Media release: NSW children deserve better access to speech pathology services 

In the lead up to the NSW state election Speech Pathology Australia calls on all political parties to ensure that the state’s children can access the speech pathology services they need to reduce the risk of them falling behind in language and literacy development. Waiting up to 20 months for an assessment and a further 20 months for therapy means that many children will start school before they receive support, missing the crucial opportunity for early intervention increasing the risk of lifelong impacts.

Speech Pathology Australia, the peak body for Australian speech pathologists, calls on all political parties to commit to employing speech pathologists within the early education system in line with other states so that NSW’s children have the same opportunities as those in other states. 

An expansion of services, where speech pathologists are employed as part of the education team within the universal pre-kindergarten program will ensure that young children have access to the services they need in the critical early years. This would align with services available in other states such as South Australia to give NSW children better access to speech pathology supports, embedded within their early learning environment to give them the best foundation for developing their language and literacy skills.

“The ‘early years’ of a child’s life (from birth to five years of age) are a critical time for the development of speech, language and early literacy skills. These early communication skills lay the foundation for the rest of a child’s life and can influence later social, emotional, academic and vocational achievement,” said Speech Pathology Australia, National President Tim Kittel.

“For children with speech, language, literacy, and communication disorders, timely access to speech pathology is essential to prevent long-term adverse outcomes. Young children entering school with oral communication difficulties are more likely to struggle to acquire literacy skills, which in turn negatively impacts their development of more complex oral language and academic skills,” said Tim.

A NSW pilot program in 2021 highlighted how successful embedding speech pathologists within early education programs can be.

The Guyati Garraka Wa Witing project in 2021 saw speech pathology students from the University of Newcastle, conduct their university placement (with supervision from a speech pathologist) at Dalaigur and Scribbly Gum Dalai Preschools. The program illustrated that when speech pathology services are embedded in early childhood settings, all children benefit from the experience.

University of Newcastle, Lecturer in Speech Pathology Dr Gwendalyn Webb outlined that, “children who are developmentally vulnerable will especially benefit from speech pathology provided in the early childhood years. The earlier the intervention, the more far-reaching the benefits. Information from the Australian Early Development Census indicates that 1 in 5 Australian children are developmentally at risk/vulnerable in more than one domain of development. For those children who do require early intervention, the naturalistic context of the preschool/early childhood setting is an ideal environment in which to embed therapy.”

For Speech Pathology Australia NSW/ACT Co-Chair Dr Emma Wallace, the Guyati, Garraka Wa Witing program is a great example of how embedding speech pathology supports within early education settings has worked effectively, but there is a need for an ongoing program to ensure these supports are provided to all NSW children.

“Having speech pathologists within early childhood education settings would reduce waiting lists across public health and private services, improve access, and improve communication and pre-literacy outcomes for children needing speech pathology services. Speech pathologists could work alongside early childhood educators to provide professional development and enhance outcomes for all children attending early childhood education centres,” Dr Wallace said.

Date - 10 March 2023

Media contact: Speech Pathology Australia Communications and Marketing Manager, Rebecca Faltyn, [email protected], +61 3 9642 4899.

Speech Pathology Australia is the national peak body representing more than 13,500+ speech pathologists. The Association supports and regulates the ethical, clinical and professional standards of its members, as well as lobbying and advocating for access to services that benefit people with communication and swallowing difficulties.