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Consultation on Improving early help services for children, young people and families

The consultation on improving early help services for children, young people and their families has now closed. 

This consultation was open from 14 July - 16 October 2017. The consultation details and proposals are below. 

You said, we're listening

We are now mid-way through our consultation on improving early help services for children and families. Thank you to those of you who have already replied. Feedback so far shows that more detail about the proposal would be useful. We have added further information about the current services and how these would change with the proposed new service.

If you have already responded but now wish to add more, please complete the survey again. Responses already sent in will still be included. The consultation will now close on 16 October to allow as much time as possible for responses.

We want your views on changes to services for children and young people aged 0 - 19, and their families in Buckinghamshire

We need to make changes so we can support the families who need it the most and build a service fit for the future. We want to hear from you to help us make the right decisions for the future of early help services for children, young people and families in Buckinghamshire.

To save the council money we would encourage you to give your feedback online. You can also complete the survey online in one of our libraries. However, if you do require a version of the consultation in an alternative format please contact


The consultation closes on 16 October 2017

We all want our children and young people to be happy, healthy, safe and successful

For us that means making sure we give families the right support, in the best way, at the right time. Part of this is how we can support families better earlier, to avoid small problems getting bigger. We call this early help.

With early help, families get the support they need to overcome all sorts of problems.
This could be:

  • support with being a parent and doing it well
  • debt advice and getting back into work
  • building better relationships as a family
  • how to get help for mental health, substance misuse or domestic abuse problems
  • support to keep children attending and achieving in school

We want to work with families before their problems become too difficult to manage and help them to become resilient so they can cope with problems in the future using local support services.

Our focus is always on how to make life better for children and young people within their family.

The needs of the community and the families in Buckinghamshire are changing

  • There are 131,000 children (0-19) in Bucks and this will increase to up to 145,000 by 2031
  • Although two thirds of the families that our children’s services currently support live in Aylesbury, High Wycombe and other larger towns, a third of families who need our support live in much smaller and rural areas
  • We aren’t always reaching the people most in need of our help, quickly enough or in the right ways
  • There are many families getting support from a number of organisations to help with problems they are facing as a family – but this support isn’t always joined up. This causes confusion and frustration for the family, and it doesn’t always make things better quickly or in a way that lasts
  • When there is one issue or problem in a family it affects everyone – so treating problems on their own doesn’t work
  • Families want to tell their story once or to a small number of people that they trust
  • Many families are not getting the help they need early enough, meaning they end up needing much more support than they might have done if we had helped them sooner
  • We have reviewed the use of our early help services including children’s centres and youth services. The evidence shows that they are not always helping the children and families that need it the most, so we need to change that

Our proposal

We need to focus our time and money on those who need our help the most.

We also need to change how we reach out and interact with families in our communities.

We want to:

  • support families earlier, so their circumstances improve quicker and problems don’t become too difficult to manage
  • give families the tools to help them solve their own problems and also be more resilient in the future – so they know where they can go for help when they need it

To do this, we plan to bring together all the people who work with children and young people aged 0 - 19, and their families, in those early days when problems are getting tough, by creating one service: the Early Help Service.


This new service would be modelled around family workers who will be based in the community so they are closer to where the families who need our support live. This will mean they can reach out to these families to work with them at home or in places they are most comfortable. This could be a local community venue or a coffee shop. Informal venues like coffee shops are often preferred by families we have worked with who feel more able to have an open and honest conversation in a relaxed environment, creating a better relationship between the individual and the worker.

Reaching out to families where they are most comfortable, at home or in the local community


This will provide families with:

  • support to manage ALL of the problems they are facing, with their consent and involvement, across all age groups in the family
  • ONE person they can rely on: a family worker who will work with the family on an action plan to tackle all of their concerns and needs together, not separately

The aim is to support families with early help and work with them to identify and resolve problems. The end goal is always to give them the skills and strength to be able to cope with problems when they arise or at least know where to go to get that support earlier.

In the future, we hope to be able to bring other teams and organisations together to make this even better for families in Buckinghamshire. This could include people like health visitors, community groups and charities that work with families.

Doing this will mean changes

We propose to redesign and bring together many of our services which provide help to children, young people and families in those early stages of a problem. This will involve changes to existing early help services we currently deliver or commission. The affected services are: 

