The independent review of children's social care (2022) has proposed a radical reset of England's children's services, shifting a remote, assessment heavy system towards one that works alongside communities to help prevent statutory interventions. However, notions around the harnessing of community resources to deliver Early Help are often underpinned by assumptions regarding the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector and the ease with which such organizations can be integrated into preventative strategies. This paper reports findings from embedded research within a unitary authority in Southwest England during remodelling of its Early Help service to work more collaboratively with local VCSE organizations. The study generated data from ethnographic observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with 95 participants, including local parents, service providers, VCSE organizations and Council leaders. The findings illustrate that families value the compassionate, responsive and flexible support available within many VCSE settings. However, differences in practice cultures, regulatory pressures on statutory providers, the need to (re)build trust in communities and sensitivities around power-sharing and resourcing meant negotiating VCSE sector integration was fraught with complexities. Few studies have gained such privileged access to a Local Authority's remodelling of Early Help services, and this paper has significant insights for the debates surrounding the independent review of children's social care (2022) and its recommendation to bring services‘ closer to communities’.



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Child & Family Social Work



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Peninsula Medical School