Early help is support for children and young people aged up to 18 (or 25 for those with special needs or who are disabled) and their families early on when problems emerge and involves the council working with other agencies to help them deal with any problem they feel unable to manage on their own.
The council is proposing a significant reduction in the wider early help service it currently delivers directly which will ensure that people most in need of help continue to receive it and that the authority’s resources are concentrated on the type of activities that are proven to be effective.
Families currently receiving early help would continue to be supported in the same way as they are now to avoid disruption.
The council’s proposals also include supporting other organisations which already offer early help services to build on and develop them as much as and wherever possible.
The council provides a substantial early help offer funded through its own budget and other grant schemes and proposals to redesign the service also reflect some national changes to funding arrangements, including for schools.
Proposed changes would also mean that around £3m of income from schools currently held in the county council’s budget under its existing early help funding arrangements would, if Cabinet approves the proposals, remain with individual schools to support their own early help responsibilities.
The authority carried out a six-week consultation which ran until the end of October inviting residents to have their say about proposed changes to the family support, youth support and careers elements of the service.
Almost 500 people took part and their comments have helped to shape a number of proposals which will be considered by the council’s Cabinet next week (Thursday 31 January).
Derbyshire County Council Cabinet Member for Young People Councillor Alex Dale said:
“Reviewing any service can be challenging but we have an ambitious vision of how our early help service could look to continue to make positive change in the lives of the children and families we work with.
“Our proposals focus on concentrating our limited resources on activities which evidence shows give families who need help the most the right level of support at the right time.
“This may be just an initial helping hand to help them get back on track rather than ongoing intervention from the council which, as the Cabinet report suggests, isn’t always the kind of support they need. But if the proposals are approved we would still retain an effective service which was there to help.
“This approach is intended to strengthen our communities and give families the confidence to know that while we would still be here to help when necessary, they know better than anyone what’s best for their children and how to look after them.”
One proposal resulting directly from comments made during the consultation is for the council to set up a transition team, funded up to £1.3m a year over the next three years, to ensure a smooth transition through any approved changes to the service.
Councillor Dale added:
“As with any proposed change we wanted to ask people for their views and I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation which resulted in some really good ideas.
“Providing early help is the responsibility of all public organisations. It’s everybody’s business and some of the best early help arrangements in the country are based on strong partnerships between councils, health, schools and the voluntary sector and that’s what the report proposes we build here in Derbyshire.
“With this in mind the proposals also include supporting, with the transition team and wherever and as much as possible, other organisations and the many community and voluntary groups to improve and build on the early help services they already provide to support families across the county.
“The council’s proposals, if approved, would be similar to early help arrangements already in place and working effectively at other high-performing authorities.”
If proposals detailed in the Cabinet report are approved on Thursday 31 January further consultation with staff and trade unions would follow in February and March and funding for the council’s Early Help Offer, which is currently £12.9m, would reduce to around £4.3m by 2023.
Any new structure for the early help service would not take effect before September 2019 and may not be fully implemented until November.