In a rare and valuable opportunity Speech and language therapist Kate Powell is invited to Westminster to help put the case for more and better provision for children with SLCN.
Kate works part time for the NHS and part-time with Soundswell. She is the mother of a 9 year old son with Developmental Language Disorder.
Locally she has campaigned hard for the help that Edward needs. Gains in provision made at primary age are not necessarily going to be guaranteed into secondary education.
For parents the worry is constant and the battle never over.
The meeting was chaired by Kate’s local MP Saqip Bhatti. He had been approached by another constituent, Mikey Akers, who campaigns to raise awareness of Verbal Dyspraxia. Mikey had asked Saqib for support and, unbeknownst to Kate, they had already established a working relationship.
Kate’s Westminster invitation came about because she had written an outline of her experiences raising Edward within difficult and restrictive health and education systems. She sent her outline to various dignitaries including the PM, DfE, Gillian Keegan, her local councillor and local Mayor. The councillor and Mayor responded and were sympathetic, but were not helpful, essentially lamenting the system and lack of support but not actually offering any sort of help or solution.
Kate says: ‘Saqib personally responded to me. He chased the DfE for a response to my email (which was a fairly standard reference to the recent Green Paper) and suggested that I might like to join him at his event in Westminster.’
Kate is ideally placed to see the difficulties from both a professional and a personal point of view.
This is what she had to say about her trip to the seat of power.
‘London was an interesting experience. There was a significant element of ‘preaching to the converted’ as, in the room, were representatives from bodies who are already well up to speed with the issues and fully committed to influencing decision-makers.
There were parents of children with verbal dsypraxia (this is about to be rebadged to childhood apraxia of speech) and professionals ranging from regular speech and language therapists on the ground like me. NAPLIC representatives (NAPLIC stands for National Association of Professionals concerned with Language Impaired Children) and Speech & Language UK sat alongside representation from ASLTIP (the Association for Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice) and and a contingent from the USA from Apraxia Kids.
The focus was on verbal dyspraxia but the message was about needing more SLTs who can deliver more therapy. As with a number of other conditions, parents reported a reluctance on the part of some professionals to diagnose their child’s difficulty. They questioned the value of what some see as ‘fence-sitting’: there were parents there, who like me, had been told that their children have ‘features of verbal dyspraxia’. What is it about the diagnosis that prevents the formal label?
Around a hundred people from across the country attended the event. There were also some other MPs who joined after Chambers had closed but they were quiet observers and didn’t get involved.
There was the opportunity to meet with various officers from RCSLT (the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists), including the press officer who wants increased media coverage.
I was introduced to a journalist who has had a piece about SLCN featured in 3 national newspapers. I said that media coverage is vital, however staff on the ground are potentially going to be reticent as they often feel they are personally responsible for not providing the service that families want or need and it can increase pressure on a service and reduce morale.
The representative from ASLTIP talked about the increased rate of drop out that the profession is experiencing and that the numbers of Newly Qualified Practitioners needed are not around for either the NHS or private practice. Like me, the therapists at the event were saying that so many ‘new recruits’ receive their degree and then leave ,as the job is ’too hard’.
Well-known personality Chris Kamara was also there. He spoke eloquently: tackling the funding issue head-on (which certainly needed to be done as without additional funding nothing will change). He drew our attention to the poor spending history of the government – putting money into wasteful projects rather than the vital services which will help improve life-chances for people with communication difficulties’.
This was a great opportunity for Kate to put across views which are widely held by the profession (as well as other interested groups). What will happen next? Will there be a positive outcome with some actions?
It sounds unlikely that anything will change any time soon: Kate is a realist: ‘I’m not sure anything will come of it. There was no action plan or timeframe for a follow-up meeting. It came to a close with everybody agreeing that something needs to be done but nobody was really saying what the next step would be. On a positive note though, I felt there is a bit more willing to do something but no funds are forthcoming, so we shall see’.
Kate says “I very much enjoyed a child-free day in London with a cream tea at an exclusive venue and that counted for quite a lot!! “
You can find out more about the event here