Council chiefs have rubber stamped a new strategy aimed at supporting families before they go into crisis.
Two focused inspections carried out by Ofsted on children’s services in St Helens in 2018 and a Local Government Association peer review carried out earlier this year highlighted a number of areas that needed to be addressed.
Some of these concerns related to the St Helens Council’s early help offer.
Early help is when support it provided to children and their families as soon as a difficulty emerges rather than waiting for it to reach crisis point.
It has been identified that certain areas of practice in early help needed to be developed and following consultation with partner agencies and service users, a new strategy has been developed.
Speaking at cabinet this week, Billinge and Seneley Green councillor Joe Pearson, cabinet member for developing young people, said early help for families is a “strategic priority” for the council.
Coun Pearson said: “My view is that this strategy is absolutely essential in order to help families solve a number of wide-ranging difficulties they have in the community, when their children are young.
“Issues such as safeguarding, education, health, youth offending, etcetera, are all prevalent in our community from a young age.
“They’re all related to one and another and are not separate.”
A cabinet report says the improvements within the early help strategy will begin to provide and sustain a “more effective multi-agency offer” to improve outcomes across social care, health and education.
It says the strategy will contribute “significantly” to the integrated approach to manage the challenges of increasing costs and demand through the development of St Helens Cares, the council’s new integrated care system.
The strategy itself says early help has the potential to deliver services in the most “cost effective way”, reducing the need for costlier interventions as situations become “more complex and entrenched”.
“Intervening earlier is more cost-effective in the long-term and will be supported by the disinvestment in costly intensive interventions,” the strategy says.
“However, initially this can result in increased investment in early help services and services with a focus on prevention.
“A focus on the early help offer may also increase costs through raising awareness and increasing demand.
“It is acknowledged some children and families will continue to require intensive and costly support.”
In February, the council pledged to invest £5.5 million a year in children’s services to help deliver the changes required and meet the demand.
Council leader Derek Long said the early help strategy will allow the council to reduce the level of demand and subsequently reduce expenditure.
Coun Long said: “I think ultimately what we are facing as a society is a rapidly, unprecedently rapidly rising set of challenges for young people and therefore a rising demand for us as a local authority.
“And that inevitably means rising spending. And that’s right, we need to spend the money in order to meet the demand.”
Coun Long added: “We understand the challenges we are facing and therefore that’s why we put £5 million in to make this work.”
Cabinet noted and approved the multi-agency early help strategy for children, young people and families in St Helens between 2019-22.