Concerns have been raised that young children’s language development has been affected by the public health measures implemented to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. We were asked by the Scottish Government to:
- review the available data about children’s speech, language and communication (SLC) development and examine the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
- examine the longer-term consequences of delayed language development
- look at the ways that children and young people’s language development is supported in Scotland
We have worked with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists National Network for Children and Young People to better understand how children’s speech and language development is supported in Scotland and how services have been affected by the pandemic. We have co-produced, with members of the network, recommendations for a whole system approach to supporting children and young people’s speech and language development.
The findings of our enquiry are presented in a series of three related reports:
- Data summary
- Evidence briefing
- Whole system approach
The reports highlight:
- Children’s speech and language development difficulties are common, with persistent inequalities seen between population groups.
- A higher percentage of boys compared to girls and a higher percentage of children living in the most deprived quintile on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation compared to those living in the least deprived quintile have SLC developmental concerns recorded at child health reviews.
- Since early 2021 there has been an increase in SLC developmental concerns recorded at child health reviews compared to pre-pandemic in Scotland. The greatest increase in recorded concerns is at the 27–30-month review.
- It is likely that the pandemic has had a negative impact on early SLC development, exacerbating a pre-existing high level of SLC developmental delay and the need for support among younger children in Scotland and widening existing inequalities.
- Existing routine data sources likely under-estimate the full extent of SLC developmental delay in children in Scotland, particularly in deprived areas.
- Early childhood language development is important for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, educational outcomes and employment opportunities later.
- The earlier a child receives support for their language development, the better their language abilities are liable to be.
- A systematic approach, at national and local levels, is needed to promote and support early childhood language development, as well as to identify children with language difficulties as early as possible.