Bercow Banner

#Bercow10: Working with Parents

Parents know their children inside out and back to front. They see them at home, in school or nursery as well as out and about. They are often described as ‘experts’ in their own children. But what we’re hearing through the Bercow: Ten Years On review is that sometimes this can be very lonely. One young person told us:

“They told my mum they are not the expert, but my mum is.”

Right from the start of the Bercow: Ten Years On review, we have been keen that children, young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and their families are right at the centre; that we reflect what support is like for them. So we’ve been really encouraged that 635 parents responded to our survey.

The recent reforms to the special educational needs (SEN) system aimed to put parents and carers more in the driving seat, to make sure they knew and could make positive choices. So we have been really keen to see the reality of this for the families of children and young people with SLCN.

So, what have we found? Ten years ago, in his review, John Bercow found a high degree of variability across England. In 2017, with more decisions made in local areas rather than by Government, and many different providers of services, you won’t be surprised to know that if anything there is even more variability. We heard from parents with widely different experiences.

For some, things worked well – here I’ve picked out just a few really critical things:

  • Professionals working well together, collaborating, talking to each other so that everyone is working in the same way.
  • Schools and early years settings which are ‘communication friendly’ so that children aren’t isolated, with staff who are knowledgeable and supportive.
  • Regular contact, information or advice from a speech and language therapist.
  • Regular information and support – particularly having consistent contact with a team who knows their child.

Many others had less positive experiences. Those of you who watched BBC Breakfast last week will have heard that only 15% of parents who responded to our survey felt that access to speech and language therapy for children and young people in their area was available as required. This reflects the reality of cuts being made to services coming through in our evidence. Many parents described their experience as having to ‘fight’ for support, in many cases there was a clear sense of frustration.

In one of our oral evidence sessions, we heard directly from parents, and from children themselves. Here are two very contrasting stories:

Cordelia is a very intelligent and high-achieving student who had a brain haemorrhage when she was 9 years and 9 months old. After leaving hospital , her mum describes her experience of getting support for Cordelia’s high level language difficulties “I thought when we came out of hospital someone would be taking care of us – but there wasn’t. And it took me a while to understand that I was going to have to do all this myself”. Fortunately she got support from the community team at the Children’s Trust, but apart from this she found herself in the role of keyworker having to describe Cordelia’s difficulties, find the contact details of the local commissioner, and to coordinate a package of support so that she could go on and achieve her full potential at school.  Cordelia didn’t meet the threshold for an Educational Health and Care Plan, and so getting specialist support was difficult.

Charis had a stammer as a very young child and attended the Michael Palin centre for stammering where she had specialist therapy using the Lidcombe approach. Although parents have had to be proactive in ensuring schools staff understand and support Charis, what has been invaluable is the consistent contact with the team at the Michael Palin Centre. Stammering doesn’t go away, so Charis continues to be on their books throughout primary school and now into secondary. So she knows the support is there when needed, for example she has attended a ‘smoothie group’ when she was in primary school, and one of the therapists came into school to train staff.

In our survey, when parents were asked what their ideal speech and language support would be, ‘being listened to’ came out tops. Yes, it’s true, they are experts in their own child but parents want to be seen as partners: listened to and involved – part of a team drawing on others’ expertise as well as their own. 

The Bercow: Ten Years On report will be published in early March. Keep up to speed by following us on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #Bercow10.