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Training and resources for professionals

Levels of Need framework

This guidance is for everyone who works with children and young people and their families in Devon, whether in a statutory or voluntary capacity. It contains information about the levels of need when working together with children and families to provide early help, targeted and specialist support.

  • Our indicators of need have been adopted to provide consistency for professionals working across geographical areas.


The majority of families will be able to access universal services in the community to support them and the needs of their children, however some children may need additional help to achieve their potential. This may be because they have additional needs or because of family circumstances, adversity or events outside their control. We want to identify and help these children and their families at the earliest opportunity in ways that do not leave them feeling singled out as different.

In Devon there are many different agencies and voluntary and charitable organisations who come into contact with and support children and their families. This document is for all who work in these organisations whether trustees, staff or volunteers and where we refer to ‘professionals’ or ‘practitioners’ this includes everyone who help families early. A child champion could be any practitioner or professional who, in agreement with the family, who helps co-ordinate the support a family’s needs.

To do this we need to work together in an open and honest way with the child and their family to gain their confidence, identify strengths and needs, to find practical and achievable solutions, and to provide the right amount of information, advice and support.

Helping Families Early we want to help in the critical years of a child’s life (including pre- birth and pregnancy) and also responding as soon as possible, at any age, through childhood and adolescence, when difficulties arise. We seek to offer support at the earliest opportunity to help families solve problems or to reduce the impact of problems that have already emerged.

We all help families early, it is an activity undertaken by almost everyone who works with children, young people and their families. This includes universal services such as health visitors, midwives, GPs and schools whose services are available to all children, including those with additional and intensive needs.

It is also important to think about the wider family network of family, friends and community at the first opportunity, as these can also be the most effective and sustainable forces of help.

Universal services in Devon support all children and their families to help children be happy, healthy, learn, achieve their potential and become economically independent citizens.

The majority of families will be able to access Universal Services (Level 1) and are encourage to make use of services in the community that may be able to support them and the needs of their children.

Services for children with additional and more complex needs are sometimes known as early help or targeted help services, such as support for emotional wellbeing, additional help with learning in school, extra support to parents in early years or targeted help to involve young people through youth services.

Children are best supported by those who already work with them, such as early years settings or schools, who can organise additional support with local partners as needed. It is really important for that child and family that they are very clear about the help they are offered and the difference it makes to their lives. This is best done through an early help assessment and plan. Where needs are identified within a contextual safeguarding concern a Safer Me Assessment may be required through the Adolescent Safety Framework.

Children whose needs are more complex require support through a coordinated multi-disciplinary approach, involving an Early Help or Safer Me Plan with a child’s champion working closely with the child and family helping co-ordinate the support they require.

Children’s mental health services, Educational Psychology, Speech and Language Therapists, Specialist teachers and SENCOs are examples of a targeted help service. By working together effectively with children that have additional needs and by providing coordinated multi- disciplinary/agency support and services for those with complex needs, we seek to prevent more children and young people requiring statutory interventions and reactive specialist services.

Specialist services are where the needs of the child or family are so great that statutory and/or additional specialist intervention is required to keep them safe and to promote their development under Section 17 or Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

In Devon it is everyone’s responsibility to work together to promote the welfare and development of our children.

This document must be read in conjunction with the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.


“Providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges at any point in a child’s life, from the foundation years through to the teenage years. Early help can also prevent further problems arising; for example, if it is provided as part of a support plan where a child has returned home to their family from care, or in families where there are emerging parental mental health issues or drug and alcohol misuse.”
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018


A Vision for Partnership Working in Devon

In Devon the approach for helping families early is embedded within the Devon Children and Young People’s Plan.

Our partnership strategy sets out our vision, principles and ambitions for working together so we can act as soon as problems emerge, share information and provide effective, timely support to enable children and their families to overcome difficulties and become more resilient so that they can manage future life challenges independently.

Our vision is:

  • We want to ensure children and families receive the right support, at the right time, and in the right place.
  • We believe that every child in Devon should have the best possible start in life and the opportunity to thrive
  • We believe children are best brought up in families with the right support that wraps around them when needed
  • We recognise and value diversity in all its forms and know that families come in many different shapes and sizes and that these unique relationships are the fundamental building block of people’s lives. Communities across Devon are often very different and diverse in nature and can play a vital role in helping to give children and families the support they need.

