Tsars, supremos, working parties, interdepartmental committees, royal commissions – it's easy for 'Yes, Prime Minister' (Gielgud Theatre, London) to be cynical. While the playwrights have a point, I had just come from a Communication Trust reception at the House of Commons which had a much more positive feel. It reminded me of the good that politicians can do, and of the potential of the National Year of Communication initiative and the appointed Communication Champion to make a real difference.
The National Year of Communication, which will run throughout 2011, is called 'Hello'. It aims to make children's communication skills a priority in homes and schools across England. Working with the Communication Champion Jean Gross, the year will be "managed and delivered" by The Communication Trust. This group of 39 voluntary and community sector organisations has the interests of children with speech, language and communication needs at its heart.
Mike Kennard of Signalong told me it is "the most effective coalition I have ever been involved with" – and, seeing the impact its work is having at the highest level, I can believe it. That doesn't mean it has been easy. As the Director of the Communication Trust Anita Kerwin-Nye said, tongue only half in cheek, "Some of us don't even like each other!" Resolving that she "will not rest until specific language impairment and speech, language and communication needs are as well understood as dyslexia or autism", Anita added, "The only way we're going to fix this is collectively. Everybody needs to 'get' it."
The reception at the House of Commons was sponsored by Robert Buckland MP, whose particular interest in this area has come about through his experience as a parent. The 150 guests heard a number of speakers, including Amanda Ryalls, whose son uses a voice output communication aid, Chris Pike, a young aspiring politician who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, and Minister of State for Children and Families Sarah Teather.
A fuller report of the event and the key messages for speech and language therapists will be in the Winter 10 issue of Speech & Language Therapy in Practice.