Identifying & Supporting Children's Early Language

Public Health England (PHE) has commissioned Speech and Language Sciences at the University of Newcastle to develop and evaluate a new process for early identification of children at risk of developing speech and language disorders, in collaboration with Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit and the Institute of Health Visiting.

Why is this important?

Speech and language are critical to children’s development, and speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can affect their educational attainment, social and emotional development and opportunities later in life. It is therefore essential that children with SLCN are identified early to ensure they receive the right support and reduce the risk of problems in the long term.

However, the Bercow 10 Years On Report published in 2018 found that “more than half of young children in school are not having their needs identified, often due to insufficient knowledge and skills in the workforce” (p30). The report also showed that the screening tools which are currently used do not feature important ‘red flags’, which could provide early signs of SLCN.

How will the project work?

PHE have developed a programme to improve identification of SLCN, including training health visitors, providing better guidance to local authorities and provision of an early assessment tool. The University of Newcastle has been selected to create this tool, led by Professor James Law in collaboration with Dr. Cristina McKean.

The new screening tool will be conducted alongside the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), which is commonly employed by health visitors and early years practitioners at children’s 2-year developmental checks. The screening tool will be tested and evaluated by health visiting teams in five areas around England, working with a total of 1280 preschool children. The project will also develop resources to foster understanding of SLCN among health visiting teams and parents, and to help them to support children with their speech and language.

How are BSLTRU involved?

There are four strands to the project:
1)      Development of the early assessment tool
2)      Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) Groups
3)      Evaluation and Feedback
4)      Co-Design

The team at BSLTRU, led by Professor Sue Roulstone in collaboration with Caitlin Holme, are responsible for evaluation and feedback. They will gather parent and professional perspectives of the new process and contribute this insight to the development of the tool, with the objective of ensuring acceptability for those who will be using and receiving the assessment in future.

Evaluation of the parent and professional perspective will comprise a parent survey, completed by all parents whose children have been assessed via the new process, as well as telephone interviews with parents and focus groups with health visitors and speech and language therapy teams.

BSLTRU are also involved in running the PPI groups and co-design elements of the project, which aim to include parents and professionals in the design of the assessment tool and further resources.

How can I find out more?
If you are interested in learning more about the project please visit the project website here:, or email for more information.