What is early help and the Early Help Service?

    Sometimes families experience problems that require some additional help.  Often that help can be provided by wider family and friends but when it can’t they may require coordinated early help support.  If the problem they are experiencing is small, perhaps affecting one child or family member, it could be supported by a professional already known to the family (e.g. a teacher) through an early help plan. If there are multiple or complex problems and a range of support is needed, they may require the support of our Early Help Service.

    The Early Help Servicedelivered by West Sussex County Council, provides support to children and their families facing any number of challenging circumstances.   The service work with the whole family and a range of relevant professionals (e.g. teachers, health workers) to deliver support on an early help plan.  Some families will often require regular or intensive support to prevent their problems becoming harder to reverse.

    Our Early Help Service is not a part of universal services, which are open to everyone and include things like midwifery. Though universal services do currently use some of the buildings being discussed in this proposal.

    What are some examples of how the Early Help Service works?

    One child, who’s aged 7, the school contacts us, because she’s not attending school and there are some concerns about why that might be. We work with the family, with mum, who is very stressed, going through a divorce, got three kids under the age of 7 and finding it really difficult to get into a routine to enable her to get her children to school. What we’d do is work very hands on and work with that mum, walk and talk her through that routine, so she is enabled to take control again to get her kids back to school.

    It may be that a child with behavioural issues at school is lashing out and they’re having problems concentrating. Maybe this child is going through bereavement or trauma. We’ll work with them and the family to ensure that child is supported so that child can thrive and flourish.

    Maybe a school raises concerns for a child or group of children with worries relating to self-harm or eating. We want to ensure we can support where needed to review all these concerns.

    What are you proposing to do?

    West Sussex County Council is proposing a series of changes to the Early Help service to:


    • Maintain Early Help services from 11 of our 43 children and family centres; at least one centre in each district and borough of West Sussex


    • Increase the support and focused response to vulnerable children.


    • Ensure families have access to the most appropriate support, including closer working with schools.


    • Protect a full-time drop-in service for young people in each district and borough by merging our 12 Find It Out and youth centres with our 11 children and family centres.


    • Stop providing group work:

    For example, stay and play groups where parents can engage in play sessions with their children, allowing us to focus our attention, where we know we make the biggest difference; going out to support the most vulnerable children and families in the community.

    Why can’t Early Help carry on as it is?

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people needing support from both our Early Help and children’s social care services in West Sussex has been increasing.

    We expect this demand to continue to increase and must maximise our resources to reach those children most in need of help.

    Our proposals are part of a wider improvement journey across children’s services, which looks to best meet the needs of our children and families that need it most in West Sussex.

    We know that the people who need it most don’t always access our buildings. So, whilst we think it’s important to retain some buildings in this new model, we also think it’s important that we have enough resources to get out into children and families homes, to offer the support they need, in their own homes, where appropriate.

    How has COVID affected your services?

    Our centres have been closed since March 2020 but Early Help has continued to deliver services virtually or in the community while managing increasing demand.  Partners have continued to deliver universal services (e.g. midwifery and health clinics) both in the community and from their current buildings where possible.  

    Why are you planning to close children and family centres?

    We are making proposals to close a number of buildings including some children and family centres.  A review has shown that the majority of families attending or dropping into centres are not those identified as most in need of help.    

    We are proposing that the service is able to operate more in the community, going to those most in need of help, while retaining open access centres in the areas of highest need.

    If you close centres, where will maternity and other services run from?

    Early Help does not include universal services, such as midwifery and health clinics. These are provided by other organisations and our proposals do not impact on the funding of these services.

    We are already in early discussions with health and other organisations who operate these services from children and family centres.

    In some cases, partner services may be able to remain in their current location. We will be reviewing their feedback and any ideas for alternative ways these services can continue to be delivered as part of our proposed consultation.

    Some of the centres our Early Help Service could withdraw from are located in buildings such as libraries, schools, village halls and churches, which will remain open and will continue to be used by community groups.

    What are your plans for Youth Centres and Find it Out Centres?

    At the moment there are 12 youth centres and Find It Out Centres in West Sussex, which offer group work or a drop-in service for young people to receive advice and support.

    Under the proposals we would stop delivering group work in our youth centres as we know that working with vulnerable young people directly makes the greatest impact. We would relocate the Find It Out offer to the remaining 11 children and family centres. This would ensure a full-time drop-in service for young people remains available in each district and borough. This will complement the range of youth services the council run, which includes Youth Emotional Support (YES), mental health in schools and support for children affected by domestic abuse.

    What are the financial implications of the proposal?

    If implemented in full we would expect the proposals to deliver savings of £950,000 over the next two years. This would release funds for other service priorities. If the proposals are not implemented the Council would need to consider other ways to manage continued growth in demand across the service.

    Would these proposals impact any of your staff?

    We are in discussion with members of staff who may be affected by these proposals. A full staff consultation would follow the public consultation. If the proposals were agreed, we would look to redeploy staff elsewhere within our children’s services where possible.

    How do you plan to work more closely with schools?

    We know that our schools are the one service who have the most contact with children and are often likely to be the ones aware of a problem or potential risk to a child first. We currently conduct termly visits to all schools. It’s really important that we are supporting all of their concerns and ensure our visits are based on a needs based, to be able to flex and increase capacity for these visits where there is a need.

    How do I have my say on these proposals?

    Everyone will have the opportunity to review the plans in full and share their views over a ten-week period, which will go live 8 March. We strongly encourage you to have your say through the consultation process, which is vital to help our decision-making, so we can better assess any impact these proposals would have. Details of how to take part in the consultation will be shared very soon.

    How will you increase support whilst closing buildings?

    Where possible the redesign would redeploy staff elsewhere. For example, staff who currently conduct group work could provide additional resource for direct work and community visits.

    Allowing more capacity to visit children and families in their own homes, where we know we make the biggest difference.

    What is the timeline for this project?



    January/February 2021

    Informal key stakeholder discussion group

    23 February

    Cabinet to decide whether to consult on proposals


    8 March

    Public consultation lasting ten weeks


    30 June

    Children’s Scrutiny Committee


    20 July

    Cabinet decision



    Staff Consultation


    October 2021

    Implement new model