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Poor communication is a 21st Century public health issue.

Children and young people need to develop good communication skills to be able to make friends, achieve at school and get a job.

A landmark study from the OECD published this year (2013), set out to measure the level of skills within the adult population. Shockingly, England is placed 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries. We know that children and young people's poor speech, language and communication skills sit under these statistics. Poor communication skills can impact on a child’s educational outcomes, ability to be an active member of society and future life chances. Young people with poor communication skills are over represented in the youth offending population and those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET).

Upwards of 50% of children in deprived areas already start school with poor language - a frightening number of children who, without support, will find it difficult to succeed at school and in later life. The number of children reported with poor speech, language and communication has increased 72 per cent in five years. Developing children's language skills has been identified as key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. But worryingly, changes to the National Curriculum threaten the position of 'speaking and listening' as a core aspect of children's learning.

With most jobs in the UK demanding good communication skills, if we don't do something about these numbers, we are limiting children’s life opportunities – and the potential growth of the UK economy through employment and spending.

Poor communication is a 21st Century public health issue. Public health is about preventing poor health and well being - and reducing the impact on life chances – through timely intervention and support. It is important to see supporting children and young people's communication as primary prevention work particularly in areas of high social deprivation.

I CAN strives to meet the needs of children and young people's communication. We aim to get our programmes and interventions from birth to 19 years into every UK nursery, primary and secondary school to ensure that no young person is destined to a life of unfulfilled potential.

The statistics are shocking.

But in some of the areas I CAN has worked with, who have focused on children's language skills, the numbers with poor language are decreasing. Areas like Kirkby in Merseyside, an area of significant deprivation.

In 2007 the key target that was developed in the South Kirkby Area Partnership Board Working Group was to improve Early Years Speech and Language in Kirkby, and specifically Kirkby Central Ward, so that children when entering school are not developmentally disadvantaged and therefore have the best possible life chances.

At the heart of this 'Make Chatter Matter in Kirkby' programme was the behaviour change of parents and providers to place a greater emphasis on developing speech and language early and understanding how best to do this. I CAN's Early Talk was part of this initiative, with many settings accessing training for staff, and some settings being I CAN accredited as supportive of young children's communication development. Early Years Foundation Stage profile results for children's communication and language in Kirkby have increased steadily over the last 4 years. Currently 81% of children attained at least expected in Listening and Attention, 80% in understanding and 77% in speaking putting them in line with national averages.

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