Early Voices: Spreading knowledge of speech, language and communication through health visitors

13 January 2020

Early Voices: Spreading knowledge of speech, language and communication through health visitors

Early Voices was a national professional development and training programme for health visitors delivered by The Communication Trust (TCT). Funded by Big Change, the programme was designed to impact the families that health visitors work with, helping them to support their child’s speech, language and communication development.

Maxine Burns, Lead Speech and Language Advisor at I CAN & The Communication Trust, discusses the impact of training Health Visitors.

What did Early Voices aim to achieve?

‘From 2017 - 2019, we aimed to train 60 health visitors across 60 areas to become ‘Communication Leaders’: leaders in early speech, language and communication in their localities.

Through an initial day’s training, we armed the health visitors with two cascade training sessions to deliver to their colleagues and wider early years networks.

The Communication Leaders also shared a leaflet with parents to help them understand the five basic principles of supporting children’s early communication skills, particularly from age 0-2.

In addition, they received a fully funded Level 3 Award in speech, language and communication to help deepen their own knowledge.‘

Why is training for health visitors important?

‘By training health visitors as Communication Leaders, our long-term goal was that they would become the lynchpin in an area, transforming the way that professionals within these areas support families with early language development.

The end goal of this, of course, is to give each child the best possible start in life, since we know that early speech, language and communication skills are a significant factor in later achievement at school and beyond.'

What did the Communication Leaders do?

‘The Communication Leaders shared the training sessions with colleagues and their wider workforce networks, with trainees reporting increased knowledge on the subject.

They also shared information with the families they worked with, giving bite-sized tips on supporting their child’s speech, language and communication.

Undertaking the level 3 award (which many committed to in their own time amongst a busy work schedule), meant that they could build solid knowledge and confidence in supporting their families and networks.’ 

What was the impact?

‘The hard work and commitment of Communication Leaders was most certainly worth it!

We found that health visitors’ knowledge of speech, language and communication increased, even from a relatively high starting point. They spoke specifically about how the up-to-date, evidence-informed training gave them the confidence to share this knowledge widely.

Perhaps more importantly, they also spoke about speech, language and communication skills more frequently. From a brief mention during some visits, our Communication Leaders were discussing these skills with families at all their visits, and doing so with increased confidence! Conversations with colleagues also became more frequent – “everyone was talking about talking!”’

How did we share the learning?

Towards the end of the project, we held two ‘action learning sets’ where participants had the chance to talk about their challenges and successes they’d had during the programme and how it had helped change their practice.

These conversations brought much of the learning to life, with some clear themes emerging. We captured these through a series of case studies, which we hope will enable some of the learning to be shared among other health visitors and family nurse practitioners. 

Why not grab a cuppa and take a look at the videos here? Perhaps the Communication Leaders’ stories of change will inspire developments in your own local area.’






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