth offending, youth employability and NEET projects, LGBTU and BME support services, domestic violence support, family work and adult support services, housing and benefits advice, specific work for women and fathers, police, probation, advice and advocacy, food banks and other food and nutrition projects, community development, family mediation – the list is not exhaustive – and I include the hundreds of rich and diverse projects in the community & voluntary sector. However, knowledge of all of these and how to refer into them or access them is varied across different teams and for families themselves, with so many ‘ways in’ that over complicate and slow down actually getting children and families the right support they need at the right time.
On top of this, the cost of intervention services where things have gone wrong (social services, Looked After Children, prisons and youth offending units, police, health services, emergency and temporary housing for example) is phenomenal in this country and the current focus is on prevention and early intervention – something now termed as ‘Early Help’.
I won’t bore you with the strategy – suffice to say that our Director of Children’s Services Pinaki Ghoshal has the vision, alongside many of us, of a joined-up service for all the children, young people and families in our city – a joined up system that is simple to access by families and by professionals – easy to navigate, responsive, and communicates effectively across all of these services so that no child, no family, is left without support where it is needed and wanted.
So – I’ll start by explaining the MASH and then I’ll go into more detail about our Early Help Hub, and how the two fit together. The MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) is the new name for social services, previously ACAS and they currently reside in Woodingdean. This is the front door for child protection concerns – a new document has been produced to explain the thresholds for social work intervention – I will provide a link to all of the documents you need at the end of this post, including all of the telephone numbers and email addresses you need to access the MASH or the Early Help Hub. In brief, social services have been set up to include professionals from a wide range of agencies including police and probation, education and early help who come together daily to make decisions about how to proceed following a child protection referral. Information is gathered about children and their families – things like what preventative work has already been put in, whether there have been interventions that have or haven’t worked, and a chronology is built up so that any decision agreed is better informed. Depending on the level of risk to a child referred in, these decision meetings are taken either 4 hours, 24 hours or 72 hours following the original referral in. If social services decide to take a case they will conduct their own Single Assessment and allocate a social worker. If they decide it doesn’t meet threshold, they will pass it onto the Early Help Hub – I’ll come back to what happens after that later on, but hopefully this is a more reassuring outcome than previously, when in a lot of cases, there was simply no further action.
EARLY HELP HUB
So – the Early Help Hub has been set up to have 2 main functions – a) to receive referrals in from the MASH where a decision has been taken that concerns do not reach threshold for social work intervention, but where it is deemed sensible to contact the family and the referrer and look at what support could be offered to the family in order to minimise further concerns and improve things for them; b) to be the ‘front door’ for all of the services available to children, young people and families across the city – certainly for council-commissioned services, and with a reach to all of the community & voluntary sector agencies as well.
So the Hub has three teams set up to manage all of this work.
SUPPORT TEAM: this team, managed by Julia Daborn and Fiona Ricci, comprises of the Family Information Service, together with the previous CAF Support officers, and is the only door that families and professionals need to use to access everything else. This team can advise families directly about anything from where to find a holiday playscheme, to how to get advice on benefits – and also they take all of the referrals into the Hub from professionals and families where there are support needs, for example, they would like a youth worker or a family coach, or there are complex issues that require a family assessment and co-ordination of different services/agencies together. They also take calls from professionals in the city looking for advice and support on cases. These requests for advice and support are passed onto the:
MENTORING TEAM: this is the team I currently manage, and we have 2 Early Help mentors, plus a Probation mentor, and a PCSO mentor. The Support Team contact us when professionals require support, where families need an assessment and co-ordination of services, and where there are complex issues to problem-solve. We are a bunch of experienced super-problem-solvers and we also meet directly with all of the city’s schools regularly, discussing children and young people and offering advice and support for managing challenging and concerning situations. Sometimes this requires working directly with families, which we might do for a few weeks until things are held in a supported process. We also hold a lot of information about services and agencies available out there which families can be signposted to. We sit at Palace Place, with the Integrated Team for Families who are a team of family coaches working across the city from multi-agency backgrounds. Our bijou mentoring team have branched off from ITF as we were also family coaches, and we piloted our roles over the last year before moving across to the Hub so we are very fortunate to have access to the expertise and vast knowledge of ITF, led by Debbie Corbridge, and access to a wide range of information on families we can access with their consent to build up a clear picture of their strengths and difficulties, any previous interventions, and keep track of the most vulnerable children and families so we can be more proactive with our offer.
