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Parents 'worried for children's futures' as speech and language hubs come under threat

PUBLISHED: 13:27 16 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 April 2019

Twins Juliette and Alexandra, age nine, attended sessions at the speech and language hub in Ipswich. Picture: VELDA EYLES

Twins Juliette and Alexandra, age nine, attended sessions at the speech and language hub in Ipswich. Picture: VELDA EYLES

Parents of children with speech and language difficulties are praising the hubs across Suffolk for their invaluable support and fear that their proposed closures could see other children being left behind.

Velda Eyles and her twin daughters Juliette and Alexandra, age nine. Picture: VELDA EYLESVelda Eyles and her twin daughters Juliette and Alexandra, age nine. Picture: VELDA EYLES

A consultation urging parents to have their say on services for children with speech, language and communication needs, as part of a planned revamp of services, has been launched by Suffolk County Council.

Education leaders claim this new plan will provide more outreach services – but could also see three centres including Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft, being closed.

How do the hubs support children in Suffolk?

Twin sisters Alexandra and Juliette Eyles have spent many years suffering from severe speech and language problems.

Jessica Finch and her daughter Elsie-Mai. Picture: JESSICA FINCHJessica Finch and her daughter Elsie-Mai. Picture: JESSICA FINCH

The twins, now aged nine, both spent two years at Rushmere speech and language unit during years one and two - which their mother Velda has praised for their newfound confidence.

The 50-year-old from Ipswich is worried that these proposed closures will leave those who need specialist help behind.

She said: “The unit worked with my daughters giving them regular lessons plus full time speech and language help which they would not have received at school or in the community.

Velda fears that if we do not help children like Alexandra and Juliette then they will not only struggle now, but also through their teens and into adulthood.

Emilia Johns on her first day at Rushmere speech and language unit. Picture: HALEY JOHNSEmilia Johns on her first day at Rushmere speech and language unit. Picture: HALEY JOHNS

Velda's daughters are now doing well at school and have also been attending Starz Performing Arts Academy.

“They have always been included and they now even ask their teacher for speaking roles. This is something as a family we didn't think would ever be possible,” continued Velda. “Attending the unit has given us as a family a better life.”

Jessica Finch, who lives in Ipswich, also has two young children with speech difficulties.

Her seven-year-old daughter Elsie-May attended speech and language sessions on a weekly basis before she was later diagnosed with a severe speech and language disorder.

Haley Johns with her daughter Emilia, who has attended Rushmere speech and language unit. Picture: HALEY JOHNSHaley Johns with her daughter Emilia, who has attended Rushmere speech and language unit. Picture: HALEY JOHNS

At first Jessica was unsure about sending Elsie-May to Rushmere language hub, as she didn't want to isolate her from her friends. Now she couldn't be happier that she made the move.

She said: “I'm so glad I did it as it worked wonders. Not only did it help with her speech but her confidence grew too.”

Elsie-May attended Rushmere speech and language hub for one year and her mother Jessica says it changed her life.

The mother of two is now going through the same problems with her four-year-old son who was also diagnosed with a similar speech and language disorder.

Gemma Turner and her son Ryan who attended speech and language hubs during key stage two. Picture: GEMMA TURNERGemma Turner and her son Ryan who attended speech and language hubs during key stage two. Picture: GEMMA TURNER

Jessica added: “If they shut the hub then I have no idea what the future holds for him.”

The consultation which looks at revamping these children's services in Suffolk, including speech and language hubs, closes on Monday, April 22.

After this the results will be analysed and final proposals put to the councils cabinet in June or July.

Emilia Johns is another child who attended Rushmere Hall - being fortunate enough to be offered a place for three years.

According to her mother Haley Johns, Emilia had very limited speech and used mainly makaton and her PECS book to communicate. Haley said: “Before joining Rushmere Hall Emilia was at Nursery and had become withdrawn as she knew she was different from the other children.

“After a few weeks of being at Rushmere she started to become more confident and started to make firm friends as she now wasn't the only child who wasn't able to communicate.”

Emilia received intensive speech and language therapy and progressed considerably within those three years. Now she is able to communicate fully and only requires speech and language therapy once a fortnight.

Hayley added: “If these units are to close, I fear that the future children not receiving this intensive support will not cope in mainstream school and therefore their mental well-being will be affected. I know that Emilia would not have coped with mainstream school.”

Two years ago Gemma Turner made a similar decision to move her son Ryan, a non speaking child, to Rushmere speech and language hub.

Ryan attended the hub for two years from the age of five, and left the hub a speaking child - which Gemma says would not have been possible without the help from the specialist teachers and therapists.

She said: “He is now a confident child speaking in his own unique voice, and this would not have happened in mainstream schooling.”

Gemma believes that Ryan would still be struggling now had he not gone to the hub and fears that other children will struggle if the closures are to go ahead.

She added: “I understand the importance of the proposed outreach programmes but to close proven working hubs is not the way forward. They should run alongside the hubs.

“My heart breaks for not only the children but the parents who are going through this tough time. We have the mental health of our children who cannot express themselves in the same way as their peers.

“I am saddened for these children who are now in limbo.”

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