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Reflections on the Early Help Summit by Aileen Buckton, Independent Chair of the MSCP

Date: Friday, 19th Nov 2021 | Category: Blogs, General

It was fantastic to join so many of our partners in Merton at our recent Early Help Summit hosted by the Merton Safeguarding Children Partnership (MSCP) and be part of a vital conversation around the importance of early help, particularly during a global pandemic.

Early Help has been a priority of the partnership for some years. We have worked together to review practice and seek feedback from families around what really makes the difference, culminating in the launch of our Early Help Strategy and Effective Support for Families Model earlier this year. The Early Help summit gave us an opportunity to reflect on the strategy and early help priorities, and how to embed this in our practice.

It was encouraging to hear from Dr. Sarah Ivankovic, Head of Barnardo’s, London, about the collaborative work of “See, Hear, Respond.” Together with the Department for Education, and involving 87 different charities and community partners, this was a response that took place last year to reach targeted family groups during the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, changes in demand, and the speed at which the response had to be mobilised, “See, Hear, Respond” was proof of what can be done to effect change for families when charities and organisations partner together with one purpose.

Rebecca Watson, Development Manager for Early Help in Merton, spoke helpfully on both the Early Help Strategy and the Effective Support model. She outlined the three key priorities of the Strategy: reduction of children in need, more babies and children meeting expected stages of development, and the importance of school attendance. Further information on what she discussed can be found on our dedicated Early Help web pages.

Sarah Keen, CAMHS Senior Transformation Manager, led the first of three workshops, each tailored to one of the three priorities of the Early Help Strategy. She talked about the iThrive concept and what this means for Early Help. The model centres on the importance of early intervention and prevention, as well as mitigation for children and young people with complex needs. The iThrive model is all about ensuring children and young people enjoy good mental health and wellbeing and replaces the traditional ‘tiers’ approach with a needs-led service.

Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation led the second workshop where she highlighted the importance of the first 1001 days of a child’s life and how this was impacted during lockdown. She stressed that the 1001-day period was one of immense opportunities but could also be one of vulnerability if parent-child relationships were not secure. She gave the stark reminder that the pandemic had increased risks to our babies and that there needed to be meaningful change in our systems and services so that we can build back better.

Keith Shipman, Education Inclusion Manager at Merton, along with Yvonne Wilkins and Karen Reid, led the third workshop on school attendance and why it matters. They shared eye-opening data surrounding attendance, particularly that, at 90% attendance, a child is effectively missing half a day of school every week of the year. They also spoke about the Covid CME (Children Missing Education) panel which was put together to track children “off-rolled” or moved abroad during the pandemic. Some key themes emerged as barriers to attendance including parental fear of their child contracting the virus at school, vulnerable adults in the home shielding, self-isolation, child issues, non-engagement, and various parental views. Using this information, they were proactive in raising attendance when appropriate help was put in place.

Finally, Maisie Davies, Policy and Partnerships Manager for the MSCP spoke on vital learning from our recent practice reviews. She highlighted four areas of thematic learning for partners including: contextual safeguarding, race and culture, Think Family and supporting parents; and the impact of Covid-19. It is vital that as a Partnership we learn the lessons from our local child safeguarding practice reviews. If you are interested in reading more about them you can visit the MSCP practice review web pages. She also reminded us of the comprehensive MSCP training programme available to multi-agency partners, which includes training on the issues arising out of our practice reviews.

Overall, there was lots to talk about, learn from, and take home from this summit. Dr. Ivankovic highlighted, through the “See Hear Approach” response, the lesson in preparing for the unknown and building open and trusted relationships with partners. This was the most striking theme that overarched the whole event; the need for partnership when providing effective early help and support, particularly during unprecedented times such as a pandemic.

I would like to thank everyone involved in the hard work of planning, organising, and delivering this summit.