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Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) support for children in the Early Years

Ensuring children and families have access to support to enhance SLC development when a concern is raised is important. However, access to therapy services in Torbay is currently lengthy for families. Early timely support can enable children to ‘catch up’ with peers. A pathway of support has therefore been developed alongside Early Years Settings, Health Visitors and Children’s Centres.

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The challenge

Torbay early years children and families have an extensive wait to access specialist support from the Speech and Language Therapy service - currently around 52 weeks.

Torbay has an increasing number of children with a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP). This is above the regional and national average and above statistical partners.

The solution

Let’s Talk and Play support for children’s communication development: This programme is delivered by Children’s Centres workers from Action for Children across three sessions held on a monthly basis with individual families.

Each session focuses on interactive behaviour, working with the family to explain why this behaviour is important and how it can be integrated into day to day activities. Each session also includes a check of progress made to date. 

Children are referred through the 0 to 19 advice hub and then to Action for Children via an online form completed by the practitioner who is already working with the family, ensuring families don’t have to retell their story or complete another referral form. 

Identification of need can be from a variety of pathways:

  • following HCP development review, any but typically 2.3 ASQ which includes the Early Language Intervention Measure (ELIM)
  • parental concerns
  • professional concerns.

Practitioners liaise with early years settings to identify which team is best placed to deliver appropriate support. Data on activity and impact is collected and reported on a quarterly basis.

The impact (including cost savings and income generated if applicable)

44.7 per cent of the children who receive the Let’s Talk and Play intervention no longer require speech and language therapist input. This not only prevents children from being added to the waiting list but also saves the cost of specialist intervention. 

Approximately 25 per cent of the children who are referred to Lets’ talk and play are identified, through the support, as having an additional need beyond speech and language. The Action for Children team make referrals to appropriate services as a result. 

No income is generated from this approach.

How is the new approach being sustained?

0 to 19 Torbay have developed this pathway of support as part of the redesign of our service following commissioning in April 2019. The 1:1 intervention requires a greater amount of staff time to deliver the intervention but has proved to be more effective than the group work. 

We now have a waiting list for this intervention of 12 weeks (approximately 60 children between February and April 2023) which will keep growing without additional staff resource to meet the level of need in Torbay. This is due to access to additional funding during COVID-19 as part of the national Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF) we received for two early years workers came to an end in December 2022. The need for these workers is evident in the waiting numbers and times. 

Lessons learned

Initially a 6-week parenting group was offered in the local area, however, take-up was not well utilised. It was identified that children made progress after attending the course a 2nd time.  

With this understanding, monthly 1:1 appointments over the course of 12 weeks were introduced. This enables parents to put strategies into place within the home. Data told us that after three contacts practitioners could confidently assess if specialist intervention is required or not.

Ongoing reflection and quarterly area SLC process meetings; ensure understanding of local themes for children, as well as identifying any gaps in services for children.

Contact person for the project

Denise Gillette,

Locality Service Manager- Action for Children, 0 to 19 Torbay.