Getting the full picture to offer full support

Across Birmingham, the city’s Early Help system is still giving thousands of families and children vital help and support. Below, you can read the story of just one of those families.

What is Early Help?

Originally set up by Birmingham Children’s Partnership as part of their COVID-19 response, the Early Help system allows teachers, social workers, housing workers (and others) to refer families and young adults to one of ten specialist teams based across the city. These Early Help teams work with families to find out what they need, and then give them extra support, including emergency food and financial help.

In Edgbaston, where many families are living in temporary accommodation, including hotels, the Early Help service is led by Gateway Family Services. We have worked with nearly 400 families since the service began last year, providing food parcels, emergency funds, and connections to local services that can offer longer term help.

Case study: the Maier family*

The Maier family were referred to Early Help Edgbaston by a Barnado’s housing worker in the summer of 2021. Dad Denis, mum Maria and their teenage son Stefan* were living in temporary accommodation – a single room at a hotel – and although they were receiving help from Barnado’s, the housing worker felt that they needed further support.

The referral indicated that the family’s status is ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF), meaning that they are subject to immigration control and can’t claim any mainstream benefits or housing help. The housing worker had also mentioned they were short of food, and that there were health issues, although it wasn’t clear at first what this meant.

A member of the Early Help team called the family to find out more and, although Denis had very limited English, they managed to get a better picture of what was happening.

Denis explained that he had moved to the UK from Romania a couple of years ago. Upon arrival, he had successfully applied for a National Insurance Number and started working at construction sites, and was joined by wife Maria and 18-year-old Stefan at the start of 2021. He also mentioned that Stefan is disabled and that Maria looks after him at home.

However, soon after the family’s arrival, things had taken a turn for the worse.

Denis’s National Insurance number had been used by someone else illegally, and this, combined with the language barrier, made it very difficult to apply for settled status. Having missed their chance, the family were left with No Recourse to Public Funds.

What’s more, Denis had been injured, meaning he was no longer able to work, and Maria was now caring for both her son and her husband. During the conversation, Denis expressed a lot of concern for his wife and mentioned that she was suffering from back pain. It took some digging before we realised that Stefan is severely physically disabled, but didn’t have a wheelchair. Maria had been carrying him around the hotel room.

The Early Help Edgbaston team jumped into action, making referrals to various health services for Denis and Maria, and to the council’s Occupational Health service for Stefan so that he could be assessed for a wheelchair. They also referred Denis to the Community Law Centre for support with his legal challenge for National Insurance fraud. Finally, they arranged food parcels and some emergency funds. At this stage, the family felt they were getting all they help they needed so, with their consent, the case was closed.

In September, however, the Maiers were re-referred, this time by someone from the Big Issue legal support team. Although Denis is making a legal appeal, with help from the Central Law Society, the family still needs a bit more help. So Early Help Edgbaston is now working with local charity Karis to deliver a joined-up community support package. Early Help Edgbaston is part of Gateway Family Services, which has a family support worker and access to interpreters, who will help build a much clearer assessment of the family’s needs. Together, they will help the Maiers to access further help with housing and finance, as well as linking in with existing GP support.

More information

If you are a family in need of support, or an organisation helping families in the Edgbaston locality, please visit the Early Help Edgbaston pages on our website, call Early Help Edgbaston on 0121 456 7821 or email earlyhelpedgbaston@gatewayfs.org to talk to our team.

*All the family’s names have been changed

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