When they hear the term 'early identification and intervention', many people think this is just about the early years of a child's life - but it's not. It's about recognising difficulties quickly, identifying and making a prompt intervention to support children and their families so that issues are tackled before they become more ingrained problems. Thinking in this way, early identification and intervention are important right through a child's life. The Early Intervention Foundation, set up in 2013 to provide evidence and information about early intervention has a focus on conception through to early adulthood. They see early intervention as preventative.
This life course approach is particularly relevant for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. Yes, it's clearly important to provide support in the early years of a child's life. There's a growing number of studies also showing early intervention to have a positive impact on outcomes for children with language difficulties, with evidence that children whose language difficulties are resolved by 5½ are more likely to go on to do well in school. As a result, many people agree that resources should be directed towards working with very young children.
However, there is a group of children whose language difficulties only come to light when they start more formal schooling, when the curriculum becomes more demanding, when words and ideas are more complex and 'language-heavy'. This may be when they move into primary school, into Key Stage 2, or when they start secondary school. Language difficulties can often be hidden, mistaken for something else or missed altogether - and so it's vital that school staff right through to Key Stage 4 know the signs to look out for.
The other way of looking at early intervention for childhood issues, is to look at what happens if children don't get the support they need, in time to prevent deep-rooted problems. Last year, the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) calculated that mental health problems, going into care, unemployment and youth crime costs the Government almost £17 billion a year. More and more is known about the impact of language difficulty if it's left unsupported. Children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are at increased risk of literacy difficulties, behaviour issues and mental health problems - with potential 'costs' to the nation, but more importantly to young people themselves and to their families.
Fortunately, there are many interventions available to support children and their families. The EIF Foundations for Life report published last month summarised what works to support parent-child interaction in the early years. The What Works database, hosted by The Communication Trust provides information about evidenced interventions to support children and young people's communication.
Early identification is everyone's responsibility. With the increased requirement for all school staff to identify a child who is struggling and put the support in place it is ever more important that they have the skills and knowledge they need to be able to do so. If you're worried about a child's speech, language or communication, whether you are just beginning to think there may be a problem or are worried about a later impact, you can speak directly with a speech and language therapist through I CAN's enquiry service. Getting the right information at the first sign that a child is struggling - whatever their age - is crucial.