In Devon we believe that:

  • Children are best brought up in families
  • We will support families to find their own solutions
  • We will listen to each other and work together with services shaped by all
  • Children and families will always know where they stand with us

To achieve our vision and outcomes for Children and Families we will use a Restorative practice framework that supports practitioners and all professionals working with the family to create positive change for vulnerable children and young people, through meaningful and helpful relationships with families. Every interaction is a chance to support positive change for children, and to build trust with families that all agencies will work together to support them in a cohesive way, using shared language and principles. Through this consistency families and communities experience help that they can trust.

Restorative Practice is about seeing families as experts of their own experience and using restorative approaches to repair relationships or to prevent harm. Working with children and families means offering supportive relationships combined with clear goals focused on the needs of children. It also places an emphasis on family led decision making approaches to solving problems.

You can learn more about Devon’s approach to Restorative Practice, including a range of tools and guidance, and book onto introductory training that will explore the core concepts. This training is open to all partner agencies to support a whole system approach, and to support partners in explaining the approach to families.

Restorative Devon has 5 Practice Principles which are value based and underpinned by Practice Standards to guide the way we do things

  • Relational – We want to create a connection with our children and families based on trust, use family friendly language with the support of motivational interviewing techniques.

As professionals we work together to share responsibility for the children and young people’s wellbeing and safety. Where possible, we ensure children and young people’s key and trusted relationships with professionals continue, bringing the team to the child or young person and not them to the team. Together as agencies we take steps to ensure all children and young people, including those who are excluded from school, are safe and that for those children who are missing or often missing, there is a clear plan of urgent action in place to protect them and reduce the risk of harm or further harm. We will work with children and young people to find solutions which are founded on their strengths, aspirations and what is important to them.

  • Resilience – We want to support families to identify their own strengths, find their own solutions, which builds confidence in problem solving abilities. In this way restorative practice promotes long term resilience, which is the most effective foundation for sustainable changes in family life. We will remain tenacious and stick with families when children and young people need help. As practitioners we will explore the strengths of family life with equal curiosity to the risks and concerns that we hold. Moving between concerns and strengths bring a sense of balance to the family experience, and this appreciative enquiry technique helps to build the family’s motivation for change.
  • Respect – We will communicate with families in a simple, transparent, and respectful way that builds trust between the practitioner and the family. We want families to know we are on their side, even when we have different perspectives about what needs to happen to keep a child safe. This emphasis allows space for exploring differing perspectives on a difficulty they are experiencing and an inclusive approach, which includes the voice and experience of the child, while still working towards common goals of child safety and positive long term outcomes.

Diversity is clearly considered and addressed within our work and any recommendations for support, protection, interventions and care. We pay particular attention to any specific needs relating to the child, young person or family’s ethnicity, culture, heritage, age, disability, gender, faith and sexuality

  • Reflective – We will be reflective by taking the time to ensure our practice and the child’s or young person’s plan is responsive to their needs, addresses needs and risks and is always reviewed to make sure support and interventions are making a difference and having a positive impact. In meetings and discussions, we have with families we will give them the space to reflect on their own journey and consider alongside them, what is working well and what has not in the past and currently to identify any additional support they may need.
  • Responsibility – By addressing problems collaboratively and early on, we increase accountability and responsibility in a way that promotes good parenting and the development of children and young people.

As an organisation we model a culture of accountability and challenge ourselves and each other to get the best for children. In order to do this successfully, we maintain up to date and accurate records for our children and young people and evidence our planning, interventions, impact of, management oversight and decision making.

The Devon partnership is committed towards delivering early interventions together, having a single referral process that focuses on the needs of children, young people and their families, providing support and interventions that meet their needs and achieve positive and sustainable outcomes for children and their families. As part of our approach, we have identified four levels of need: Universal, Early Help, Targeted Help, and Specialist.

A simple model for meeting children and families’ needs

The Devon Support Windscreen

The Devon Support Windscreen

The model and windscreen is a simple way of developing a shared understanding and explaining Devon’s approach across all our services and partnerships, ensuring a consistent approach is applied by all. The model illustrates how we will respond to the requirements of children and families across four levels of need (Universal, Early Help/ASF, Targeted Help and Specialist). The windscreen is a visual tool to help us share a common language to describe risk and needs.

