Budget cuts are beginning to show worrying delays for children and families trying to access support to help with speech, language and communication needs. The Government-funded Better Communication Research Programme, has emphasised the need for early intervention to support these children.
However a recent survey by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has found that waiting times are increasing – many children wait between 18 and 42 weeks. They also found that many services are only able to deliver the minimum provision to meet their legal obligations. With children waiting longer for therapy, schools have to deal with a higher incidence of challenging behaviour and exclusions.
These early difficulties should be resolved before a child starts schools to ensure they are able to access the curriculum successfully and fully participate in school life. Intensive therapy in the pre-school years can resolve these difficulties and avoid greater problems in the future.
Kamini Gadhok, Chief Executive of the RCSLT, said, ‘This is very worrying news. Speech and language therapists are having to retreat into the bunkers and provide only the very basic, legally-required services. In some cases they are being asked to cut professional corners and to stop delivering therapy to children who desperately need professional help.
Speech and language therapy is proven to be a cost-effective intervention and we know that early identification and intervention is vital to improving a child’s life chances. Sadly, the short-term approach to budget decisions that we are witnessing will not only cost more money in the long-term, but will have a significant and avoidable impact on a whole generation of children.’
Jean Gross the Government’s Communication Champion, has expressed her concerns to the BBC. The cuts that the NHS and local authorities have to make are directly impacting the children who need the intervention to support their education. She stated that, ‘In some areas, therapy services are finding that their funding from the local authority has completely gone, and, at the same time, the health services have asked them to make savings of 10 or 15%.’
She also reports that many areas are losing specialist teachers and support workers. Locally, Cornwall have halved the number of early years consultants, lost half their children’s centre teachers and ended their very successful Every Child a Talker programme. All this can only be detrimental to the speech, language and communication needs of our young people.
Service provision is changing and organisations need to look to alternative ways to supplement and complement the services that are available and ensure the young people in their care are given the support they need to develop their full potential. Speech, language and communication are central to all of us and therefore should be given the priority it deserves. Ignoring these problems or cost-cutting will demand a higher price if we do not address them now.