Friday, 20 January 2012

Guest slot, Jean Gross CBE

It’s been a busy week, publishing a final report on my work as Communication Champion and talking to journalists and on the radio about my findings. As always, some of the media picked up on the less important messages and were less interested in the very serious issues of cuts to front-line services - but not all. I hope the publicity will do a little good.

It’s time, then, for me to ‘sign off’ as Champion. It has been a wonderful two years. I have seen fantastic practice in everything from baby groups to schools to young offender institutions. I’ve seen people everywhere get behind the Hello campaign with energy and creativity that no-one could have expected, given that many of those involved were uncertain whether they would still have a job in the future.

Highlights for me in the last weeks were the Hello Heroes event at BT Tower, a weekend with AAC users in Derbyshire, a visit to a language unit at Little Ridge School and visits to some really communication-friendly schools in Sheffield. And then , of course, there was being awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list.

Getting an honour is a pretty random process and I have met so many people who deserve it a lot more than I do. But I was very pleased, especially with all the kind messages I got from people I have worked with. Thanks to you all for taking the time to write, and all those who sent the Trust a message to put in the big black memories book I was given as a leaving present. I will treasure that for ever.

People ask me what will happen now that I have stepped down. The answer is that the championing of SLCN will continue just as it did before the time-limited Champion role existed, through the highly effective lobbying work of The Communication Trust and the RCSLT. You can feel absolutely confident that a strong voice for children’s communication skills is still working hard to support all those children and young people everywhere whose needs still often remain unmet.

So good luck to the Trust for its future, vital work- and I wish all of you the very best for 2012 and beyond.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Could the Minister please read the report now? - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

Jean Gross last report as the Communication Champion was released this week, please click here to view.

Full of excellent intelligence on the state of services on the ground and bursting with sensible recommendations for improving outcomes for over a million children, you would have thought that this would be on the must read list for relevant Ministers – or at least their special advisors – or I’d settle for their junior civil servant.

However, the Minister for Public Health - Anne Milton – press response to the report is very telling, Repeating the now ubiquitous quote that GP commissioning will solve all shows a total lack of understanding of how children’s community health services operate in practice and frankly leaves me in doubt as to whether anyone in her department has even read the report.

Jean Gross’ report is clear on the risks of leaving services for children with SLCN to GPs and clinical commissioning groups. In London, for example, only 9% of referrals to speech and language therapists go through GPs.

And Milton’s reference to GPs working with paediatricians and nurses on this issue shows a significant gap in knowledge about the realities of supporting children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). While community paediatricians have a valuable role in supporting children whose communication needs are part of more complex impairments most children with SLCN do not see (or need to see) a paediatrician or nurse. Their needs are met through speech and language therapists and appropriate targeted support from teachers and staff within early years and schools.

It could just be of course that this is the response from an uninterested Department of Health press officer. But sadly I suspect it is part of a wider malaise affecting the Department when it comes to children. I received an email yesterday inviting me to the launch of an ‘exciting’ new initiative in children’s health and well being to be unveiled by the Secretary of State (at least he hopes to be there) in Liverpool next week. I think most of us would settle less for exciting and more on functional. And the Trust are no nay sayers – we work hard to inform and to respond to government policy trying to ensure that it works in practice. But even we are stretched in understanding where Health places the needs of children who struggle to communicate.

This is at odds with the efforts of their government colleagues within Department for Education who have made such strides in work to identify and support children with SLCN. Maybe it is time for the entire responsibility (and budget) for this work to move across? It is this significant disparity in both understanding and in approach between these health and education nationally and locally that is of such grave ongoing concern with so much of Jean’s report highlighting the risks of these children falling between the gaps at a local level between the NHS and local authorities/schools.

The government’s communication champion has written a report with so many of the answers – just about time somebody read it!

From the report

38. I have met no one outside government who believe that commissioning by Clinical Commissioning Groups led by GPs will change this fundamental problem. All say it will make it
worse. I have found that in London, for example, only 9% of referrals for speech and language
therapy go though GPs. Most come from schools and health visitors. Most disabled children are dealt with by community paediatricians not GPs. Most referrals to CAMHs services do not go through GPs. Children requiring community health services are largely invisible to GPs, so it seems unlikely they will be a commissioning priority.

39. I would like to see the Health and Social Care Bill recognise this, and explicitly require Clinical Commissioning Groups to delegate the commissioning of these services to an expert joint local authority and NHS children’s commissioning team, managing pooled budgets.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Every year a year of communication? Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

As we move on from the National Year of Communication The Communication Trust team are working hard to make sure that legacy of Hello is a strong one. While evaluation is starting in earnest on the impact of Hello it is clear that the work of the wonderful local champions, the efforts of the staff team, input from our funders and supporters and work across the Trust’s voluntary members have all combined in creating a wonderful focus on the importance of speech, language and communication skills for all children.

The Shine A Light Awards, Hello Heroes event and meetings between local co-ordinators and the Minister highlighted the inspiring work that has happened on the ground and the year was topped off by a CBE for Jean Gross as our wonderful Communication Champion. The Hello Journey showcases some of the year’s best bits!

The Year itself, the Champion, the progress we have seen in OFSTED, in early years and with the national curriculum were all proposals made 5 years ago by the Trust and as we look back at our original strategy we can be rightly proud – particularly of the way we have pulled together such an amazing cohort of talent and enthusiasm from the local to the national, across health, early years and education, across professionals, parents, children, young people and families and from the public, private and voluntary sector. Because, to quote Janet Cooper from Stoke Speaks Out , “communication is everybody’s business” and it is the Trust’s job to make sure everybody knows it!

But there is more to do.

As the Trust develops our next five year strategy we are ever mindful of the risks posed by cuts to services and system restructuring. We know that while policy may have moved forward, commissioning practice and the prioritisation of children’s speech, language and communication still need much work.

With education policy and school structures rapidly changing, The Communication Trust will be launching a schools campaign in 2012 to ensure that all schools are encouraged and supported to ensure that all children can reach their full potential. The work of the Hello heroes is not over yet and 2012 (and 2013, 14, 15 .....) will be another year of communication. And, to quote Mr Milliband, – bring it on!