We will work together with children and families to meet their additional needs and aim to prevent them escalating. We recognise that each child and family member is an individual, and each family is unique in its make-up, so reaching decisions about levels of needs and the best response requires discussion, reflection and professional judgement.

The windscreen cannot replace professional curiosity, judgement or decision making and should not be used as a checklist or an assessment of need. The indicators of need are suggestions of the types of need a child and family may have. Sometimes their needs may include indicators from each of the levels, however combined, they may cause additional strain on the family and following discussion with the family may indicate a higher level of support needed. Equally, there may be family strengths that are mitigating factors for the indicators.

Families’ positions on the windscreen will change as their circumstances change and therefore will not be a fixed position. All practitioners should consider which needs take priority when identifying the appropriate level.

Indicators of need

Our indicators of need have been adopted to provide consistency for professionals working across geographical areas.

Meeting the needs of children and families

It is to be acknowledged that exceptional circumstances will still occur where a families’ needs do not fit neatly into locally defined categories.  In these exceptional circumstances, it is expected that agencies will work together in a consultative, solution-focused way with the family to identify pathways of support and protection that safeguard children and promote their welfare. Where agreement cannot be reached about how best to support a family, professionals should follow the steps outlined in the Devon’s Safeguarding Children Partnership’s Escalation Protocol and Procedures.

Where an agency working with a family identifies additional support that is needed that their agency can deliver under Early Help or the Adolescent Safety Framework, they should use their own internal processes for doing so. Sometimes, it is helpful for them to use an Early Help/Safer Me Plan to identify how they will support the particular needs of the family. Where the family needs other services to support them, the agency must seek consent from the family and then contact can be made directly to the appropriate agency. In the spirit of openness and respect it is important parents should provide written consent for any referrals and for practitioners to share information.

Where there is more than one service working alongside a child and family, it can be helpful for the family and involved services to hold a Team around the Family/Safer Me meeting, to share information and co-ordinate an Early Help Assessment together.  If you need help to co-ordinate a TAF/Safer Me meeting, contact Early Help in the MASH.

Early Help Assessments and Early Help Plans

The Early Help assessment is a tool to discuss and record the family’s needs, strengths, the goals they would like to or need to achieve and this leads to a plan to support them.  Should the family require more intensive support, it is important that practitioners have completed this record as it will avoid duplication of effort, the family having to repeat their story and will enable Early, Targeted Help or specialist sources to make an accurate decision about how best to help. More information on Early Help assessments is available here.

The Early Help Plan is based on a best practice approach to engaging families. The approach used in assessing families makes them central to identifying their needs, supporting them to tell their own story in their own words and being key to planning, implementing and sustaining the changes they need.

Early Help Plans (EHPs) can be developed using existing assessment and planning processes within agencies.  Once a plan is developed, the Child Champion will work with the family and relevant services to implement and review the plan.  Early Help Plans must be given to all family members that are involved, including children and young people (age and understanding permitting).

A completed Early Help Plan remains the responsibility of the supporting agency / service to retain, in accordance with their own record-keeping procedures.

Targeted Help (Level 3)

The following services are available for more targeted support for Children and families:

  • Children’s Centres
  • Family Intervention Teams (FITs)
  • Youth Intervention Teams (YITs)

To access these the Lead Professional will be required to undertake and Early Help Assessment on Right for Children to identify needs and outcomes and the Lead Professional will then book into a local Early Help Triage Meeting.

Adolescent Safety Framework and Safer Me Plans

The ASF aims to provide a co-ordinated mechanism for professionals to effectively assess, plan and intervene through the lens of child welfare, in relation to contextual exploitation, by engaging a range of community partners to keep children safe within the spaces and places they live.

The ASF is a strength based multi-agency safeguarding approach to managing risk that is primarily found outside of the home, thereby supporting young people aged 11-18 years (up to 25 years for Care Leavers) and their families to increase safety. The approach is focused on our collective capacity as professionals and communities – not just the family – to keep young people safe from exploitation and harm.

The framework provides a single and holistic approach to referral and assessment (via the Safer Me Assessment) of individual children, peer groups, neighbourhoods, locations or persons of concern.

