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Language for life

23 February 2010

Parents of young children in Jersey and professionals who want help to develop the communication skills of children aged 3-5 years are being given the opportunity as Education, Sport and Culture, Health and Social Services and the charitable sectors work together to focus on this essential life skill.

Head of the speech and language therapy department, Dr Lisa Perkins said: ‘Speech, language and communication are foundation skills for life. They underpin a child’s social, emotional and educational development. Good communication and language skills at a young age have the highest correlation with outcomes in school at seven years. The impact of poor language skills on children’s readiness to access the curriculum is well recognised by primary school staff.’

Health and Social Service’s Speech and Language Therapy Service are seeing a steady increase in referrals for children with speech, language and communication needs. In 2009, they received 385, a 17 per cent increase in referrals from 2008.

Now, two presentations are planned for Wednesday 24 February (details below) in order to let both parents and professionals have an opportunity to learn more about language skills.

The presentations will answer questions such as:

• Why is it important to develop children’s communication skills?
• How can we work together to share expertise?
• What training is on offer for staff working with nursery and reception children?

“We do not know whether the increase we are seeing is because of an increase in the number of children with difficulties or because Education staff, health visitors and the other professionals we work with are getting better at identifying the children that need our help. Anecdotally, however, our colleagues in Education tell us that they are seeing more children starting nursery and school with poor language skills,” said Dr Perkins.

“There is increasing evidence that the amount a child is talked to and the quality of interaction in the early years has a marked effect on communication development. We need to get in early and support all children’s communication development, not wait until there is a problem. The Speech and Language Therapy Department is working with services in Education and the charitable sector to look at how we can do this most effectively, first, through working in partnership with parents and second, by ensuring that staff working with children in the early years are confident in providing a language rich environment to nurture children’s speech, language and communication development.”

Jennifer McDonald is one of the Senior Speech and Language Therapists who will be delivering the programme in partnership with Education colleagues. She highlights the vital role that parents have to play.

“It is never too early to start communicating with your baby- it has been shown that babies learn to recognise their mother’s voice in the womb. Through responding and talking to their baby or young child, parents are helping their baby to learn to talk, stimulating their baby’s brain to make connections that make learning possible and  showing love and respect which enhances their child’s self esteem and strengthens the close child – parent bond,” said Ms McDonald.

For children with delayed language, research suggests that specific interventions targeting language and literacy in the early years help to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

“When children start school, their ability to communicate plays a vital role in how well they can access all the wonderful opportunities that are offered to them. Some children come skipping into schools very confident and able to express their opinions and their needs, however there are increasing numbers of children who do not come into school with this advantage.’ 

ESC’s Early Years Advisor, Yasmine Thebault, said: ‘So there is a vital need for a children’s workforce to understand how to be skilled and confident in supporting speech, language and communication development in order to meet the needs of all our children in Jersey. We also need to work in partnership with parents and carers so that we can share the responsibility and support each other.  I’m delighted to be launching in partnership with the Speech and Language Therapy Service “Language for Life”, a training programme for early years practitioners who work in both States and private sector nurseries and reception classes.”

‘The training programme we have developed builds on an approach we have run successfully for parents over a number of years. Participants will learn how to use play and daily activities to create enriched, interactive language-learning environments for all children’ said Ms McDonald.

‘We are very keen to see children who are having difficulties as early as possible so that we can support parents to help their children. By addressing difficulties early, we are able to enhance a child’s language development and this will impact on his or her readiness to access the school curriculum. Whilst the service has always liaised with nurseries over individual children, this training programme provides a great opportunity to impact on the language opportunities of all nursery children.’

Health Minister Anne Pryke said: “I am delighted that Health and Social Services and Education are working together to create such a good opportunity for both parents and people who work with young children in Jersey. It is a great opportunity for parents and professionals to find out more about this important topic. Helping children communicate from as young an age as possible is essential to their confidence and life skills, and I wish the people who have worked hard to make this possible every success.”

Deputy James Reed, the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture added; "I welcome this initiative as our aim is to work with parents and other agencies to improve standards so that all children can benefit from the learning experience provided by our dedicated staff."

"Communication is key to any child's development and although schools place much emphasis on speech and language skills it is recognised that the basic skills are learnt in the first years of a child's life. Parental involvement is particularly important in these formative years and we want to do all we can to help them in this process."


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