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Some Speech and Language Services Suspended and Delayed During COVID-19

BCEdAccess parents impacted by the suspension of some Speech and Language Services (SLP) during the pandemic brought their concerns forward and wrote a letter for our organization to share with Public Health and regional Health Authorities. We have received only 3 responses to date, each stating they had empathy and that this was not their department. 

SLP services are essential early intervention for so many children. These services can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Some children have not been receiving services for nearly a year. Suspension of services was not publicly announced, and parents were not given sufficient time or resources to find an alternative. 

As a volunteer advocacy organization we have not had the time yet to find out whose department it is, who is making these critical decisions and where we should be directing our concerns. It’s our understanding that these services are provided by different government ministries in different situations and that some services are still available while others have been suspended. More clarity is required.

In the words of one concerned parent:

“What I am finding is that many people are apathetic to the issue and do not understand the effect this can have on the community as a whole. I think about going forward into kindergarten in the next few years. My kid is not affected, since he receives therapy through the FVCDC, but he could just as easily not have qualified and I would not have the support and intervention. I know many families in the community that really rely on this. They are not comfortable talking about it and the whole situation has made a culture where people should just be content with the scraps of support they are given, all the while they are facing barriers to inclusion in daycare and preschool. We need to give our most vulnerable the best chance for success and early on, we all know how abysmal speech services are in schools.”

Here’s the text of the advocacy letter as well as a link to the pdf:

Re: Suspending Speech and Language Services
We are concerned that the Fraser Health Authority has again removed speech and language
pathologists (SLPs) from providing important speech therapy services and directed their duties
to contract tracing. SLPs help children with both language delays and disorders to
communicate, be understood and empower families with strategies to support them. This
important intervention tells these children that what they do have to say is valued and important.
Most families that receive these services have been without speech therapy from March until
October, only to have these services suspended once again without any communication as to
the length of the disruption to services. By removing these services, even temporarily, it tells
these children and their families that their voices do not matter and that they are not a priority.
This is the second time that SLPs have been removed from receiving these services during the
pandemic. SLPs deliver a vital early intervention. We are worried about the following:
1) Children who require these intervening services do not cease to need these services, in
fact during a pandemic it can be even more important. The waitlists for this service have
not decreased and referrals for speech therapy have remained consistent.
2) SLPs are highly trained and specialized and it is not fiscally responsible to utilize them
for a position that requires none of their expertise and much less training. According to
Work BC, the median hourly wage for an SLP is $39.56 per year, whereas
Administrative Support Clerk positions that are being hired by Fraser Health are being
advertised with an hourly wage of $19.72 – $21.78. Furthermore, for families who seek
private SLP for therapy the hourly cost could range between $140 to as high as a
recommended $186.05, by Speech and Hearing BC . This puts additional financial strain
in an uncertain time for families.
3) Removing these services, even temporarily, puts additional strain on the school district in
the near term future. Phonological and phonemic awareness are the most predictive
skills for success in learning to read (Anthony & Francis, 2005). Maximizing children’s
vocabulary and speech perception skills before they begin school may be an important
strategy for ensuring that children with speech-sound disorders begin school with
age-appropriate speech and phonological awareness abilities (Rvachew, 2006).
The following recommendations are being requested:

  1. The Fraser Health Authority have SLPs return to their speech therapy services;
    delivering this service through online delivery (zoom). Additional resources should be
    provided to ensure that additional staff can be hired to perform the required contact
    tracing.
  2. The Fraser Health Authority resume hearing screens for both kindergarten and grade 1
    students in the 2021/22 school year to make up for the kindergarten hearing screens
    that were missed in the current school year (2020/21).
  3. The Provincial government provide additional funding for speech and language services
    at the school district level for the 2021/22 school year to assist with ensuring children
    have the phonological skills to facilitate the efficacy of literacy instruction in kindergarten
    and primary grades.
    By removing the speech services at a critical time like this pandemic, it sends a clear message
    that it is dispensable. Children being able to effectively communicate is an integral part of
    becoming an engaged and active member of the community. They not only deserve the
    interventions necessary to gain the skills for the building blocks of literacy, but also have the
    human right to early intervention for infants and young children with disabilities as articulated
    through two United Nations treaties: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the
    Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) . Early intervention speech and
    language services are not dispensable and need to be prioritized with the importance they
    require.
    Tracy Humphreys, she/her
    founder and Chair, BCEdAccess Society
    tracy@bcedaccess.com



2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth McWilliams Hewitt
    Elizabeth McWilliams Hewitt February 13, 2021

    I am wondering what the position of the BC SLP Association is on this? They have been very clear in recommendations for their membership in terms of how to safely provide services during the pandemic. Further, to add to the strain, private SLPs are still working (with appropriate safety measures in place) and there are very few/to no available SLPs in the private sector.

  2. Charlene Ann Ross
    Charlene Ann Ross February 13, 2021

    I am surprised that families were not offered some kind of virtual service. While not great…a lot of other therapies did try to adapt.

    Let me know if that even happened.

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