  • Safer Me TAF reflects an Early Help approach to responding to need where the harm is identified as outside the family home.
  • Safer Me Child In Need reflects a Child in Need Approach to responding to need where the harm is identified as outside the family home.
  • Safer Me Child in Care Meetings are a response where the harm is identified as outside the placement home for a Child in the care of the Local Authority.
  • Safer Me Plus reflects a Child Protection Conference approach to responding to significant harm where the harm is identified as outside the family home.

The processes and procedures that underpin these different levels of response will largely remain the same. The difference will be the focus of the discussion to shift to the issues external to the home. That is not to say difficulties within the family should not be considered as there will be an interplay between the two that needs to be understood.

Specialist Help/Intervention (Level 4)

Where children require more specialist intervention in accordance with the Children Act 1989, such as:

  • S17 child in need a, b, and c (see below) or
  • children with a long-lasting and substantial disability which limits their ability to carry out the daily tasks of living,
  • children and young people with severe and complex special educational needs and disability (SEND) requiring an education health and care plan (EHCP) and potentially a specialist educational placement
  • S47 (child protection),

Children’s Social Care (CSC) has a responsibility to respond under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. That is, children whose development would be significantly impaired if services are not provided. This includes children who have a long lasting and substantial disability, which limits their ability to carry out the tasks of daily living. These would be deemed as specialist and high level support and interventions and may involve statutory processes (Level 4)

A Request/Referral for Support to Children’s Services is appropriate when:

  • More substantial interventions are needed because the child is ‘in need’ or
  • Where a child’s development is being significantly impaired because of the impact of complex parental mental ill health, significant learning disability, alcohol or substance misuse, or very challenging behaviour in the hom
  • A Young Carers is entitled to request an assessment of their needs (under S17 of the Children Act 1989).
  • Parents need practical support and respite at home because of a disabled child’s complex care need In these situations, Children’s Services will work with families on a voluntary basis, often in partnership with other professionals, to improve the welfare of the children and to prevent problems escalating to a point that statutory child protection intervention is needed.

A key area of Children’s Services responsibility is child protection; that is where Children’s Services must make enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, to determine whether a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children.

There are no absolute criteria upon which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, and the severity of the emotional and physical impact on the child. It is important to consider age and context – babies and young children are particularly vulnerable – and parental factors such as history of significant domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental ill-health

Significant harm could occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault or sexual abuse. More often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing; for example, a child whose health and development is severely impaired through neglect.

Professionals in all agencies have a responsibility to make a referral (Request for Support) to Children’s Social Care when it is believed or suspected that the child:

  • Has suffered significant harm – child protection
  • Is likely to suffer significant harm – child protection
  • Has significant developmental or disability needs, which are likely only to be met through provision of Children’s Social Care family support services (with agreement of the child’s parent) – children in need

Children’s Services engagement with children in need is on a voluntary basis. Parents, or young people who are assessed to be competent, can refuse some or all such offers of assistance. Often, families prefer a lower level of support such as that offered through their school or health centre because this is less stigmatising or intrusive.  Where consent cannot be obtained, the social worker must determine whether the child may suffer significant harm without the provision of services and this may require a Children & Families assessment to be undertaken.

When Children’s Services undertakes a S47 child protection enquiry the Devon safeguarding procedures will be used. Partners involved in supporting the family will be asked to share relevant information and assist in further support for the family.

New referrals for support and referrals on closed cases should be made by completing the request for support form request for support form.

Unless there is immediate risk of significant harm, the family should be consulted by the referrer and informed of the referral.

Where there is doubt about the most appropriate service pathway to take, professionals concerned about the welfare of a child should, before they make a Referral/Request for Support, consult with their own manager and/or designated safeguarding lead, where they remain unsure, speak to a qualified social worker by contacting our Professional Consultation Line; this number can be found on our intranet and in house correspondence.

If a child is considered to be at immediate risk of significant harm professionals should telephone MASH or call the Police using 999.

Additional information or concerns on open cases should be made directly to the allocated social worker (or in their absence the manager or the duty social worker of that team).

Useful links

If you have any feedback on the Level of Need tool, please contact the Devon SCP team.


If you are concerned that a child is being abused, or to request support, you can:

Call 0345 155 1071

Complete the request for support online form

If it’s an emergency call 999