  • The Buckinghamshire Family Information Service, an impartial information, advice and guidance service for families with children aged 0 - 19 (or up to 25 with special educational needs) and professionals through a website, social media and phone and outreach.
  • Advice and support on education, employment and training options for young people aged 13 - 19 through Connexions (Adviza). They offer mentoring and support for young people.
  • Early Help coordinators who co-ordinate referrals from families, partners and Children’s Social Care for Early Help services through regular multi-agency panels.
  • Families First supports the whole family across all age groups, covering all the issues they face making a difference and building their resilience so that they can cope when problems occur in the future.
  • The Family Resilience service (FRS) work with children, young people aged 0 - 19 and their families who need support but do not need the help of social care. They deal with all the issues a family faces, through direct work and through the coordination of other agencies. Family help is provided in family homes and community settings. They also deliver a range of parenting and other support group programmes.
  • Support for children who have lived with Domestic Violence through Women’s Aid. They provide group work and 1 to 1 support for children living in temporary accommodation as well as supporting primary school aged children overcome the trauma of having lived with domestic violence.
  • Support for parents through Barnardo’s who train and co-ordinate volunteers to support families with at least one child under 8. Volunteers go into homes or temporary accommodation and provide advice and practical support with parenting, networking, accessing benefits and services
  • Support for young carers aged 6 - 18 through volunteers and paid workers who provide one to one work and activities that allow them to take a break from their caring responsibilities.
  • The Youth Service work with young people aged 11 to 19 (or 25 for those with additional needs) to provide informal personal and social, education and information support and guidance. They provide specific support through 1 to 1 and small group work to allow young people to learn from their peers and develop the skills needed to move successfully into adulthood. They also provide street based youth work; this often takes place in areas of deprivation and/or rural areas and/or where there is anti-social behaviour.

There are currently 3 youth centres run by the Youth Service across the county in the following locations (hyperlink to BFIS): 

Youthspace Aylesbury
Youthspace Wycombe
The Roundhouse, High Wycombe

  • Children’s Centres provide a mixture of activities for all families with children under 5 as well as more specific support for families who need more help. This work supports other services such as the Family Resilience Service and Children’s Social Care and includes programmes and individual support on parenting issues for families in their homes. The centres are also used by other agencies to deliver their services, including health visitors, midwives, Jobcentre Plus and some voluntary agencies. 

There are currently 35 Children's Centres and 2 satellite centres in the following locations.

Elmhurst Children's Centre

Newtown Children's Centre

Steeple Claydon Children's Centre
Southcourt Children's Centre

Waterside Children's Centre

Buckingham Children's Centre
Quarrendon Children's Centre Smaller towns and rural areas Wing Children's Centre
Oakfield and Bedgrove Children's Centre Amersham Children's Centre Haddenham Children’s Centre
Wendover Children's Centre Marlow Children's Centre Chalfont Children’s Centre
Bearbrook Children’s Centre Beaconsfield Children's Centre Stokenchurch and Hambledon Valley (Satellite)
Walton Court Children's Centre Ivinghoe and Pitstone Children's Centre Marlow Children's Centre (Satellite)

High Wycombe

Hampden Way Children's Centre

Risborough Children's Centre Farnham Children’s Centre - Lane End (Satellite)
Hamilton Road Children’s Centre Burnham Children's Centre Bourne End and Wooburn Green Children's Centre
Millbrook Children's Centre Denham and Gerrard's Cross Children's Centre  
Hazelmere and Loudwater Children's Centre Prestwood and Missenden Children's Centre  
Disraeli Children's Centre Stokenchurch and Hambledon Valley Children's Centre  
East Children's Centre  The Ivers Children's Centre  
Abbey/ Mapledean Children's Centre Waddesdon and Whitchurch Children's Centre  
Castlefield Children's Centre    

Creating a new Early Help service will mean changes to all of these services. 

What will be different with a new Early Help service?

With less money there is a need to move away from services for all to more targeted services for those who need our help the most, focusing on support for the whole family. We have also been reviewing how we deliver Early Help services in a more joined up and coordinated way which was highlighted by Ofsted in 2014 as a key area for improvement.  

Almost all of our current early help services focus on either a specific issue or age group which means families will often be getting help from a number of different teams and organisations.

  •  We will bring together all these services providing early help support to children and families into one service.
  • We will create Early Help teams of family workers based in the communities where the families who need support live.
  • There will be nine Early Help bases, located in the areas where we know we are needed the most. We have looked at the families and children we currently work with and considered future housing growth to identify the best locations.
    Whilst demand for services is across the county, two thirds of children and families who need our support are in Aylesbury, High Wycombe and other large towns such as Chesham. The remaining third is spread across smaller towns and rural areas. We need to be able to support families living in large towns but also be able to go out to families in rural areas.
    Some of these bases could be located in existing Children’s Centres or in other local community venues. We will take into account to the accessibility of buildings when deciding on the locations.
  • The Early Help bases will provide targeted support. Families will be invited to activities or one to one support and these bases will be used to offer group sessions such as parenting courses and partner led sessions (for example, breastfeeding support run by health visitors) for those who need this support. Other group sessions may be run in other community settings, such as schools or village halls, depending on the demand. In the proposed new service, there will not be a ‘drop in’ option at the new Early Help bases for families.
  • The Early Help bases will give the teams space to work with groups of families on specific issues but their main focus will be to go out into the communities and into schools where the people who need us are.
  • These nine Early Help bases will replace the current Children’s Centres and other early help services, bringing together professionals working with children and families in the early stages of a problem. Currently Children’s Centre opening hours and the services that they offer is varied. There is not a consistent service across the county, centres are not always in the right places and they only provide services for families with children under the age of 5. Other early help services are structured around specific issues or age groups and therefore don’t support the whole family. We know problems affect everyone in the family so treating them on their own doesn’t always work in the long term.
  • We know that some children and families use some of the current services for more social activities such as “stay and play” sessions, toddler groups and youth clubs. These activities are already widely available across the county and we will continue to signpost people to these and other services that we know are still needed and are popular. There may be opportunities in some locations for community groups or parish councils to become involved.

