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Bringing provision to you – The Place Strategy

I CAN’s Director of Regional Development, Kate Freeman, reflects on the challenges local communities face and how we are improving the provision for children with speech, language and communication needs near you, via The Place Strategy.

“Everybody fails in their first week at school.”

…These were the words spoken to me as a newly qualified speech and language therapist when I took matters into my own hands and phoned up the Local Education Authority (LEA) lead for Statementing (as it was in 1989). If only the LEA lead had understood the impact of developmental language disorder (DLD), if only there had been widespread, excellent knowledge of how best to support a child struggling as a result of this issue, then this story might have turned out quite differently.

I had been working with a child with severe DLD (or specific language impairment (SLI) as it was known then) and had just returned from a school visit where I watched him failing in his allocated task in his first week at school, aged 4. The task was to name colours of objects that the teaching assistant presented to him. ‘Liam’ (not his real name) could not understand what he was being asked to do, let alone have the abstract concept of colours or the vocabulary to name particular colours. I went home that night and cried.

The memory has stayed with me ever since. How can it be that children with DLD, or even delayed language are not picked up early enough if at all? How can it be that they are not given the support that they need to succeed? And how can it be that they are put in situations where they fail every day and adults think that this is good enough?

I would love to say that things are much better 25 years later. But having worked recently as an independent speech and language therapist, I know that even now, there are children like ‘Liam’ struggling in school, struggling at home and not getting the support that they need and deserve.

This is why I started working for I CAN and why I lead the Place Strategy, working in four key locations across England to enhance local support for children with delayed language and DLD . In Barking and Dagenham, Derby, Knowsley and West Somerset, I CAN’s Place Strategy aims to work with local schools, early years settings, speech and language therapy departments, teachers, parents, Pupil Referral Units, Colleges and Universities to make things different for children like ‘Liam’.

The team is working in the Place Strategy locations to raise awareness of the impact of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We are introducing evidenced solutions such as workforce development which we know develops the skills, knowledge and confidence of practitioners to better understand and support children with these needs, whether it be in early years settings, schools or alternative provision.

We are also working to enable staff to be trained to deliver interventions such as those in the Talk Boost suite, which are shown to have a direct impact on children’s language skills. And we are developing partnerships with the policy makers and the funders to highlight the numbers of children and young people with SLCN and develop solutions that can become part of the local plans and priorities.

Finally, we are working with key stakeholders such as parents and employers to help them understand the difference that good support for SLCN makes to children and young people’s outcomes.

Why shouldn’t children like ‘Liam’ have their development supported, have any difficulties identified early, have tasks broken down so that they can achieve them and go on to have gain good exam results like their peers? This would enable ‘Liam’ and people like him to have the benefits of a good friendship group, aspire to get good qualifications with excellent employment opportunities and live independently – managing money, overcoming life’s challenges from dealing with plumbers at home, to managers at work, and supporting his own children through the education system.

I often think of ‘Liam’, and wonder what he’s doing now. I hope that I have been, in a small way, part of his solution, and believe that I can be part of the solution for children and young people like him in the four Place locations that I CAN is working with.

To find out more about what is happening in the four Place Strategy locations, you can contact me directly via email kfreeman@ican.org.uk or phone: 01926 650617.