Wednesday, 18 January 2012

"Despite progress, still too many gaps in support for 10% of children with communication difficulties"

I CAN, the children’s communication charity, this week expressed concern that there are still many gaps in the support available for more than a million children across the UK with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), despite recent advances.
Responding to the report of the outgoing Communication Champion for Children, Jean Gross CBE, the charity welcomed evidence of improved awareness amongst parents, policy makers and professionals about children’s communication. Her report, Two Years On: Final Report of the Communication Champion for Children also highlights good practice for children with SLCN. However, it makes it clear that this is the exception rather than the rule: joint commissioning of integrated approaches across health and education, is still not happening in 70% of local areas.
I CAN backs the report’s 30 major recommendations. In particular, it supports Jean Gross’s proposal for the Health and Social Care Bill to be amended to make joint commissioning of children’s community health services compulsory to improve services for children with SLCN. The charity also called for better support for school-aged children with communication difficulties. Without continued focus and investment, there remains a long way to go before every child with SLCN receives integrated support, particularly once they get to primary and secondary school. Virginia Beardshaw, I CAN CEO said: "This report, coming at the end of the 2011 National Year of Communication, tells us what works best for children with communication needs and how far we’ve come, both on the ground and at government level in recognising the importance of this issue.

Despite this progress, children and young people are still not getting the help they need when they need it. I’m deeply saddened that joint commissioning, which is the cornerstone of good services, is still a ‘minority sport’ across the NHS and local government. And we know from the families who contact I CAN every day, parents face real barriers to finding information and practical help which meets their children’s needs. 

Speech, language and communication skills are essential for children to start school ready to read, learn, form friendships and grow into thriving adults. Without early intervention SLCN impacts on all aspects of a child’s development - unsupported, around one-third of young people with SLCN will go on to develop mental health problems.

Jean’s report shows the benefits for children’s communication when communities, parents, health, education and social care professionals combine efforts to identify and support those who are struggling. Integrated, area-wide approaches and focus on workforce development is illustrated by I CAN’s work with early years staff, settings and local authorities. But we need to expand this approach from the 30% of local areas identified in Jean’s report and plug the gaps in support for school –aged children. 

Much has been achieved since the 2008 review by John Bercow of children’s speech language and communication. We need a continued focus on this issue to ensure that our gains are not lost and that the 1 million plus children and young people with speech, language and communication needs can go on to fulfil their potential."

I would agree that we are making progress in both the identification and acknowledgment but we are not moving forwards with what happens next. Small Talk Independent SLT has been inundated with referrals in 2012 already. Unfortunately most of these parents are at the end of their tether having being massively let down  by the system in place. These are not referrals of minor difficulties such as lisps or the like but serious language problems which are having a major impact on the child's life, relationships and progress. We need to keep up the momentum!!

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