SCIE Research briefing 27: Factors that assist early identification of children in need in integrated or inter-agency settings

By Denise Wolstenholme, Jane Boylan and Diane Roberts

Published August 2008


This briefing considers the refocusing of children’s services in England and Wales towards prevention and early identification of children in need of protection and support. The policy vision for this is Every Child Matters. However, the refocusing of children’s services needs to be located in debates in the mid-1990s concerning the direction and development of childcare policy and practice and the wider inclusion agenda. The philosophy underpinning Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 is that children’s welfare and wellbeing can be safeguarded through collaborative practice, integrated service provision and early intervention of need. Both aim to ensure that all children are given the support and protection they need to promote and safeguard their welfare. The primary focus of the briefing will be to highlight those factors which research suggests assist the early identification of need.

For the purposes of this briefing, ‘early’ is taken to refer to the point in time at which a child of any age becomes vulnerable to poor developmental outcomes rather than solely in their early years. This will include both universal and targeted provision for children and their families. The briefing does not evaluate interventions, specifically consider measures taken after the point of identification, or the position in those parts of the UK subject to other legislation or devolved administrations.

Key messages

  • Early identification of need is important in promoting and safeguarding children’s wellbeing and welfare.
  • Early identification can be defined in a variety of ways.
  • The use of risk factors as indicators of potential need is problematic as their impact and interaction is complex.
  • Effective inter-professional communication and cooperation is central to the promotion of children’s wellbeing.
  • Informed strategic planning and supportive management is fundamental to the delivery of efficient and effective preventative services.
  • Services must respond to the diverse needs of children and families.


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