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Speech, Language and Communication (SLC) Strategy 2021-2025

Supporting children and young people’s voice, agency and wellbeing through responsive interactions.

Councillor Elly Cutkelvin - Assistant City Mayor - Education and Housing

From birth all children want to communicate. They look, then smile and babble. Good communication skills help children grow socially, do well in education and throughout their lives.

Our new SLC Pathway will help all parents/carers, family members and those who support them to encourage and develop good communication. This SLC strategy has been developed with parents and professionals to pull together and improve speech, language and communication for all our children. In recovery from COVID-19 we will work together to create more opportunities for inclusive communities where children and young people are encouraged to interact, play, express their creativity and grow in confidence to deal with uncertainty and make the most of possibilities.

Martin Samuels – Strategic Director, Social Care and Education

Children and young people have a right to have a say in decisions affecting them, have their views taken seriously, and to receive support that recognises their identities and cultures.

Voice – expressing your ideas and opinions in whatever way you choose - is at the heart of our approach to participation. Care-experienced young people have told us that they’re more likely to communicate with someone who shares the same experiences because it’s easier to start a conversation and make a connection. We will work together to ensure our workforce reflects the strengths of our local communities and engage local communities in shaping and co-producing support for SLC needs.

Ivan Browne – Director of Public Health

Families, friends, neighbours, faith groups, employers, schools, health, planners, transport and housing providers are collaborating in a process of recovery from COVID-19. Digital Toddlers Learning Together courses, and virtual wellbeing assessments are just some of the new ways in which we are connecting with those communities who were often isolated and excluded even before Lockdown. Working together we will empower communities to address the wider factors that affect health and wellbeing, boost communication, address the digital divide and build resilience across the city.

Sue Welford – Principal Education Officer

Children and young people’s communication skills crucially develop alongside their social, emotional and physical growth through play, conversations and learning opportunities. These follow their interests and broaden their experiences. We will work together to enable all those involved in the lives of children and young people to identify and address children and young people’s communication needs early in life or when needs arise. Children and young people’s voice, agency and wellbeing are at the heart of our partnership approach to improve outcomes for everyone in Leicester.

This strategy sets out the vision, priorities and success measures for effective speech, language and communication (SLC) support from pre-birth into adulthood (0-25 years). It is a long-term approach to Build Back Fairer in recovery from COVID-19, to tackle poverty, discrimination, and social isolation: the deep-rooted causes of early language delay and many SLC needs (SLCN). This builds on the strengths of the child who is a born communicator, the resilience of their family and wider communities, and their rights to equality of opportunity and social justice.

Although children develop at their own pace, a child’s early language can reflect their current wellbeing , and may be a predictor of their potential life chances. Language delay at five years can have implications for children’s longer term social, emotional, learning and economic outcomes . SLCN are recognised in the SEND Code of Practice as a special education need to be addressed.

The link between language delay, deprivation and the wider social determinants of health and wellbeing is documented . Public Health England (PHE) and other stakeholders have called for not only a focus on responsive interactions, but large scale and transformative change in homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces and public services to tackle the underlying determinants of health inequities.

Addressing early language delay is a priority in the government’s ‘levelling up’ social mobility plan , locally in the vision for the city, and must be at the heart of plans for COVID-19 recovery.

This strategy relates to Leicester’s anti-poverty strategy (2021), Better Births, Early Help, 0-5, SEND Health and Wellbeing Local First 1001 Critical Days Plan (CCG, forthcoming, 2021).

Relevant national policy and guidance includes Best Start in Speech, Language and Communication (PHE, 2020) The Children Act (2014), Equality Act, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, SEND Code of Practice, Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework, National Curriculum in England, Public Health Outcomes Framework .

This strategy is informed by No Child Left Behind a public health approach to prevent vulnerability through helping early when problems arise, and creating an environment throughout the life course where negative effects are lessened.

Internationally, this strategy addresses the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and UN Sustainable Development Goals including no poverty; health and wellbeing; quality education; gender equality; and supporting the marginalised and disadvantaged.

