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30/03/2006

NICCY warn over long waits for speech therapy

Thousands of children and young people are waiting for speech and language therapy a year after the office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) warned more needed to be done.

NICCY said 2,055 children and young people are still waiting to be assessed for speech and language therapy, and 3,402 who have been assessed as needing the therapy are waiting for the therapy to start.

The figures were released by NICCY at a joint conference with the Royal College for Speech and Language Therapists in Cookstown today, which celebrated the work of therapists, outlined good practice and ways of working together in a better way.

“We are very concerned on behalf of children and young people that at a time when we are celebrating the good work of speech and language therapists our research is showing thousands are still waiting to access the therapy,” said Barney McNeany, Acting Commissioner at NICCY.

“Quite simply it appears that the needs of many children and young people with a disability are not being met.”

Mr McNeany said while some limited progress had been made, it was clearly not enough, as the 'postcode lottery' the commissioner’s office highlighted last year still exists.

“There are trust areas where children can wait two-and-a-half years from referral to therapy – that means the child may wait from starting primary school to year three to receive support.”

He added: "We in NICCY believe the government will be as concerned as we are and will respond positively to make sure the shocking figures in today’s report are addressed.

“On a day when we hear so much about the good work of therapists; when it is clear to us from the parents who speak to us that they value the therapy their children receive; we are looking forward to significant announcements from government.”

Minister for Children and Young People, Jeff Rooker announced plans to improve the provision of speech and language therapy.

Plans for a Regional Task Force were outlined with a view to developing an action plan to improve the provision of speech and language therapy.

Lord Rooker said: "As a government, we acknowledge the vital importance of developing effective communication skills as these are central to positive self-esteem, learning and the development of relationships."

The Minister highlighted the need for inter-Departmental collaboration and outlined a number of steps that had been taken to enhance joint working between the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Education: "Both Departments are collaborating to produce draft standards to promote collaborative working between teachers and therapists in schools. I believe this is a very positive step in promoting co-operative working to ensure that the communication needs of each child are properly met.”

The Minister pointed to the Children & Young People's Funding Package in which £4 million will be made available to set up multi-disciplinary teams to provide services such as speech and language therapy to schools and other settings.

He also said that the Department of Education had committed further resources to support early intervention for children with speech and language difficulties.

(SP/KMcA)

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