There is no single definition of early help. For some, it means creating the right environment for children to thrive in the first five years of life and involves putting in place parenting support for struggling families before problems deteriorate and require more intensive intervention.
For others, early help is not restricted to younger children, but instead can be applied to tackling problems into adolescence and early adulthood. They point to the fact that for many young people problems - such as risk-taking behaviour, mental ill health and offending - only begin to emerge in adolescence.
As this broader definition of early help has taken root, a wide range of organisations and agencies - from police to fire services - have started to play a greater role in delivering early interventions to vulnerable children and families.
However, as recognition of the vital role of early help has increased, government funding - and local authority spending - on early interventions has reduced. With demand for child protection services continuing to rise amid shrinking town hall budgets, children's services leaders face a battle to maintain their existing early help provision.
CYP Now's special report on early help outlines the key policy developments that have shaped the current early help landscape, assesses recent research on the impact of early help approaches, and highlights four examples of early help work in various settings.
Early Help: Research evidence
Bilson and Martin's study is the first to show the extent that children are involved in children's social care services over their first five years. This demonstrates that despite an increased focus on early help, child protection interventions have increased over the same period.
At present we do not know why this is but the impact on families is discussed and the authors question the current scale of formal responses to concerns about children's welfare.
They also highlight the need for further research into the impact of early help on the child protection system.
The paper concludes by calling for the system to move away from an individualised, investigative approach towards approaches that promote poverty alleviation and develop family and community strengths, such as those explored in the remaining three articles.
These include the promising findings of an evaluation of the Incredible Years programme delivered to parents of three- and four-year-olds at risk of developing a conduct disorder; the theoretical basis of Signs of Safety and how and why it is being used in Birmingham; and the provision of family support services for young mothers within a Sure Start children's centre.
Referrals and Child Protection in England: One in Five Children Referred to Children's Services and One in Nineteen Investigated before the Age of Five
The Effectiveness of the Incredible Years Pre-school Parenting Programme in the United Kingdom: a Pragmatic Randomised Trial
Helping Birmingham Families Early: The 'Signs of Safety and Wellbeing' Practice Framework
Engaging on the 'Front Line': Exploring How Family Support Teams Construct Meaning in Their Work With Young Mothers