Shropshire Council

Best practice guidance

Early Help Audit March 2015

Two recent audits looking at the overall effectiveness of early help and the quality of assessments and related tools have been undertaken by nominated practitioners as part of the 'Early Help Stakeholder Audits'. 

The audits have demonstrated that the child’s voice is much better heard through use of a Webstar assessment, but the context and history of what has been tried before is better evidenced when an EHAF is used. 

Findings show that by providing further evidence of the child’s thoughts and feelings in relation to their current situation, and ensuring their goals are part of plans, would enhance assessment information.  

A range of tools can be used to capture assessments, but they need to provide comprehensive context as to what's going on for the child/young person.

  • Collaborative working – ensure there are shared plans, remember the plan is for the child/family and is not an agency plan. Plans should be monitored and reviewed and build on previous plans.
  • Ensure when referrals are made that targeted agencies continue to communicate with universal agencies (particularly at closure). Also, where more agencies are involved, partnership meetings need to be held to ensure plans are comprehensive.
  • Ensure siblings are not invisible – where there's impact on siblings this should be evidenced within plans. Plans need to ensure they're meeting the needs of any household member.
  • Consideration needs to be given to drift of cases. Possibly early help cases that are open for more than a year, or had three or more reviews, should be considered for consultation with an early help social worker.
  • Outcomes need to be explicit at the point of closure, regarding the impact and difference that the intervention has made to the child.

Audit and feedback has also highlighted some recurrent issues with early help paperwork. Please remember:

  • To get signed consent on early help forms.
  • To ensure you add the person’s name on the Webstar score page.
  • To ensure that any assessment tool used should be accompanied by Webstar scores for all relevant family members in order to gather baseline information.
  • To ensure that when individuals complete a Webstar, they are scoring how they feel (not how they think a child/young person may be feeling).
  • To use the scale range provided on the Webstar tool, selecting one number only (not a range eg 3 - 5, or half scores, eg 1.5).
  • To provide the date of activity on any forms (assessment date, meeting date, plan date, referral date, closure date).

Early Help Audits - Assessments

The recent early help audit focused on the quality of assessments. A range of early help practitioners audited a random selection of 14 cases owned by universal and targeted providers, which were open within the last 12 months.

Learning from Early Help Audits

The voice of the child

There was improved evidence of the voice of the child, using a range of methods. However there is still more work which can be done in this area. Where the voice of the child was captured there was evidence that this was not taken into the assessment and action plan. The audit also showed that voices of all siblings within the family were not captured.

Whole Family Assessments

There was evidence that assessments were being completed as a process for requesting a targeted early help intervention for a particular child and not as a whole family assessment to understand the needs of everyone in the family.

The assessment tended to focus on one child within the family, and the needs of all children were not considered.

The Webstar is a live document and should be updated if new concerns emerge based on new information. In this instance practitioners should add a log on ECINS to say why the Webstar has been updated.

Use of Tools

The use of supporting early help tools was appropriate, and a range of tools were used. The audit found that the analysis gathered from using those tools was not brought into the assessment and therefore failed to include key evidence and information. There are a range of tools  available on the Early Help Website.

Family Compositions

When there is a difficult family composition it is important for practitioners to remember to be clear about who everyone is and their relationship with each other, this enables others to be clear about the context of the relationships in the family.

Recording on ECINS

Practitioner are encouraged to be proactive in giving access to a case based on what they know about the family and the other agencies who may be interested – i.e. depending on the ages of the children, think about giving access to the school nurse or health visitors. Agencies having to request access can cause delay.

Training and Development

There are a number of training and development opportunities available to practitioners including the following early help modules

  • The role of the lead professional
  • Capturing the voice of the child and family
  • Assessment and analysis skills
  • SMART action planning
  • Information sharing and consent

The following ECINS training modules have been developed:

  • Introduction to ECINS – 2 hours
  • Look up and recording on ECINS – 1 hour
  • Creating a case on ECINS – 1.5 hours
  • Using the Family Action Plan effectively and case closure - 2.5 hours

Booking information can be found on the Shropshire Safeguarding Children’s Board website

The next Audit will focus on Action Plans. 

Early Help Audit - The Early Help Plan

The most recent Early Help Audit focused on the quality of the Early Help Plan.

Cases were chosen randomly to ensure a reasonable spread of services; 4 were owned by schools, 3 by Targeted Youth Support (TYS) and 2 by Children’s Centres (CCS).

