As Chief Executive of I CAN, the children's communication charity, I am deeply concerned about the rapid rate at which Children's Centres are closing and the continued silence from Government with regards to a promised plan for the future of support for children and their families.
A consultation on the future of Children's Centres was promised over a year ago but is yet to be published. Since 2010, up to 800 centres have closed. In 2015/16 alone, 65% faced budget cuts. With unprotected funding and a lack of national purpose, there is real risk that the remaining resources in these centres will be impacted and in turn the support for children's early language will be neglected. This is particularly important for children up to five years of age as this period has been identified as a critical 'window of development'.
The results from a recent survey conducted by The Communication Trust also revealed that of those centres still open, over a third say there is not enough support for early language, despite half of centres considering this area a primary focus. Children's Centre staff have spoken out about their concerns; 'We used to have drop in sessions and explain speech and language development to parents, but these have now stopped.' 'Children's Centres are going through a lot of change and I am concerned speech and language will be lost'.
We know that good early language skills are a strong indicator of later academic success, as well as being vital for emotional and social development. We also know that for children who are struggling to develop early language, the right support before five years of age can significantly reduce the risk of later difficulties. Early intervention is crucial if we are to ensure that children are given the best possible life chances.
The continued closure of centres and absence of a clear plan means the future of the sector remains uncertain and support for children's early language is at risk.
With a Government that prioritises social mobility, a clear agenda for the future of Children's Centres must be set. Early language is crucial to school readiness. Yet in some areas of the country more than 50% of children starting school have delayed language. That is a shocking number of children without the skills they need to learn and to make friends, ultimately impacting on their life chances and the wider economy.
We at I CAN are calling upon Government to announce a clear plan for children under the age of five and their families with early language at its heart. This is to ensure that no child is left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding.