Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Ok – so good intentions but it has now been two weeks since my last blog. In my defence it was my birthday last week. Not that I was off partying – instead I was in Southport delivering a session at the Youth Justice Board Convention.

Sad thought it may be it was indeed a birthday treat. Delivered in conjunction with RCSLT the session launched ‘Sentence Trouble’ – a logo fest of a publication, developed by The Communication Trust with support from too may partners to list without offending someone by missing them off. Remember I am on a word count limit!

My birthday was doubly blessed by a present from Ed Balls. Much as I would love to say that the Secretary of State sent me a personal card and thoughtful gift the truth is actually even more exciting. In the Lords last week the government announced that The Communication Trust will be funded to roll out screening and training to every setting within the secure estate and all YOTs.

This is great news and reflects the work that many have been doing to raise awareness of the disproportionate numbers of young people with SEN amongst those young people who offend. Jenny Talbot, Jane McKenzie, Diz Minnitt, Professor Karen Bryan, Professor John Rack – and so many more have led the way and I am delighted that they will all be informing the rollout of our 2010 programme.

Sentence Trouble (a project ably managed by the Trust’s Andrew Ball – who also won the internal competition to come up with the best name and, yes, I am still bitter about that) includes the sad but enlightening story of a young man given an ASBO which stated that he could not travel on a ‘motorised vehicle’. He had ridden an electric scooter not realising that this was what motorised meant. When you consider that the Home Secretary recently called for a greater focus on ensuring that those breaching anti-social behaviour orders be prosecuted the need for ensuring that a young person actually understands their ASBO becomes even clearer.

Copies of Sentence Trouble are now winging their way out to front line staff (I am assuming that there is no postal strike this week) and the Trust is gearing up for next steps.

And as for birthday presents Mr Secretary of State – I’ll forgive the lack of a card if next year you give me a three year funding contract!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

We are the Champions

Slapped wrist for me. Blogs are supposed to be contemporary and it’s been 3 weeks since my last one. Must try harder!

Big news in the world of The Communication Trust is the announcement of the Communication Champion. Jean Gross is a terrific appointment to the post and is well known to the Trust through her role as Director of Every Child A Chance Trust.

To champion the cause is a massive task. To balance the all children component with the SEN aspects. To reach the general public and the specialist commissioners of services. Where should the Communication Champion focus their efforts? Worth remembering that the voluntary sector proposed the role as a route to having someone ‘on the inside’ who could join up health, education and children’s services (and justice, social services etc.) both at central and local government level. While Jean is independent of government she is nevertheless a government appointment and I suspect that the third sector will be, like me, hoping that she uses that to ensure that we get the same drive for this work from the rest of government that we have seen from DCSF.

Jean though is not alone in her task. She may hold the formal Champion title but the sector has been championing the cause for years and will do so as long as it takes to ensure all children get the services and support that they need. I am regularly struck by how dedicated and focused people are in their pursuit of the cause and our own champions do us proud.

Linda Lascelles, CEO of Afasic, was recently recognised by RCSLT with an Honorary Fellowship for her work championing both the cause and SLTs. As was Katie Clarke, founder and Chair of 1 Voice who has championed the cause of isolated families across the UK who use AAC.

NDCS pulled off the most amazing piece of campaigning through their ‘Sounds Good’ campaign and have ensured that new schools will have good acoustics. Their championing of this cause will support all children who struggle with communication (and those teachers who struggle to get heard in class – reports this week that that there has been a substantial rise in teachers who have ‘industrial injuries’ to their voices!).

And we have lots of celebs who champion the cause for us too. Michael Palin has long championed the cause of stammering with the centre that bears his name. Pictured here with the Trust’s own Cara Evans (a big fan who would not leave the event until she had a picture with Michael even if that meant pushing me pushing in front of Secretary of State to get the shot!) Michael draws on the experiences of his father to speak with a passion and humour about the challenges faced by young people who stammer.

Paul McCartney recently bought a word on I CANs Adopt A Word site and Stephen Fry caused a Twitter storm when he tweeted about his word adoption and championed the cause of young people who struggle to find their own words.

Most of all though I think the best champions that we have, the most powerful advocates for the cause, are the young people themselves. I was moved to tears by the Michael Palin Centre’s DVD. Aimed at teachers this DVD is delivered by and through the stories and experiences of young people who stammer. The tears were not of sympathy or through the ‘aaah’ factor – though the main narrator is a star of children’s tv waiting to happen. But rather the lump in my throat was a reflection of the power and impact of a young person being supported and empowered to tell it how it is.

So we welcome our Communication Champion and look forward to working with her. And as a sector we will continue to champion the cause and rope in celebrities to help us (is it wrong to want David Tenant to take an interest in speech and language??) But most of all, my vision, 11 million young champions with an almighty voice – with that we could change the world.