Identifying and Supporting Children’s Early Language Needs

James Law, Jenna Charlton, Cristina McKean, Rose Watson, Susan Roulstone, Caitlin Holme, Vicky Gilroy, Philip Wilson, Robert Rush

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned Report

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The gap in the cognitive development and specifically oral language skills between children from different social backgrounds is widely acknowledged1 2 3 4 5. This gap is identifiable very early in life and well established by school entry6 7 8 and can have long-term consequences in terms of educational attainment and adult outcomes 9 . Importantly early communication difficulties may also be indicators of a wider range of neurodevelopmental conditions 10 11. Effective interventions are available 12 13 14 but matching the right children to the right intervention is sometimes a challenge, in part because the rate at which children’s language develops naturally varies and it can be difficult to know when to consider intervention. Central to this process is the review of child development carried out by health visitors (HV) at the 2-2½ year review. A public health approach to speech and language development has been advocated 15and the issue of developmental surveillance has attracted considerable attention in recent years16. However, a formal screening programme has not been advocated because they have not met standard criteria 17. Rather there has been a focus on developing approaches which improve early identification of children with speech, language and communication needs, foster a conversation between practitioner and parent about a child’s needs, and equip parents with the skills needed to support their child’s development.
This project was commissioned in 2018 as part of the UK government’s Social Mobility Action Plan 18 and was one of three dimensions to a programme of work delivered by Public Health England (PHE) and the Department for Education (DfE) in England. The programme of work included: The provision of enhanced training for health visitors to help them address the needs of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and their families; the development of guidance to Local Areas to support the development of local evidence-based Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN)
pathways; the development of an early language assessment tool and intervention (the present project) designed to facilitate a conversation between practitioner and parent about the child’s communication skills.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyDepartment for Education
Number of pages260
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the practitioners in our five sites for their contribution to this project. Perhaps it goes without saying that it would not have been possible without their input but we would like to thank them especially for their enthusiasm about the project and for contributing to the different elements of
the project. Similarly, we would like to thank the parents who gave so readily their time to contribute to the project. It was clear that they valued the service and wanted to improve it for other parents. We are especially grateful to our PPI groups who helped steer the project, as did the Expert Advisory Group hosted by Public Health England and the Department for Education. And, finally, we would like to thank Nikki Hawley, administrator at Newcastle University, for help in data entry and support for the project.


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