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Speech, Language and Communications Needs

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

The Secretary of State for Health and I are today publishing “Better Communication: An Action Plan to Improve Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs” (SLCN). Copies of the action plan will be placed in the Libraries.

Last year, we asked the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) to review services for children and young people with SLCN. His report, published on 8 July 2008, set out 40 recommendations to improve services across five key themes: communication is crucial, a key life skill at the heart of every social interaction and vital to children’s successful development; early identification and intervention is essential to maximise each child’s chance of overcoming their communication need and succeeding; a continuum of services designed around the family is needed for children with SLCN; joint working is critical to deliver services that provide effective support; and the current system is characterised by high variability and a lack of equity.

Today’s action plan provides the Government’s full response to the Bercow report. As we announced in July, we accept the report’s key recommendations and up to £12 million would be invested in providing national leadership to improve services for children with SLCN. The action plan sets out a range of initiatives across Government that will improve services for children and young people with SLCN culminating in the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication in 2011-12. This includes:

Up to 20 local area pathfinders will be used to develop good practice guidance and a supplemental joint commissioning framework on SLCN;

Up to £1.5 million will be invested in grants to the alternative and augmentative communication sector; and

Up to £1.5 million will be invested in a research programme looking at SLCN over the next three years.

To provide ongoing support to the delivery of these initiatives over the next three years, we will form a Communication Council and appoint a Communication Champion early in 2009. The Communication Council will provide Government with ongoing advice and support on how best to develop effective services for children with SLCN. The Communication Champion will be appointed to raise awareness of speech, language and communication issues and work with delivery partners to co-ordinate initiatives and organise the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

The Government will also commission a review of progress to improve services for children and young people with SLCN in summer 2010.