Thursday, 30 June 2011

Shine a Light – Annie Broadbent, Press Officer

Everyone likes a bit of recognition. Even the ones who shy away from the spotlight can’t deny that being acknowledged for something you have achieved gives you a little warm glow inside.

What with it being the national year of communication and all, it makes sense to use this time to bring to light those special individuals and teams who have really run the extra mile to support children’s communication development. So often those people go unheard and unappreciated and therefore the work they do and the impact it has also gets left in the shadows.

This is perhaps the underlying significance of the awards. They not only celebrate the individuals and the work they do, but they shine a light on the issue of communication itself. One of the ongoing struggles for those working within the sector of children’s education and development, is the invisibility of communication difficulties. Speech, language and communications needs are not always manifested in some form of physical disability, in fact a lot of the time they are manifested in silence. More to the point, the development of a child’s communication skills is often presumed to develop as naturally as walking, making it a tough job for people to know what to look out for.

These awards are not only a chance for young people, employers, multi-agency teams and many more to get the recognition they deserve, but it’s also an opportunity for them to really help send a vital message out there to those with less experience in children’s communication development. Highlighting the best practice out there is a positive and encouraging way of turning the invisible into the visible. It breaks it down, makes it tangible, evident, and provides a foundation on which others can work from. We hope these awards are inspiring and motivating, not only to those who are already doing fantastic work with children’s communication, but also to those who don’t understand the issue so well.

It makes me think back to those uncontrollable moments in school of shoving your hand up desperately, when the teacher asks a question that you know, only you, know the answer to. They are quite often the only moments when the rest of the class listens. Of course this analogy is not like for like in every detail, and it might have been just me who did that, but I suppose the key thing to take from it, is that level of excitement and pride one feels when they want to show off, and also the legacy that that excitement and pride can leave for others to take on and develop.

This is a chance to stop, look at what you and people around you are doing to support children’s communication, shout about it, share your pride and ultimately spread the word – children’s communication development is fundamental to their happiness and future development and we are all responsible in some way or another for making sure no child is left out or left behind.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Children's Chatter - Wendy Lee, Professional Director

I am on a train travelling from London to Leeds. I do this a lot and usually get a phenomenal amount of work done on my travels. In my carriage are around 12 children with their teachers. The children are fairly young, but are full of talk; asking questions in long and complicated sentences, talking together with short spurts of questions, comments, interjected the whole time with laughter and the occasional reminder from one of the teachers to keep the noise down to an acceptable level.

Honestly, on a different day, I might find it a bit irritating, trying to get on with work with this clamour as a backdrop, but today I can’t help be impressed with their typical language development (sad, but true). You can almost hear the cogs whirling round as the children talk, as they manipulate language to work out how to find out about complicated situations they have seen, sharing their views, opinions and experiences, seeking clarification from their teachers. You can feel the personality of these youngsters coming through.

The thing is, this situation is one that for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) find extremely challenging – to join in with quick fire conversations, with the banter and turn taking, knowing when to listen and when to interrupt, being able to say the right thing to the teacher and the right thing to friends, to be clear in their speech and tell entertaining and understandable tales of their adventures, to share likes and dislikes, best bits and worst bits – to ask “are we nearly there yet.....”

Tomorrow I will be talking to some children with SLCN, some have pretty obvious speech difficulties, though in others it's more subtle. They can come across as maybe a little younger than their years, maybe a little slower to respond and not as able to construct the free flowing conversations as their typically developing peers.

As part of the Hello campaign, we want to raise awareness of children with SLCN and to ensure they are in the forefront of the minds of local and national leaders. We are in challenging times at the coal face of children’s services, so it seems even more important to highlight the fundamental importance of speech and language. As part of the campaign we are asking everyone to write to their MP and to their local council.

We have provided all the information you need to do this in our You’re the Voice resource. Download it today and spread the word at

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Exciting times - Cara Evans, Operations Director

As I approach the 29th week of my pregnancy it's time to start thinking practically about the little one's arrival's. It's strange, part of me feels like the anticipation just before Christmas, birthday and other exciting events all rolled into one - I'm so excited I feel I might pop (well I literally might!!). Don't worry I shan't dwell on that bit. The other half of me is quietly terrified. It feels like the night before going to the dentist - you should know I am scared stiff of the dentist!!

