Too many children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties are still not getting the help they need, campaigners have warned.
A new report argues that poor understanding and a lack of resources are leaving youngsters without the right support.
In total, more than 1.4 million children and young people in the UK have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), with language issues one of the most common disorder of childhood, according to charity I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).
The organisations’ report looks at progress made in the 10 years since the Bercow Review on support for children with speech, language and communication needs was published, which warned that treatment and services for these youngsters was “highly unsatisfactory”.
The new study concludes that, since 2008, there have been some positives, such as more evidence about SLCN, government funding for workforce development on the issue and language and communication a key part of the early years curriculum (up to age five).
But it also claims that there have been steps that have had a negative impact, with austerity leading to cuts to services as well as other issues such as the loss of senior specialist speech and language therapy posts and concerns about the place of speaking and listening in the national curriculum.
The study, which consulted 2,500 people in England, including parents, carers and those working in SLCN, last year, concludes that in many cases, children’s needs are not being identified early enough, or they are not getting the right support, which can affect their future success.
“More than 1.4 million children and young people in the UK have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN),” the study says.
“Language disorder alone is one of the most common disorders of childhood, affecting nearly 10% of children and young people everywhere throughout their lives.
In areas of social disadvantage this number can rise to 50% of all children and young people, including those with delayed language as well as children with identified SLCN.
“Poor understanding of and insufficient resourcing for SLCN mean too many children and young people receive inadequate, ineffective and inequitable support, impacting on their educational outcomes, their employability and their mental health.
“We must improve the outcomes for these children and young people.”
Of the more than 600 parents who took part in a survey for the report, more than half said they had had to wait more than six months for their child to get the help they needed.
More than half of parents surveyed had to wait more than six months for their child to get the help they needed, while just 12% of parents said their child’s difficulties were identified by a professional.
The report sets out a series of recommendations, including a better understanding of speech, language and communication, with clear messages and information for parents and careers.
It also says that support for SCLN should be seen as essential for helping to improve social mobility, health, inequality and employment and for children with SLCN to get the right, early support wherever they live.
RCSLT chief executive Kamini Gadhok said: “Speech and language therapists are passionate about improving the lives of people with communication needs. Yet, continuing funding cuts hamper the support they can provide.
“Throughout this review, we’ve heard of the relentless and, often emotionally-exhausting, struggle parents and carers face in getting their children’s SLCN supported. They shouldn’t have to fight.
“The Government needs to focus and prioritise children’s language and commit to implementing the recommendations in our report.”
I CAN chief executive Bob Reitemeier said: “Too many children with SLCN are being missed by the system and this is a national disgrace.
“The evidence from Bercow: 10 Years On highlights that after more than a decade we continue to see fragmented services which aren’t fit for purpose and unless something is done now we face losing a generation of children without the life skill of communication.
“We know that if we get the right support and help to these children they can live the lives they choose, but we need to act now!”
Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England, said: “Ensuring every child has the best start in life is a priority for us, and improving early identification and help for children with speech, language and communication needs is a core part of this work.
“Working closely with the Department for Education over the next two years we will develop an assessment tool to support health visitors identify children that can benefit from help with their progress.”
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahwai said: “Teachers receive training to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, including those who require
additional help to communicate, and we are introducing Education Health and Care plans to make sure children with additional needs receive the right support to succeed in school and in the future.
“We welcome this important report and will consider it closely as we continue the important work the department has already started.”