What types of support will be offered by a new Early Help service?

We will aim to provide practical, family centred and intensive, consent based support for families. Support can be provided to the whole family, individual children and young people within the family, or to groups of families who have the same problems.

The support will be agreed with children young people and their family, and will be based on their identified needs.  We will continue to learn from families and from local and national research as to what works best to help families.

Some examples of what could be provided include: 

  • How to build better relationships within the family
  • What works to improve children’s behaviour
  • Understanding and managing children with special educational or physical needs
  • How to be safe – for children and for parents
  • How to be the best parent you can be
  • Benefits and work, including CV preparation and interview training
  • Advice on housing problems
  • Budget management
  • Debt counselling/advice
  • Cooking healthy meals on a budget
  • Support with applications for food banks/charitable grants
  • Advice and support on finding childcare
  • Advice and support with positive activities – for children, young people and whole family
  • Practical support for a clean, safe home
  • Help to talk to other professionals better – including schools
  • School attendance
  • Attending appointments with family members (e.g. health appointments)
  • Bringing together the wider family to solve problems

  Some examples of what group sessions could include:

  •  Parenting courses
  • Freedom Programme (for Domestic Abuse)
  • Young parents groups
  • Workshops around volunteering, job applications and interview skills
  • Groups for parents of children/young people who self-harm
  • Keeping safe – a group for children/young people
  • Parents and children group, supporting the development of positive relationships
  • Mindfulness group work with parents, for those that are socially isolated/ vulnerable
  • Life skills course – how to manage your own life and build your skills

How will I be able to access services going forward?

The aim of a new Early Help service is to bring together services for children and families and work as one to make it simpler and easier for families. This means they will only have one lead worker who will bring in additional expertise if needed.

As the team bases will not operate on a drop in basis, the main route will be via a central phone number and website for families and professionals. Information and advice will also be available about activities in Buckinghamshire for children, young people and families.

Activities, information, advice and support for families and children from 0-19 can be found at . As part of our plans, we will be developing this website and information to be even better in the future. 

We have looked at how this works across the country and considered other options.
This model of Early Help service for children and families is already working well in many other parts of the country. We have gathered knowledge and research from these areas to help us develop how we think it could work best here in Buckinghamshire.

We have listened to the views of children and families that we work with to create a service that will meet their needs best and will listen carefully to the responses gathered through this consultation.

We have been working with a number of families in a similar way in Buckinghamshire for a few years through the Family Resilience Service and the Families First project. We want to use this experience and knowledge to benefit all families in Buckinghamshire.

We considered three other options before reaching the proposal for a new service. These were:

1. To keep all existing commissioned and in house early help services in their current format but reduce all budgets equally. Whilst fair, this would mean that some services would no longer be able to run to their current level and would impact on their ability to support children and families.

2. To keep only those services able to demonstrate effectiveness and good results for children and families they are working with and close others not doing this. Services provided would be most effective in supporting children and families but would mean the removal of a number of services and could put some children and families at risk and in the long term could increase demand on more costly social care services. 

3. To keep and bring together all County Council early help services and stop all early help services we pay others to run. This would be a relatively simple process and would retain council employees. However, this would mean the removal of a number of services impacting the breadth of support available and could potentially increase demand on more costly social care services in the future.

We recommend that developing a new service will create new opportunities and better benefits for children and families. A new service would provide the best value for money and the best opportunity to improve outcomes and reduce demand on children’s social care and education services. This would give us the opportunity to bring together the skills and expertise across current early help services and provide a more seamless and joined up approach to working with families as a whole as opposed to individual problems or age groups. This option, based on emerging national best practice, has therefore been developed and is the proposal for a new Early Help service for Buckinghamshire.

"It's better to ask for help earlier than when there’s no other option. I wish I’d done it earlier. I’m not a bad parent, I just needed some guidance and ideas. Having someone to talk to outside of my friends and family has made a huge difference to our family life"
Amanda, mum of 3 from Aylesbury Vale

Next steps: 

We will use your feedback to inform how we develop our early help services for children and families for the future. Results from the consultation will be shared on this page in the Autumn. 

Feedback from the consultation and proposals for early help services in Buckinghamshire will be shared with Cabinet in January 2018. 

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