Bercow, Ten Years On – the #SLCN campaign

I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists have launched Bercow: Ten Years On. This report delves into the support, or lack of support, children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) receive in England.

Over 2,500 people were consulted about speech and language therapy provision for children and young people. Only 15% thought that adequate speech and language therapy is provided.

Why is this a liberal issue? Well, we advocate free speech, in its many forms, one of which is oral. If we do not help children and young people with speech and language difficulties, they face a lifetime of communication hindrance.

We, as Lib Dems, also want to give children the best start in life. We are behind free school meals, the Pupil Premium and shared parental leave, so we should also get behind the call to improve speech and language services so that these children can better engage with education, more easily make friends and have communication skills for life.

Only 50% of children and young people with speech and language communication difficulties are identified. So one of the calls in this report is for early diagnosis and early intervention.

I was surprised to learn that 60% of young offenders in England have been found to have speech and language communication needs. With early intervention, many of these young people would not have communication difficulties.

Some of the recommendations of what must be done to improve the situation at a local and national level address social mobility:

The Department for Education should strengthen the place of communication and language in its strategy to improve social mobility by:

1.2.1 supporting opportunity areas to develop plans to improve communication and language skills across the age range, not just in the early years;

1.2.2 promoting use of best practice for addressing delayed language through the use of evidence-based intervention and training programmes;

1.2.3 identifying communication and language as a focus for the next round of annual Pupil Premium Awards for schools; [list continues]

Further recommendations:

  • Local authorities should ensure that the evidence from this report is included in their contribution to tackling health inequalities: in their published Joint Health & Wellbeing Strategy and in their contribution to Integrated Care Systems. In their inspections, regulators should check to see that this evidence is reflected.
  • The Department for Education should ensure that communication skills, specifically those identified as needed for the workplace, are appropriately recognised in the criteria for the Functional Skills qualifications.

And system change is discussed:

The Department for Education and the Department of Health should use the findings and recommendations of this review as the driver to develop a new cross-governmental strategy for children, in consultation with arms-length bodies, key voluntary agencies, professional bodies and independent experts, as well as children, young people and families. This should include a joint statement about the importance of children’s speech, language and communication.

In regards to mental health and well-being:

The Department for Education and the Department of Health should strengthen the place of speech, language and communication in its proposals to transform children and young people’s mental health provision by ensuring that:

2.4.1 the training for both the Designated Senior Leads for Mental Health and Mental Health Support Teams includes information on the link between SLCN and mental health, and how to recognise and respond appropriately to SLCN;

2.4.2 Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services and, where appropriate, Mental Health Support Teams, include embedded speech and language therapists with the appropriate level of specialism, able to provide the appropriate level of service;

2.4.3 trailblazer areas include speech and language therapists with the appropriate level of specialism able to provide the appropriate level of service so that:

  • Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services and the Mental Health Support Teams have the support they need to fulfil their responsibilities to children and young people with SLCN and mental health needs;
  • and children and young people with SLCN and mental health needs receive the support they need to access and engage with referrals, assessments, and interventions; [the list continues]

There are many other recommendations – I commend the report to you, and I hope our policymakers give the suggestions serious thought.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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