Warning over speech therapy cuts

 

Cuts to speech therapy services could force thousands of children with problems to wait for months for support, the Government’s communication champion warns ministers today.

The Government’s proposed NHS reforms to allow GPs to commission services could also make it harder for children with speech problems to get help, according to Jean Gross, whose role as communication champion finished at the end of last month.

Ms Gross calls for the Health and Social Care Bill, currently going through Parliament, to be amended to make it compulsory for children’s community health services to be commissioned jointly by the NHS and local authorities.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent , Ms Gross said parents needed more information about children’s speech development arguing that many families were still unaware how to help their youngsters.

She called for parents to be offered information via smart phones and social networking sites, saying parents were willing to make dramatic changes to their lifestyles once the dangers of their children’s excessive television viewing or dummy use were explained to them.

In her final report, Two Years On, Ms Gross warns that the improvements made in children’s speech during 2011, the national year of communication, risk being overturned because of the “significant cuts” to front-line services. The cuts come as levels of communication problems identified in children continue to rise, with a 58 per cent growth in numbers of pupils with communication as their primary special need over the last five years.

Ms Gross told The Independent her visits to 105 out of 152 local authorities during her two years in the job had made her “very worried” about the effect of the cuts on children with communication problems.

Ms Gross said she feared that children would face significantly longer waits to see speech and language therapists for assessment. She said: “If you are three and have to wait around 18 months to be seen then it is going to be much harder to catch up. If children can have help and catch up by the time they are five and a half then there progress should be normal from then on. But research shows that a child whose problem persists after five and a half will struggle.”

Ms Gross was appointed the Government’s communication champion in January 2010 in order to boost awareness of the importance of developing children’s communication skills.

She immediately sparked a national debate with a poll suggesting that nearly a quarter of boys - and one in seven girls - are struggling to learn to talk because their parents let them watch too much television.

The new report suggests there is still widespread lack of knowledge about speech development among parents. A survey by the National Literacy Trust last year found that one in five parents-to-be believed it is only beneficial to communicate with their baby from the age of three months and one in 20 believed that communicating with their baby is only necessary when they are six months or older. Meanwhile one in eight parents believed the primary responsibility for developing their child’s communication skills lies outside the home.

A survey of 3000 parents commissioned by Ms Gross last year found that only one in four parents knew when a child might be expected to say its first word (between 12 and 18 months). 82 per cent of parents told this same survey that they needed more information on speech development.

The national year and Ms Gross’s role were both originally proposed by John Bercow MP, now Speaker of The House of Commons, in his review of speech and language provision in 2008 which concluded that there was “grossly inadequate recognition across society of the importance of communication development”.

The report says that good progress has been made in the number of five year olds achieving a “good level of development” in spoken language. 82 per cent achieved this level in 2009 rising to 86 per cent this year. The number of children with very poor language skills at the age of five has dropped from four per cent in 2009 to three per cent this year.

Mrs Gross told The Independent: “I think the message from my report is that there are some measures that are fantastic and others that aren’t great. The question is how do we maintain the gains we have made when we are now seeing the real loss of front line services. All of these gains were achieved before the cuts. Everybody has to accept the current economic situation but I am concerned that speech and language services started from such a very low position that the cuts will really bite.

“To have cuts to front line services in something that was already so patchy and such a postcode lottery really worries me. I do think that the cuts have now begun and that next year they will really bite.”

Research suggests that around ten per cent of children have a speech and language difficulty. In deprived areas, more than 50 per cent of children start school with delayed language skills.

An evaluation report commissioned by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists has found that speech and language therapy delivers a net benefit to the UK economy of £742m, through bringing people back into work and helping children into school, with every £1 spent generating £6.43 in enhanced lifetime earnings.

Meanwhile, a recent RCSLT survey found that 84.4% of therapists had experienced cuts to services.

One local authority visited by Mrs Gross had employed a team of 14 speech and language therapists to work in children’s centres as part of a drive to identify youngsters’ difficulties as early as possible. The funding was cut in April and all 14 therapists were made redundant.

Ms Gross welcomed the Government’s plans for all two year olds to have a development check including an assessment of their language skills and its focus on recruiting an extra 4200 health visitors by 2014 to carry them out. But she warned that cuts elsewhere would mean that there were not enough speech therapists to support the children identified as needing help by the new checks.

She said: “There is no point identifying children as needing help unless you are in a position to do something about it. The situation does worry me.”

Derek Munn, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), said: “The appointment of the Communication Champion, has raised awareness of how a child’s ability to communicate dramatically impacts on their life skills. Jean’s work has also highlighted the link between language problems and social and economic deprivation. However, there is a danger that slash-and-burn cuts and poorly implemented reforms will put this progress at risk.”

Case Study

Kathryn Middleweek, 33, loves her job as a speech and language therapist in Hackney, east London. She works with children aged between three and 16 with communication problems such as language delay, stammering or dyspraxia. But she fears that cuts will make it harder to provide vital services for vulnerable children.

She said: “There have already been cuts and that places increased pressure on those already in post to provide a full service.

“In Hackney we have already had cuts to health and education and we did lose a speech and language therapist. We’ve also had a recruitment freeze so when people left they weren’t replaced. Recently we did recruit some people which was a positive sign but I think that across the country speech and language therapy is facing cuts.

“This is having an impact on universities which are reducing their training courses because there are fewer clinical placements on offer. At the moment there is an excess of graduates.

“I think when I qualified in 2008 my cohort was just about okay – within 12 months of graduating just about everyone had a job. But after that I think it has become much more difficult to find a post.

“We got hundreds of application when we recently recruited for three speech and language assistant posts – including graduates. Some people who applied had also applied when we had recruited a year previously – which suggests they had been out of work all that time.

“Our work is vitally important. Speech and language therapists fill all sorts of gaps and provide services that no one else would. I love how broad my remit is. I work with children and young people all the way from nursery age to school leaving age as well as their parents, carers and education staff. A key element of my role is working across health and education to help young people access learning in order to achieve their full potential.

“I am passionate about communication and the impact it has on children’s emotional and social well being, their life skills and life chances. It really is important stuff.”

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

    Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

    £600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

    Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

    £20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

    Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering