9 January 2023

The survey, held by RCSLT Scotland, found that 89% of respondents reported an increase in the number of children with communications needs

The number of young children in Scotland experiencing speech, language and communication difficulties has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) and Early Years Scotland.

In a survey of 245 early years practitioners across all 32 local authorities, 89% (219) of those surveyed reported they had seen an “increase” or “significant increase” in the number of children with communication needs both within their setting and the complexity of needs.

Respondents reported that this had negatively impacted children when it came to their peer interaction, behaviour, participation, learning, friendships, and wellbeing.

Glenn Carter, head of RCSLT Scotland, said: “We’re facing a spoken language crisis in Scotland. If no action is taken these issues will have a significant impact on children’s mental health, learning, and future life chances. We welcome the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland’s work on this thus far. However, to avoid harm to Scotland’s children and young people we need to urgently increase the supply of speech and language therapists in Scotland, address the significant vulnerabilities in funding for speech and language therapy services, and develop a delivery plan for children and young people with communication needs.”

Other concerns highlighted by practitioners included reduced support from other professionals due to COVID-19, the impact the pandemic had on waiting times and later identification of needs. The difficulty many parents had in supporting their children during lockdown whilst balancing home working, home schooling of older siblings and their own wellbeing and mental health was also raised. Two thirds of early years practitioners reported lower levels of confidence in supporting children with communication needs.

It is not only early years practitioners that have highlighted the negative impact of the pandemic on children’s learning and development. Teachers are reporting alarming numbers of children coming to school with minimal spoken language and it is the number one concern reported by health visitors. The BBC reported a 20% increase in the number of children needing communication support in Scotland in the last two years.

Speech, language and communication are vital to the ongoing development of children as they look to learn the life skills needed to function and grow in society.

Early learning and childcare – Speech & Language Therapy survey- extended summary