IF your young child is experiencing speech delays they could benefit from an innovative Knowsley programme which is helping transform toddler’s development. The Early Communication and Language Pathway includes a 12-week programme of support for children aged up to three years old who are not meeting the age related expectations for communication, language and speaking skills. The tailored support, developed by Knowsley Children’s Centres, speech therapy and children’s community nursing team, has been recognised as best practice by Ofsted. Leanne Wall and her two and half year old son Lennon, are one of many families in Knowsley who have benefited from the 12 week pathway, aptly named ‘Chatterbox’: “At two years old Lennon couldn’t speak. Everyone got called Dad because he only had a vocabulary of five or ten words. I was definitely concerned. The nursery had picked up on it too, which is why I called the health visitor to see what we could do,” said Leanne. The health visitor referred the family on to Chatterbox, although any family with concerns can contact their Knowsley children’s centre to enquire about the pathway. Children’s centre staff trained in ‘I Can Early Talk’ use the strategies and techniques to deliver twelve, weekly sessions in all the borough’s children’s centres and a Speech and Language Therapist attends the course at regular intervals. Leanne explains further how it works: “They showed me how to communicate with Lennon. I was repeating his babble – his baby-talk – back to him, instead of repeating the word back properly. Seeing the difference it made in those twelve weeks, with me repeating the words back to him properly, it was unbelievable.” Leanne added: “We loved going every week. There were six or seven kids on our course, some at different stages of the course, which was good as you could reassure anyone new. It was like a play group for the kids but we were learning so much at the same time.” Since completing the course Lennon has quite literally become a chatterbox. Leanne has also noticed a complete change in his personality: “He’s so much more confident now. Before Chatterbox he didn’t really like to play with other children, I don’t know if that was because he didn’t know how to communicate very well, but now he wants to organise the games, his confidence has just grown so much.” Like Lennon, nine out of ten of the children who attend and complete the course need no further specialist support. Chatterbox also helps with the early identification of children with a communication delay which does require speech therapy. Prior to the launch of the pathway children could’ve waited lengthy periods for an assessment to determine whether support from speech therapy was appropriate. The success of Knowsley’s Chatterbox scheme was recently recognised at a regional Ofsted Early Years Conference. The Early Year’s team and Children’s Centres were invited talk about the pathway which in two years has seen an 88% reduction in the need for children requiring specialist intervention from the Speech Therapy Service. Cllr Gary See, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “It’s fantastic that the council and its partners’ pioneering work to help young children experiencing speech delays has been recognised as an example of best practice by Ofsted. “More importantly it’s fantastic that the borough’s young children and their families are benefiting from tailored support, delivered in their local children’s centre, for language or communication delay, which – as Lennon’s experience demonstrates – can have a profoundly positive impact on a young child’s overall development.” The council is ensuring as many eligible children as possible benefit from Chatterbox after securing a £30K North West Teaching Schools Partnership Project (Early Years Grant) which has been used to deliver training to many of the borough’s private and voluntary full day care nurseries. After the training staff working with under threes can identify likely communication delay and where appropriate signpost their families to the scheme. If you’d like more information about Chatterbox please contact your local children’s centre.