Our language-delayed children are doomed to be criminals by Catherine Jackson

13th January 2017

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It made pretty depressing reading didn’t it? All the reports just before Christmas[1] about how you can spot a potential criminal when they are 3 years old. Nothing like dooming a child to a self-fulfilling prophesy. I know that it’s those kind of headlines that draw an audience but let’s look a little more at the evidence…

It’s true that upwards of 60% of young offenders have Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and that many of them hadn’t been identified as struggling with SLCN in the past[2].

And it’s true that you can identify children who are going to have difficulties later on in life – there’s an attainment gap of 48% in our-language-delayed-children GCSE results between children with no SEN and those with identified SLCN.[3]

And it’s true that there is a significant difference in school readiness across the most and least deprived local authorities.[4]

BUT!! It’s also true that children with impoverished language skills in the early years can catch up with their peers, with the right stimulation – it’s the quantity and quality of the language that children hear in their environment and not socio-economic disadvantage itself that predicts a child’s language development.  That means their language vulnerability is transient. Up to 40% of children might have language vulnerability on entering school, but only 6-7% of children have Specific Language Impairments which would occur, no matter how stimulating an environment has been provided for them.

And who is responsible for reducing the chances of language impoverished children falling behind their peers and ending up as criminals? You guessed it, it’s the early years practitioners! Evidence indicates that having access to high quality early years provision can protect our vulnerable children and early intervention can prevent these children from a widening gap of attainment later on in life.

So what can you do?

It’s essential that early years settings receive solid training and development in the area of speech, language and communication development. I have been involved in an early intervention project in Renfrewshire and the feedback from staff is that they just didn’t know enough about how to support children with vulnerable language development. These children don’t necessarily need referral to speech and language therapy if staff feel confident in boosting the language skills of these children. This confidence will also allow them to recognise when what they are doing is not enough and to get appropriate support from external agencies.

ICAN and Afasic are both excellent charities supporting children with language delay and they are a good start when looking at how to give our children the best start in life.

And don’t forget to come along to my seminar on Friday 3 March at the London Childcare Expo – I look forward to meeting you!

Catherine Jackson is both a speech and language therapist for the NHS and the founder of Wise Old Owl Speech Assessment Apps. She is passionate about early intervention and specialises in supporting early years staff to feel confident in their abilities to support children’s communication skills: www.wiseoldowlslt.com 

[1] Professor R Poulton (2016) Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden; Nature Human Behaviour

[2] Bercow, J (2008) The Bercow Report: A review of Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs

[3] Children With Special Educational Needs in England: January 2015

[4] NCB (2015) Poor Beginnings; Health Inequalities among young children across England

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