Bercow: 10 years on parents face 'postcode lottery' of support

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Parents across the country are struggling to find the help they need for children with speech and language problems, according to a wide-ranging new report, which updates the landmark Bercow Review 10 years after it was first published.

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The report says it is essential that signs of problems with children's speech, language and communication are spotted early

Over 1.4 million children and young people in the UK have communication difficulties, the report says, with too many of them not getting the support they need.

The updated review, chaired by the Government's former communication champion Jean Gross, looks at the state of provision for children’s speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in England in 2018. The review by John Bercow MP in 2008, now the speaker of the House of Commons, was the first of its kind to look at services for children and young people from birth to 19 with SLCN.

The report highlights a broken system, which leaves children at the mercy of a postcode lottery with support varying widely throughout England.

Just over half of parents and carers surveyed (52 per cent) said their family’s experience of speech, language and communication support was poor.

In his foreword to the new report, Mr Bercow said, ‘It is my hope that this report will act as a call to action to all those involved in supporting children and young people, to come together and do what is needed to make a difference to the lives of those for whom communication is more difficult.’

More than 2,500 parents, carers, children, practitioners and others contributed to the Bercow: 10 Years On review, which is published today by children’s communication charity I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

While some things have improved during the last 10 years, the report says, ‘Currently, poor understanding and insufficient resourcing of SLCN mean too many children and young people receive inadequate, ineffective and inequitable support, impacting on their employability, and their mental health.’

Key findings:

  • 42 per cent of parents say their child’s needs were not picked up early enough.
  • 50 per cent had to wait more than six months for their child to get the help they needed.
  • Only 15 per cent of respondents felt that speech and language therapy was available as required.
  • Just 29 per cent of parents and carers felt involved in how their child’s support was planned
  • Only 12 per cent of parents realised that their child was struggling to communicate because a professional, for example an early years worker, teacher or GP, told them
  • Just 23 per cent of people surveyed felt that information about speech, language and communication was easily available.

RCSLT chief executive officer 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: Ten 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!’

Ian Noon, head of policy and research at the National Deaf Children’s Society said, 'Devastatingly the findings of this important report will come as no surprise to charities supporting children with speech and language needs.
 
'Time and time again parents of deaf children tell us they have to wait many months to access speech and language therapy, and even that their child’s need must become critical before support is provided. This simply isn’t good enough.
 
'Deaf children can do anything other children can if the right support is in place. We need to see urgent and significant improvement in the funding and commissioning of specialist speech and language therapy so that every deaf child gets the right support, right from the start.'
 

Recommendations

The report includes a series of recommendations for policymakers, based on outstanding examples of practice from the review.

They include:

  • Clear information should be developed for parents, and support for speech, language and communication should be recognised as essential to improving, social mobility, health inequality and employment.
  • A new cross-government strategy for children with speech, language and communication at its core, should be developed, and plans to improve provision for children and young people’s mental health should recognise the importance of SLCN.
  • To make sure that children and young people get the support they need wherever they live local areas should be provided with data on estimated SLCN, local area inspections should continue after 2020, and there should be funding for training on joint commissioning for SLCN. An evaluation programme for innovative models of school-based support should also be funded.
  • The Government should support the development of evidence-based integrated pathways for children and young people with SLCN.
  • To ensure signs of SLCN are spotted early, speech, language and communication should be included in initial qualifications, with continuing professional development for practitioners.
  • Ofsted inspectors should be trained to focus on progress in speech, language and communication.
  • For more information on Bercow: Ten Years On visit www.bercow10yearson.com

See the next issue of Nursery World magazine (2 April) for our interview with Jean Gross and more on this story.

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