All children and young people will develop their speech, language and communication skills to support their:
  • voice - expressing their views and feelings - however they choose to
  • agency - ability to act and make decisions that influence events and affect their world
  • wellbeing – health, happiness and building relationships
Everyone in the lives of children and young people including their families, friends, communities, and wider services will engage with them as communication partners to support their learning and development through responsive interactions. Spaces where children and young people live, play, learn, spend leisure time and work will support inclusive communication. Staff and families will feel confident to identify and address communication needs early in life or when needs arise and know how to access further help and support through self-directed or coaching approaches.

Children are active community-makers. They participate in and contribute to multiple communities as they move between home, extended family, settings and play areas. They often act as cultural brokers, helping families and settings understand one another.

These six principles from Leicester’s all age commissioning strategy inform our approach.

We will:
  • support the best start in life for all and the best life opportunities through coordinated, multiagency strategies to upskill the children’s workforce and empower parents/carers, family members and friends as children’s first communication partners.
  • co-produce with children, young people and their families in accordance with their rights through the 2014 Children Act and SEND Code of Practice to express their views and have these views taken seriously.
  • work in partnership across the city and in neighbourhoods through aligned perinatal (including mental health) services, early years, social care, schools, colleges and universities, youth services, health, council and community provision.
  • help early in life or when needs arise through a graduated approach and high-quality, culturally relevant support. Boost peer and community-led approaches as parents’ preferred sources of support ; and enable families and staff to access the SLC Pathway and other sources of practical support
  • personalise responses to meet individual needs in their wider community and recognise intersectionality (how race, class, gender, disability, and other protected characteristics in the Equality Act combine) through for example, developing learning approaches that suit boys who are new to English or girls with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) through universal, targeted and specialist support and a graduated approach.
  • continually monitor and review evidence of positive impact in children and young people’s lives by asking them ‘what’s changed’ and ‘what’s possible’ (including those from BME backgrounds, care-experienced, and those with disabilities, who are more likely to live in poverty and experience lower wellbeing).

Our four priorities for change are to:

Lead support for SLC through joined-up, responsive services and through genuine partnerships (co-production) with families, sharing information in the interests of the family and working together.

Engage parents/carers, family and community members as communication partners who listen, take turns and help children and young people to develop strong communication skills and emotional wellbeing through responsive interactions.

Create communication inclusive spaces at home, nursery, school, library, clubs and places of worship, whilst walking or on the bus, in the park, or at work. These are spaces to communicate and connect on new experiences and ideas, where information is available in a range of formats e.g. pictures, community languages, audio-description, Makaton and sign language

Empower families and staff through self-directed or coaching models, to identify and address communication strengths and needs early in life, or when needs arise, and know (or learn) how to address these through a graduated approach

“We talk about things we would like to improve in our school …we should stop throwing so much food away…I see so much food on the floor in the dinner hall…” Member of School Council, Leicester Primary School

Data on children and young people’s learning and wellbeing, levels of poverty and deprivation, actual and predicted SLCN were analysed by our project partners Better Communication CIC pre COVID-19. Key findings include:

16 per cent of children attending development checks at 2-2½ years had language below expected levels (compared to 11 per cent nationally) using the ASQ3 questionnaire

Many children start school with around 17 months language delay on age-expected levels.

A quarter of children from deprived backgrounds and two-thirds of children with Special Educational Needs/Disabilities were not at the age-expected levels for communication and language at five years old.

Headline messages from an audit involving staff (400+) and families (250+) on support for SLCN include:

What’s working

Approachable Speech and Language Therapy services; Let’s Get Talking (Health Visitors); Stay and Play (Children’s Centres); Early Years Support Team (SEND); Bookstart (Libraries), The Spark Arts for Children and Talent 25 offering creative engagement opportunities.

