Last updated:
19 October 2017

Think Family and early help

Support and advice for practitioners on Early Help and Think Family assessment and planning.

1 Definitions

Think Family and Early help

The sooner a family receives the right support, the sooner they are able to improve their situation, preventing the need for prolonged support. Early help includes support for parents-to-be and very young children. It describes interventions and support provided to families where:

  • their needs are not being met by routine or 'universal' services
  • they do not meet thresholds for statutory interventions.

There are four elements to early help:

  1. Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) aims to provide a single and consistent point of access to advice, guidance and decision making about the right level of help needed to keep each child safe or achieve change as part of an early help response.
  2. Family Support Networks that build partnerships in each West Sussex district and borough and develop a coordinated support pathway for families. They ensure families passed on by the MASH are joined to the right kind of support quickly, and that local services work together to provide high quality, targeted and preventative services that respond to local need.
  3. A partnership of specialist keyworkers that includes the Think Family Keyworker Service. This targets families with multiple or complex needs who require coordinated multi-agency support, to prevent the need for statutory social care intervention.
  4. Strong partnerships that work within the local area to support families in their communities and build capacity across their services and projects to deliver an Early Help response.

For further details, please visit the West Sussex Early Help Action Plan or the West Sussex Partnership Families Strategic Plan pages.

Think Family

This describes a way of planning, commissioning and delivering services across different levels of need. It recognises the importance of families and seeks to ensure all family members’ needs are met. By doing this better, outcomes can be achieved, especially for children in the family and the next generation.

View our video to see examples of case studies where Think Family has made a real difference:

2 Assessments for families

If you identify that a family is facing difficulties and could benefit from some support, discuss this with the parent(s) or carer(s). You may have recognised a possible need in a child or young person; it may be a change in their behaviour, an action or consequence, or something else that alerts you.

Often you will then need to seek further information to help clarify the problems or issue and prevent needs from escalating. To discuss this further or for more information, contact your local Family Support Network (FSN) lead.

Purpose of the assessment

The early help assessment is used to help practitioners gather and understand information about the family's strengths and needs, based on discussions with the family. It identifies the most appropriate way to meet those needs, and, with consent of the family, can support a 'team around the family' (TAF) approach.

What makes a good assessment? 

Ofsted provides useful guidance on what characterises a good assessment. The key elements include: 

  • asking the child for their experiences, thoughts and feelings about their circumstances
  • capturing the child's voice
  • consideration of each sibling's needs
  • making sure both parents participate and consent to an assessment
  • making sure the family’s history is taken into account in any decisions
  • all professionals known to the family contributing to the assessment
  • clearly identifying information needs, risks and strengths
  • reaching sound conclusions based on good analysis of information.

Statutory responsibilities

3 Early Help Plans

What is an Early Help Plan (EHP)?

Following an assessment, the next step is to agree with the family what would improve their situation and think of actions that could start to make things better.

The EHP is a combination of:

  • the assessment
  • the outcomes everyone hopes to achieve, including the child/ren or young person
  • the action plan.

Before the plan can be finalised, the family review it and check they are happy with the information it contains.

When to start an EHP

  • Level 2 - Early Help: Child/young person has additional needs that can be met by support from one or two agencies working with the family. Early Help Plans used to co-ordinate support.
  • Level 3 - Targeted Help: Children in families with increasing levels of multiple and complex problems. Families require a co-ordinated, whole family approach led by a Lead worker or key worker enabling the family to meet the children’s needs. Early Help Plans should be used.

Thematic themes:

  • Parents and children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour.
  • Children who have not been attending school regularly.
  • Children who need help.
  • Adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion and young people who are unable to find work or employment.
  • Families affected by domestic violence and abuse.
  • Parents and children with a range of health problems.

Support with Early Help Plans

If you need advice or additional support in starting or completing an Early Help Plan, contact your Family Support Network Leader, who will:

Find information about the West Sussex Continuum of Need/Threshold guidance.

4 Recording with Holistix

Holistix is a secure, multi-agency, web-based case management system used to record, share and store information.

As a bespoke assessment and planning tool available to all professionals who support families and young people, it allows for greater information sharing between services and organisations. This enables a truly multi-agency approach to families so they can receive the help they need at an early stage.

Access to Holistix

You can access Holistix from the link below:

Access Holistix (external link)

If you need to request access to Holistix please email your local Family Support Network (FSN) lead.

West Sussex County Council also offers system-user training sessions for practitioners and their managers. All training is available to book through the Learning & Development Gateway.

Supporting documents

For examples of how assessments should be recorded in Holistix, view the attached case studies of three fictional families. Also attached is the Think Family and Early Help training pathway for practitioners.

5 Family Support Networks

Hubs have absorbed the work of Family Support Networks. For now, the contact details remain the same to keep things working smoothly.

Family Support Networks are local district partnerships in West Sussex working collaboratively to help a coordinated pathway for support to families. They ensure professionals, who are working with families who are in need of Early Help, the support they may need. The aim is to provide high quality, targeted and preventative services that respond to local need and provide support for families that are in need.

Family Support Network (FSN) forums are multi-agency meetings currently held fortnightly in each Family Support Network area.

They have a core group dedicated to supporting children and getting the right plans in place where an early help response is needed.

The aim of the FSN forums is to bring together those working with children and families in West Sussex and to support them by sharing knowledge, expertise and information. Opportunities for integrated intervention will be discussed for individual children and families, providing a complete picture for family support to make sure the best interventions are made..

They also provide opportunities for practitioners to:

  • consider how best to meet the needs of children and young people with complex and challenging circumstances who fall below the threshold for a specialist service
  • increase the confidence of staff that work directly with children at an early intervention level
  • identify gaps in local services to meet the needs of children at an earlier stage
  • have a place to share expertise and good practice
  • improve information sharing
  • clarify Thresholds.

Download the promotional poster below to display in your central area.

6 Contact details

Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)

Local hubs

Hubs have absorbed the work of Family Support Networks. The contact details including opening times, phone numbers and addresses can be found below.

General enquiries

General, non-case related and non-confidential queries about Think Family and early help services (where the Family Support Network or Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub are not appropriate) can be made to:

For confidential, secure email please use:

Family Service Directory

You can use our Family Service Directory to find details of support groups in West Sussex.

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