The audit tool explored the following questions:

  • Are children safe? Have concerns been identified and have services provided made a positive difference?
  • Where appropriate, is there evidence of management oversight of the assessment and effective decision-making?
  • Are plans timely, comprehensive and analytical, and do they lead to appropriately focused help and effective interventions?
  • Is coordination between agencies effective?
  • Is there evidence that the plan is making things better within a time frame that is right for the child?
  • Is there evidence of regular and timely reviews of the plan?
  • Have the family’s wishes and feelings been ascertained?

Compliance of each case was also audited.

Audit findings

9 cases were audited in total; all had Early Help plans. The audit evidenced that all cases were being supported at the correct threshold of need with all children being judged as being safe.

89% of cases audited were compliant with Strengthening Families claims criteria. However, 37% of the compliant cases did have details missing from consent records including date of birth, gender, ethnicity, signatures, surnames and National Insurance numbers.  The one non-compliant case did not have an electronic Webstar assessment; but did have an uploaded paper copy on file.

Of the targeted services (TYS/CCS) cases audited, all had evidence of timely management oversight. All universal Early Help cases audited lacked management oversight and supervision for the lead professional recorded.

Multi-agency working was only clearly evidenced in 4 of the 9 cases. This is in the main due to plans not being reviewed regularly, updates not being recorded on the plan and Early Help Partnership meetings not taking place routinely.

Only a third of the plans audited were assessed to be timely, comprehensive and analytical, leading to appropriately focused help and effective interventions. This is due to a number of factors which include there being no timescales for tasks, no updates being recorded, criteria on the plan not corresponding to the concerns identified and plans not linking to assessed needs. The audit identified significant gaps regarding identity, ethnicity and diversity being acknowledged, recorded and responded to.

The following judgements were given by the auditors in relation to whether they felt the family’s wishes and feelings had been ascertained:

Outstanding 1
Good 4
Requires improvement 1
Inadequate 3


The main challenges around wishes and feelings being evident were:

  • At assessment this was good but this did not follow through to the plan and therefore the plan was too focused on tasks for professionals rather than for families which would enable the families to have ownership of the plan and successfully sustain outcomes;
  • Not all family members wishes and feelings had been sought which is a barrier to a whole family approach;
  • Wishes and feelings are evidenced in observation logs but not in assessments, plans or updates.

The outstanding example had a completed Graded Care Profile 2 assessment and children’s ‘My Life’ assessment in addition to support the plan and to enable a clear family voice to be included.

Key messages

  • Practitioners need to ensure that goals/needs gathered from the child or young person via the Webstar or other tools e.g. ‘My Life’ booklet feature in the whole family action plan;
  • The needs of all family members should be considered in the action plan with tasks for all family members as appropriate;
  • The whole family action plan must link to the needs assessed i.e. each goal in the ‘future’ sections of the Webstar assessment should feature in the plan as concerns;
  • All concerns on action plans require a task, with timescales for completion, to ensure that they are SMART to achieve outcomes;
  • Practitioners need to record progress, with evidence, against each task in the plan to ensure that outcomes and/or challenges are clear. This would be achieved through regular plan reviews with the family and other professionals which could be carried out during Early Help Partnership Meetings. This would reduce drift and delay of outcomes and minimise escalation of need in some cases;
  • Future training for EH practitioners around ethnicity, diversity and cultural identity needs to be considered as part of wide scale workforce development;
  • Practitioners need to be clear when identifying the needs of the children that they are not making assumptions about the child or young person’s wishes and feelings. Clarity is also required in records when it is a parent or professional sharing their view of the child’s wishes and feelings. This could be overcome by practitioners involving children and young people by using creative tools and by inviting children and young people, where this is age or developmentally appropriate, to attend Early Help Partnership Meetings;
  • It is good practice to include actions from assessment tools other than the Webstar e.g. GCP2 into the action plan to evidence that needs have been robustly assessed;
  • To provide a full record of intervention being delivered to the whole family it is good practice for all EH services, including universal, to record effectively on ECINS. This is not routinely happening;
  • Practitioners must ensure that Strengthening Families consent forms are completed in full; full names of all family members with dates of birth and ethnicity; and signed by all family members over the age of 18 who appear on the form with parents/carers signing on behalf of children under 18. Signatures are required on pages 2 and 3 of the form.