Plans in Place – supporting parents

Liz Wood is a Regional Manager on I CAN’s Place Strategy, here she explains how involving parents is key to reaching out to some of the country’s most deprived areas.

Parents play a huge role in supporting their children’s speech, language and communication and the amount and type of language used at home has been shown to have an effect on a child’s over all language development.

This support starts as a baby develops in the womb and continues well into the teenage years. The responsiveness of an adult to their child’s communication attempts is key to developing first words and in later years for extending the child’s ideas as well as language complexity. Parents who are aware of developmental milestones can be the first to identify any difficulties and access appropriate support lessening the impact of a child’s communication difficulty in the future.

Since April 2017, I CAN has been developing its Place Strategy. This has involved working in partnership with local people and organisations in Derby, Barking and Dagenham, West Somerset and Knowsley. The aim is that an increased focus on speech, language and communication will support a range of positive outcomes for all children and young people.

Part of this regional approach has involved increased support to parents and although it’s early days, we have already began to make an impact. Working with a variety of parent groups has helped to raise awareness about I CAN and the I CAN Help Service. We have talked about top tips and reinforced this with our posters and leaflets. It’s been great to talk to groups of parents at ‘stay and play’ sessions as well as those groups supporting parents whose children have additional needs, like those run by parent/carer forums and hubs. Often groups have a monthly programme where experts from a variety of fields share their work and provide some information and signposting. This is so important as it’s amazing how difficult it is for parents to find out what key speech, language and communication developmental milestones are and how they can support their child to achieve them.

In addition to this hands on approach two of our key geographical areas are ‘Opportunity Areas’, where in the early years group, the key focus is speech, language and communication and the part that parents play in its development has been recognised. In these areas as well as meeting parents directly we have been able to talk about I CAN training for family facing practitioners, as developing a skilled and knowledgeable workforce is vital to ensuring that key messages get to parents.

In Kirkby and West Somerset we have been piloting our two-year-old intervention – Tots Talking. This is an innovative programme developed by parents for parents. It runs over eight weeks giving parents whose children are at risk of language delay an opportunity to discover how they can support their child’s language development. It’s been a challenge setting up new groups in areas and we are working closely with existing organisations to reach the parents who really need our support.

It has been interesting to find out how parents are supported to develop the knowledge and skills to support their child’s speech, language and communication. Organisations are creative – ‘SENDsational coffee mornings, conferences and roadshows, using both innovative and more traditional routes of working. A powerful way that parents are supported is by other parents. One parent of a child recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) told me:

‘It’s about asking those little things that you wouldn’t mention to a professional but keep you awake at night.’

Equally groups and parents are looking to welcome a speech and language expert. I would urge anyone working in the field of speech and language to consider how parents in their area receive information and how they can support this, after all empowering parents is one of the most effective ways of changing outcomes for children.