Tuesday, 08 Jul, 2008 Science
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Speech Problems in Youngsters May Lead to Criminality

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According to a government review, about one thousand of children suffering from untreated speech problems have a high risk of being unemployed, facing mental health problems and being involved in crime. The conservative Member of Parliament, Jon Bercow, performed a review into services for children who have communication difficulties. He warned that young people with speech problems, which are not identified and treated at an early stage, can be exposed to "multiple risks" after they grow up.

The review of Mr. Bercow criticizes the quality of treatments and calls for better improvement in the capacity of public services to identify and treat speech problems.

"If a child does not benefit from early intervention, there are multiple risks which may become evident over a period of years – of lower educational attainment, of behavioural problems, of emotional and psychological difficulties, of poorer employment prospects, of challenges to mental health and, in some cases, of a descent into criminality," the review says.

According to statistics provided by Bercow's review, about half off all children in some regions of UK are growing up with serious communication problems. He says that such problems may lead to serious social consequences.

"Children with primary language difficulties are at higher risk of developing behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. This increases the risk of their exclusion from school and, in the most extreme cases, can lead to young people entering the criminal justice system," the review says.

Data presented in the review states that about 40,000 children, 1 in 14 five-year-olds, go to school with serious problems related to speech, language and communication needs. The treatment is erratically provided throughout the country, Mr. Bercow says.

"While there are some excellent professionals and good services out there, the overall position in speech, language and communication needs is highly unsatisfactory. Access to information and services is poor and the quality of services themselves is very mixed, effective joint working between health and education services is rare and there is a postcode lottery across the country."

The MP said that ministers should assign a "Communications Champion" in order to provide the support that young people need. "Above all, the priority attached to SLC needs is too low and this must change," Mr. Bercow said.

The report presents five main topics: that speech, language and communication represent a vital skill and main human right, spotting problems at an early stage is crucial for evading social and economic problems later in life, the services should be uninterrupted from an early stage, different services need to work together more intensively and the system that is today is, in fact, "patchy."

The results of the study were presented to the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, and the Health Secretary at a school in London, Alan Johnson. The review was highly appreciated by the children's charities.

"This report highlights 40 recommendations for addressing the needs of children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties. It is important that every single point is acted upon, rather than a select few being cherry-picked," outlined chief executive of NCH, the children's charity, Clare Tickell.

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