What’s not working

Increased poverty/stress so families don’t know what support is available, don’t access it, or it’s not accessible in tone or language; digital divide i.e. no ICT hardware, wifi access or data to access online support; parents spending too long on phones; psychological, economic and social impact of extended COVID-19 Lockdown, lack of bilingual support.

What might be possible

A local place-based approach for those most vulnerable e.g. looked after children, those with SEND, BME and those living in poverty; culturally appropriate support from peers who have been through similar experiences; increased and ongoing support for parent/carer engagement with well-resourced community services and take-up of benefits e.g. funded early education entitlement at 2 years.

“Every mother dances her baby…” Kenyan Proverb – on the responsive, nurturing relationship between parent and child.

Partnerships with parents in the first 1001 critical days and beyond.

Communication begins in the earliest days of life through responsive interactions. For example, playing peekaboo involves looking, listening, vocalising, turn taking and seeing things from the other’s point of view. In many cultures the relationship between parent/carer and child is described as a dance (see quote above) – a responsive partnership, which grows in the right environment. A focus on support for families in the First 1001 Critical Days from conception until two will support babies’ and parent/carers’ communication, emotional wellbeing and development over the longer term. If SLCN are identified parents must be involved as partners, support identified and reviews planned – see the SLC Pathway.

“At the heart of communication is the time in each day for every child or young person to interact with an adult and with other children or young people. Building positive relationships is key to emotional wellbeing.” Cath Jackson, SEND Early Years Support Team, Leicester city council

Build Back Fairer: strengthening families and communities through COVID-19 Recovery

Studies have shown that parents from disadvantaged backgrounds have reported spending less time on activities with babies and toddlers during Lockdown than those from more advantaged backgrounds. Alongside this, reports from Health Visitors and other services point to an increase in violence in the home and worsening mental and physical ill-health in families during Lockdown. Services have for many years responded to increased SLCN (and wider health and learning needs) with fewer staff and diminished budgets . The immediate and longer-term consequences of Lockdown in Leicester’s diverse and deprived communities demand coordination and strategic alignment of strategies and resources to Build Back Fairer and tackle the root causes of many SLCN and vulnerabilities: discrimination and poverty.

Coordinated, multiagency strategies to upskill the children’s workforce (including volunteers) and empower parents/carers, family members and friends as children’s first communication partners can ensure children are given the best start in life.

The Balanced System® outcomes-based framework for SLC system change underpins this strategy. Using this framework, the strengths, weaknesses, gaps and possibilities for innovation in local SLC provision will continue to be audited and analysed alongside rich evidence of community-led approaches to address SLCN. Data from the Balanced System® audit, Early Intervention Foundation SLC Maturity Matrix and secondary research was used to create the SLC Pathway and inform the SLC strategic priorities and action plan.

Partners will work together to monitor progress on improving support for SLC and unblock barriers wherever possible through the arrangements detailed below.

  • Leicester Readiness for School Group (LRSG) a multi-agency steering group established in February 2016, will continue to meet each half-term to coordinate and align local integrated SLCN support in response to evidence of need . Members will work alongside existing partnerships, including Leicester Children’s Trust Board, and the Joint Strategic Planning and Transformation Group, to take forward priorities in the SLC Action Plan.
  • The Joint Integrated Commissioning Board will oversee the development of integrated outcomes-based commissioning frameworks and aligned resources and strategies.
  • Population outcome measures including those relating to fewer children and young people living in poverty will be taken forward through Leicester’s Anti-Poverty Strategy (forthcoming, 2021) and vision for the city.

Partners will regularly gather and review evidence of improvements in children and young people’s learning, health and wellbeing to inform this strategy and action plan. Longer term signs of progress will include:

  • Fewer children in Leicester live in poverty
  • Fewer children are identified with language delay at 2 and 4 years and the language gap between deprived children and their peers is closed
  • More families access Funded Early Education at 2 years
  • More early years settings and schools are graded outstanding by Ofsted
  • High quality SLCN support delivered through partnerships is accessible to all
  • More children and young people can confidently communicate their views, feelings and ideas and they feel happier, healthier and connected