Some families move in and out of child protection services, and as I mentioned above some (circa 40-46%) referrals to social services do not reach their threshold – so when either of these scenarios arises families are discussed in the third Early Help team we have set up – called the Engagement Team – who work from the same building as the MASH. This team, managed by Carol King, might contact families directly and offer a short-term bit of work to get them into appropriate services – they might not want or need services so there might be a simple communication before closing the case – or there might be the need for more complex support in which case, the Engagement Team pass the case over to the Early Help Support or Mentoring teams to pick up. Please be aware there are strict protocols for the sharing of information and the MASH do not share confidential information with us at the Hub at any stage of the process.
DIRECT REFERRALS INTO THE EARLY HELP HUB
Obviously, there are many referrals coming directly into the EH Hub which do not need to go via the MASH as there are no known child protection risks so I’ll give you a brief overview of how we are currently managing that. Referrers complete a simple referral form with the parents’ (and young person if it is a request for targeted youth work) consent and this is emailed over to the Support Team. The deadline is 12 midday every Thursday for discussion at the Weekly Allocation Meeting (WAM) which happens every Monday morning. Preparation for this meeting is done by a team of data specialists who collate known information about families to inform this meeting – nothing confidential, but useful detail about whether an assessment has been done previously via the now redundant CAF, whether a family coach is working or has worked with a family, whether any of the youth services have been involved, and whether the family are eligible under the Stronger Families, Stronger Communities criteria which opens the door to access family coaching from ITF and partner agencies such as CRI for example (Crime Reduction Initiative). Reps at the WAM include myself, ITF, early years’ practitioners, health, education, CAMHS, the Youth Service, Engagement Team, Police, Probation, Youth Employability and Youth Crime Prevention teams and we might invite others where relevant to discuss the referrals and make a decision as to which service is most appropriate. My Mentoring Team take the cases which require a family coach and we process those – the turnaround for allocating a coach takes one to two weeks generally. We also take the cases where more information is needed in order to make a decision, so we will do further investigating and speak to families and a variety of professionals to build a better picture. We also take the cases where an Early Help Assessment (previously CAF) is needed and there is no obvious agency to take this forward. We might look at supporting professionals to undertake assessments themselves, set up a Team Around the Family and identify a Lead Professional before we exit – and we often complete the assessment stage ourselves to get the support process up and running. Sometimes, what is required is a signposting function, so that families can be directed to the services that will benefit them, so we might do a lot of key-working, advocacy or hand holding to get people through the right door. We also provide all of the primary and secondary schools with a point of contact and we also work closely with the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit), Connected Hub and Homewood College who are managing the city’s high end vulnerable students. We link in with Early Help Co-Ordinators, Home School Liasion Officers, Education Welfare Officers, Police School Liasion Officers, the Behaviour and Attendance Partnership, Families of Prisoners and a variety of other partnerships across the city so we are constantly building up our knowledge and expertise about the city’s most vulnerable families.
We launched on 1st September – and as you can imagine it has been an exciting, exhausting challenge across the whole of the Hub and the MASH to get all of our systems and processes up and running, deliver what we intend to deliver, manage internal and external expectations, and inform the whole city of the new systems and how to access them. We will be having a big review in December, and in the meantime, trust that we are all working at a high pace to ensure that we provide the absolutely best service we can.
Do contact us if you’d like a chat, a visit or any further information. We’re happy to help!
FURTHER INFORMATION AND USEFUL DOCUMENTS
Website with all relevant info:
Leaflets for families and professionals:
Early Help Hub – information for professionals
Early Help Hub leaflet for parents carers