The NOA recruited four Community Communication Champions (CCCs) to make introductions with parents least likely to engage with support and to encourage and accompany them to group speech and language sessions in their local neighbourhoods. Once the Community Communication Champion (CCC) team was established, speech and language training provider Elklan was chosen to deliver the group speech and language sessions, known as ‘Let’s Talk at Home’. After parents completed this 6-week course, they would be provided with a box of Early Years resources to support their child’s developing speech and language. This was known as a ‘Springboard Box’.
The CCC team began their role by networking in target wards in Norwich; Wensum, University, Mile Cross and Catton Grove (each CCC was assigned to one ward). These wards were highlighted as having high levels of deprivation and need by Norwich City and Norfolk County Councils so were chosen as pilot areas for this project. The CCC team met with local community leaders, local schools and early years settings, Library staff, Health Visiting Teams and an array of Local Authority teams such as the Community Focus Officers. This helped each CCC build a picture of the presenting need in each of their target areas.
The team set up a series of ‘drop-in’ sessions for parents, in local libraries and Early Years settings. Sessions provided parents with an opportunity to talk to a CCC one to one about any concerns they had regarding their pre-school child’s speech and language development and access support. Sessions were advertised through a variety of channels including pre-established parent and toddler groups, the CCC Facebook page, local libraries and CCC events and sessions, but most successfully via the local schools and settings themselves, particularly when the drop-ins were held on their site.
The CCCs aim was to recruit parents of pre-school children living in these wards for the Let’s Talk at Home Elklan sessions. Through a formal commissioning process, Elklan were chosen to deliver their Lets Talk at Home speech and language course for parents. The CCC team set up a referral process so that educators and practitioners working in schools, settings, health visiting, the Early Childhood and Family Service and social services, could refer families in need of speech and language support directly to them, as well as via discussion at ‘drop-in’ sessions. This proved a much more successful approach to engagement, and it allowed the CCC team to sign up a greater number of families to the Let’s Talk at Home courses in a shorter space of time. The CCC team also offered to meet with families prior to the course starting, to get to know them and their children. This helped the team build trust with parents who would normally not engage with this type of support.
The Elklan course itself was a 6-week programme which ran in a local community venue in each ward three times between Spring 2019 and Spring 2020 – 12 courses in total. The original plan was to deliver 16 courses up to Summer 2020 but unfortunately due to Covid-19, the remaining sessions had to be cancelled. Virtual delivery was explored but agreed not viable given the nature of the work and families involved. Each Let’s Talk at Home session was 1 hour long and was led by a local speech and language therapist from East Coast Community Healthcare (also a trained Elklan tutor) and a member of the CCC team. The expectation was that the parent and child attended the session together.
Session 1 was a baseline and settling in session. Sessions 2-5 involved introducing parents to four key messages/strategies that would support their child’s speech and language development, and session 6 was a review session. The CCCs and Elklan Tutors coached parents to share each key message as they played with their child. The parents then identified a time when they would implement each message at home and left each session with a postcard and a magnetic puzzle piece, which acted as a visual reminder of that week’s message.
At the end of each 6-week course, families that had attended the majority of the Elklan sessions received a Springboard Box containing Early Years resources. These resources were all chosen by Elklan and the CCC team for their versatility and ability to be used in everyday play at home to encourage children’s speech and language development. The resources were used in each of the Let’s Talk at Home sessions so that parents became familiar with how they could be used. The CCC team organised the ordering, collation and distribution of these boxes at the end of the Elklan sessions and where possible gathered feedback from parents on the Springboard Boxes some weeks later via a short questionnaire.