A few weeks ago, I met with a parent who had recently begun Speech and Language Therapy groups with her child. Working in education, she knew that he wasn't at age-related expectations, but she was unsure what to do to secure progress. She explained that she didn’t understand the reasons behind particular strategies during therapy and was panicked with the sense of time passing quickly with little evidence of progression. She felt like she was going through the motions but not really having a clue where she was meant to end up. She also pointed out that at no stage, did someone ask her ‘what are your goals or hopes for your child?’.
The more we spoke, the more I could see how she was having to contain this huge weight that comes with dealing with developmental delay. She explained that she attended a therapy session lasting fifteen minutes where they looked at 'What's in the bag?'and she came away feeling utter despair, 'what is the point in this?'she asked me ‘No one has told me how this helps my child’s speech’.
I also had questions... if someone who works in early education felt this isolation, what must it feel like for those parents who don't necessarily know what to expect? Child development is way more complex than people realise and it is often an undervalued stage of lifespan. When things aren't on track, parents are often catapulted into total confusion and this is very rarely helped by the 'he will catch up'mentality.
This conversation was a stark reminder that in all the bureaucratic processes and procedures of SEND based work, there is often a parent whose sat waiting to be told the point in all this and with the added pressure of knowing that they are on a tight time frame to have a ‘school-ready’ child! (saving this gem for another blog post). When a child has developmental delay, early intervention is crucial in securing individual progress. I make a point of saying ‘individual’ because our expectations should not be entirely defined by the broad milestone statements of the development matters but should include the parent’s perception of a milestone. We have to be asking parents what they expect and what they hope for! This knowledge can then be used to ensure strategies and interventions have a purpose and point for parents. Equally useful is to provide examples of how strategies can be embedded into everyday routines and experiences, so that parents feel armed with a repertoire of techniques in supporting progress.
When I work with people on SEND-based strategies, I always use the concept of 'backward goal-setting', which is basically sharing outright, the intended outcome of a strategy. This outcome is generated through open discussions with the parents and professionals and both the home and education setting are considered. For example, ‘Our goal is to support Hattie to complete some self-care tasks independently at home and in the setting, so that she is building strength in her hands using her fine motor skills’ and then we work backwards to plan (I would like to point out here, that this doesn't always need to be a paperwork process, professional dialogue is just as valuable if it gets the job done or by making 'note-worthy notes').
I once supported a child with this very goal but my IEP target (Individual Education Plan) was to support the child to thread three beads twice a day for six weeks (yes! Really!). The SMART target was so abstract yet so specific that I failed to realise all the many other ways I could help build hand strength such as dressing, cutlery use, malleable play, small world and so on. In turn, I was also unable to support the parents with ideas for home learning. The strategy became very tokenistic and pointless, isolated the parents and failed to secure any measurable progress...but I could tick off that I *technically* completed the IEP (sarcastic tones) and this is why I am absolutely against IEP's. They are a distraction in my opinion.
In conclusion, there are two things we can continue to do to promote parental engagement in SEND support. Firstly, to talk with parents about their hopes and goals for their children whether it be in the short or long term and to signpost tools and resources that may help parents to feel more confident about their expectations. Secondly, to never assume knowledge in others but to ensure we are transparent in our intentions in planning, strategies and interventions. For professionals, we may have been carrying out ‘What’s in the bag’ for years so its purpose is obvious to us, but not to all. By equipping parents with the skills and knowledge of 'why' these strategies may help, they can go onto deliver them in personal and purposeful ways for their children across many different contexts. Above all else, we have to remember that parents are the most crucial component in securing the on-going success of their child's progress because they are likely to be around their child a lot longer than we are.
Ideas for supporting parent's involvement of SEN support;
1. Provide parents with a link to or copy of 'What to Expect When' from Foundation Years. This will support shared dialogue about child development and may trigger some personally identified milestones from parents:
2. If you have a particular speech, language or communication concern, suggest completing the Talking Point Progress Checker together which could generate discussion around current development and next steps:
3. Make use of this guide from Foundation Years on meaningful parent partnership:
4. Introduce a 'no-jargon' rule! Acronyms and abbreviations isolate parents and limit communication. Pronounce full terms and offer clarity where needed.
5. Invite parents in to observe a strategy or intervention or offer to demonstrate a strategy. Not only does this upskill the parent but it builds a stronger relationship as you work towards shared goals.
6. Always tell parents the point in what you/they are doing! Never ever assume knowledge.