Children with speech and language communication needs

communication needs, empowering parents
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Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of I CAN argues that empowering parents changes the conversation for children with speech and language communication needs

If your child was struggling to speak, what would be the first thing you’d do? Would you talk to your child’s teacher or your local GP? Would you think of contacting a speech and language therapist, and if so, would you know where to look?

Because every child is unique and children’s language development can vary according to the child’s own development journey, it is important that parents and professionals are equipped to spot the signs of language and communication difficulties, so they can be addressed as soon as possible.

Some of these warning signs include exhibiting poor behaviour, struggling to make friends or their academic progress is hindered. Unfortunately, there is a general lack of awareness across the UK from parents and teachers alike on how to spot these signs.

In our ‘Bercow: 10 Years On’ Report, an independent review of provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs in England, we outline how there is no assessment for spoken language in children above the age of five within the national curriculum. This makes the process of identifying speech and language communication needs (SLCN) for these children that much harder.

Across the country, communication needs can often remain hidden, untreated or not taken seriously. At I CAN, we know what the long-term consequences of ignoring this can be; just 15% of primary school pupils with an identified SLCN achieve the expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics when they reach the end of Year Six. Eighty-one percent of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have unidentified language difficulties and children with poor vocabulary skills are twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood.

This problem is difficult enough for most parents. In areas of social disadvantage, up to 50% of children could have a communication need that is not being addressed.

up to 50% of children could have a communication need that is not being addressed.

This remains a critical issue as children grow into adulthood, where communication skills are crucial in a challenging and evolving employment market. In a 2016 Survey Report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pearson entitled ‘The Right Combination’, 38% of business leaders surveyed said there should be a focus on developing pupils’ communication skills. In addition, 50% of the businesses surveyed were not satisfied with school leavers’ communication skills when they entered the world of work.

If we can reach children who struggle with speech and language at an early age and help them fully articulate their ideas and develop their skill sets, we can vastly improve the level of social mobility in disadvantaged areas, leading to much-improved life chances.
In December 2018, we announced a new project that we hope will help to combat this disparity directly and change the conversation about language for children and parents in these areas. Working in partnership with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the digital social enterprise EasyPeasy, I CAN aim to empower parents and families with very young children, giving them information and skills about how to develop their children’s speech and language skills.

There is growing evidence that the most effective route to parents is through local community practitioners with whom they have trusted relationships. This project will work in three metro mayoral areas, utilising a range of tools to support and develop children’s speech and language, including I CAN’s ‘Tots Talking’ programme and EasyPeasy’s app for parents, both designed to support families with young children. The three areas are Bristol and South Gloucestershire, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, and Liverpool City.

The goal of this project is to reach over 10,000 families with a range of interventions that will educate them on how they can best support their child’s speech and language development.

Getting your child’s SLCN identified and diagnosed early can open a whole range of options that can give them the support they need; ascertaining if they require a mainstream or specialist school, booking appointments with a speech and language therapist and giving parents great resources, they can use at home to improve their child’s language development.

Empowering parents within their communities, giving them the knowledge and confidence to support their child’s SLCN can radically change their perspective on the issue. This, in turn, can inspire them to be listening posts for other parents if they also have concerns over their child’s speech, language and communication, creating a much more collaborative parental environment in the process.

If you are concerned about your child or child in your care’s speech and language, you can contact our Enquiry Line on +44 (0)20 7843 2544 where you can speak to one of our dedicated speech and language therapists.

Alternatively, you can email

For more information, resources and tips on how you can boost your child’s speech and language, check out our TalkingPoint website.



(1) Source: 9 Bidgood, A. (2016) What comes before words? The beginnings of early language LuCiD.
(2) Source: (2017) I CAN Impact Report.
(3) Source: (2017) I CAN Impact Report.
(4) Source: CBI/Pearson (2016) The Right Combination: Education and Skills Survey.


Bob Reitemeier

Chief Executive
Tel: +44 (0)20 7843 2510


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