The Government has launched its Action Plan responding to the Bercow Review. Norbert Lieckfeldt, BSA's Chief Executive, sees great potential in the proposals but more work to do.
In December 2008, the Government published its 'Action Plan' responding to the recommendations of the Bercow Review for an improved service for children with speech, language and communication needs. BSA was one of only five charities called to serve on the advisory panel of the Review.
The Review identified five main themes:
- Communication is crucial - it is a core life skill, especially in today's knowledge-based economy.
- Early identification and intervention are essential to maximise every child's chance to address their communication needs.
- There needs to be a continuum of services centred around the needs of the child and the family - too often, for example, children and parents find that the services are only available during term time.
- Joint working between the health service and the education service is critical: the Government has put structures in place to make this happen but the Review found that too often these were ignored locally.
- There is a post-code lottery in place in terms of provision of services, something the BSA itself is trying to address with its current project on early intervention.
Announcing the Government's Action Plan, the Children's Secretary Ed Balls stressed that they have accepted virtually all of the Review's 40 recommendations. Of particular concern to the BSA, the Government has accepted stammering as a 'low incidence, high need' condition and the emphasis on early intervention. Previously, reviews by health visitors would have flagged up difficulties such as stammering. When these reviews were abolished we lost a useful tool in identifying stammering early. Now the Government is committed once again to surveillance and monitoring of children's speech and language development - a major breakthrough!
And credit crunch or not, a lot of money will be spent! A £40m programme called Every Child a Talker will address many of these issues and a further £12m will be spent on specialist services.
BSA, too, has received significant funding over the next two years to provide information materials for parents of children who stammer.
A Communications Champion will be appointed in early 2009 to drive through this programme of reform and awareness raising, and 2011 has been pencilled in as the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication (any ideas for snappier titles most gratefully received!).
After many years ploughing the furrow of early intervention in a dust bowl, it feels like we have been shown the Promised Land and I must admit I am reeling a bit with the potential of it all. The commitment to addressing speech and language problems shown by Ed Balls, Alan Johnson and John Bercow is unprecedented and hugely appreciated.
The main thing for BSA now is to continue to ensure the interests of children who stammer are represented at the highest level. But the road to the Promised Land is full of potholes and the question is - will this programme actually address these?
To make sure it does, the Government are committed to recall John Bercow for a review of progress in 2010 - to tell the unvarnished truth about how much progress has been made. BSA is looking forward to working with this Review.
What about adults who stammer?
We do know that services for adults who stammer are often haphazard, and that there are a number of areas in the country where they are simply not being offered. The BSA is joining other charities such as the Stroke Association, Scope, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and others in a Communications Coalition to press the Government for a long overdue Audit of services for adults with speech, language and communication needs. This Coalition will be launched formally with a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties in the Summer - watch this space!