But I'm thinking of what kind of mum I will be, there are so many things we need to do. I see all the government policies involving parents and representing parent choice, all I want to do is make sure she is ok!!

I was lucky enough to go on a well deserved holiday a few weeks back with my partner and I observed many parents communicating with their children, it's what happens when you work at the Trust! One incident stuck in my head, two families at the dinner table, one having brought lots of books and games for their children, father asking his son what he thought of the journey and what did he want to do tomorrow, mum playing with her daughter. Contrast to family number two, a set of 3/4 year old twins, dummies in mouths watching a DVD at the dinner table (I so wanted to give them a copy of Small talk). But who am I to judge, difficult choices to make every day. I just hope I make the right ones!!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Guest slot, National Literacy Trust

This Father’s Day, the National Literacy Trust is launching a brand new Dads section to its recently launched and highly popular website, dedicated to helping new dads communicate more with their young children.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust comments:
“Each year around 500,000 men become dads for the first time. It’s brand new territory for most men but babies don’t come with instruction manuals like cars and phones and many new dads lack the support networks that new mums have. So we’ve tried to create a place where new dads can find out advice about one of the most important aspects of their new baby’s development.”

The newly launched section which encourages new dads to incorporate ‘TLC’ (Talking, Listening and Communicating) into their everyday life with their new baby is being endorsed by the Fatherhood Institute for the way it encourages dads to play a central role in a crucial part of their child’s future development.

Please click here to read the full press release.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Latest blog from Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

As a life-long volunteer, charity worker and passionate advocate of the third sector, friends are surprised when I roll my eyes at the Prime Minister’s/Health Secretary’s/Education Secretary’s/Environment Secretary’s (delete depending on which proposal is currently under discussion) enthusiastic endorsement of the charity sector to run public services.

Is it because I don’t believe the third sector should run public sector provision? Of course not-many Trust members run non maintained special schools and other outstanding specialist provision contracted by the state. The Trust itself wins government contracts and is working with members on winning more.

Do I agree with the public sector unions that charities taking over contracts put public sector workers out of jobs? Well, of course, there is an inevitability that if a charity wins a local contract that public sector staff may lose roles- but equally many public sector staff find employment in the voluntary sector and many charity workers are being laid off as local public sector provision pulls back charity grants to save staff posts. I don’t care who the employer is as long as people are skilled for the job and there is enough money to commission services (and of course this latter is a much bigger risk to public services than charity contracts).

Am I concerned about the changing face of the voluntary sector? Maybe a bit – care must be taken to maintain our campaigning work because, despite the protests of MPs like Charlie Elphicke, this work has always and will always be an essential part of charity work and one of our best routes to supporting our users. The Trust itself is an example of how public funding in some areas is no barrier to effective change in policy.

The worry that the ‘publicisation’ of charities is there – but that only applies to relatively small number of contract driven charities who dominate the ACEVO and NCVO debates. There will always be thousands of small, national and local, volunteer engaging charities picking up those that are failed by public funded services and who will never get any government money. Many of the Trust’s smaller members provide excellent volunteer run family support programmes that take little or no public funding.

My key concern is that such statements are at best uninformed and at worst deliberately disingenuous. Yes the voluntary sector will pick up some of the work but the proportion that it does will be tiny compared to the private sector who already receive billions to run public services and are circling for even more. And even the term voluntary sector is not accurate because there are charities who will plough funding from contacts back into core mission and then there are those corporates who will, legally I should stress, set up special purpose vehicles that sound all warm and fluffy or partner with voluntary sector partners to win bids and then cream off profits.

My personal views on the use of market forces to improve public services are still forming – that there is a role for charities is for me quite clear. Just let’s not pretend that this will be more than it is and let’s really understand what our USP and added value is before we warmly welcome any more Minister announcements.