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New speech and language courses to help young children catch up after COVID-19

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Research conducted in schools last year revealed that the coronavirus pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, held back many young children’s speech and language development.

So, we have created new courses which are available to parents and carers, and staff who work with children and young people, to help children catch up and reach their potential.

The Education Endowment Foundation research suggested that measures taken to address the pandemic deprived young children of social contact and opportunities that would normally have helped develop their vocabulary.

Speech and language experts in Devon say that they’re seeing that impact, with parents concerned that their young children are taking their first words, or articulating their first sentences, later than might previously have been expected.

Samantha Chapman, Lead Officer for Devon County Council’s Early Years and Childcare service, said:

‘Every child is different, and children develop their talking and understanding of words at different rates. However, we are noticing that since COVID-19 many children and young people are struggling to develop the language and communication skills expected.

“Of course children born since March 2020 were born into the pandemic, with lockdowns and restrictions, and access to services affected.  You mustn’t underestimate how important socialisation is in developing very young children’s speech and language development, and the impact therefore that not having those opportunities can have on a child and young person.”

Professionals in Devon who work with families, schools and early years settings were hearing from parents concerned about their children’s language and communication development.  So a multiagency team has worked together, with parents, to develop a programme of new speech, language and communication courses and resources for parents and carers of young children, to help them help support their child’s development.

The programme is called ‘The Way We Talk’, and it includes courses and resources available to help parents and carers as well as professionals – those whose jobs see them working with young children and their parents or carers.

“We want to give parents, carers and professionals the opportunity to upskill in this area and to close the gap left by the pandemic,” says Samantha.

But it’s not just about late development of speech and language skills. The coronavirus pandemic impacted on speech and language services, and children and young people of primary and secondary school-age, who were already experiencing speech and language difficulties prior to the pandemic, found access to their support disrupted.

“These courses are also for parents and carers of older children who have seen little improvement in their speech and language development since the pandemic,” says Samantha.  “Organisations are working hard to restore and improve services for all our children and young people. It is important that we all work together to help those children who speech and language have been disadvantaged by the pandemic.”

The courses are free, and they’re being provided by a range of professionals.  Sessions are available from Devon Education Advisory Services, Early Years, Young Devon and Action for Children. Resources and wider support are also being provided by Public Health Nursing and Children and Family Health Devon.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member with responsibility for children’s services, said:

“The development of speech and language is so important for young people and has a direct impact on the adults they later become, in terms of life chances and opportunity.

“These courses are designed by experts to support parents and carers who want to know more about the importance of language and communication and communicating with their children.

“Some of this is about helping parents and carers of young children to catch up with speech and language. But some of these courses for parents and carers are also about communicating with young people.”

For more information about the courses available, visit our website