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Keeping speech and language alive

Dr Val Brooks is a Consultant Speech and Language Therapist and Devon ICS Strategic Lead for SEMH (Social Emotional and Mental Health needs). She is employed by NHS Devon Integrated Care Board and her post is hosted by LiveWell Southwest. As part of our Way We Talk programme, we find out why Val is passionate about her role and her important work running courses helping other professionals in the field of speech and language therapy.

In her career Val, whose PhD studied children and young people’s social and emotional development, has especially been drawn to children who are most in need of emotional and mental health support. These children and young people’s communication difficulties are often not identified or understood until later in life, and it is important these are picked up as early as possible. This lack of identification is one of the reasons Val set up the Speech and Language Therapy service in Devon Youth Justice Service. However, she believes more still needs to be done to raise awareness of the links between social behaviour, mental health and language and communication difficulties.

With her teaching hat on Val firmly believes the role of communication, and speech and language is to ‘keep it alive’ as it is all around us. Val said:

“I’ve always been interested in the role of language and social, emotional development.

“I find this area endlessly fascinating and it’s something I’ve wanted to continue in and to continue to know more about. There is that joy when you get to teach and pass that knowledge to other people which they then take forward.

“One of the lovely things about seeing assignments that come back is where people have to relate a course learning to their practice, and I love seeing those ideas being reimagined and taken forward.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Devon’s given me to develop in this area.

“Language is very much about being human and how we understand ourselves and each other, so when there is complex trauma understanding language and communication is about helping people to understand themselves.”

Giving professionals the same opportunity

Val explains more about a course she wrote and delivered called Keeping Language in Mind which was a partnership between Psychology Associates and Plymouth Marjon University and the only one in the country of its kind.

Val says:

“Keeping Language in Mind is a Masters’ level continuing professional development course and the focus is on children and young people who have developmental language disorders and social, emotional mental health needs. This was open to a wide range of professionals, not just Speech and Language Therapists. These included Educational Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, teachers, head teachers, special school staff, early years workers and youth workers. Those without degrees could submit a knowledge and experience form to check their eligibility. Final year Speech and Language Therapy students were permitted to attend day one of the course.  

Speech and language is being recognised more and more across different settings such as special schools and within care settings so there has never been more of a need to provide this level of training across a broad spectrum of professions. The intention is to make some future courses available virtually, not least because of the wider interest nationally.”

On the success of these courses Val explains how the knowledge is being continued and embedded in Devon practice and across the Integrated Care System. She said:

“Devon has been very generous funding a number of places and I’m keen to keep the learning from the course very live with people wanting to know how they could develop the key ideas from the course into training packages that they could themselves use throughout Devon.

“I’m currently working alongside a number of professionals across the ICS who have been on the course to help develop bite size training packages that people can run themselves. This includes Speech and Language Therapists, Educational Psychologists and Education and Inclusion support workers. The courses are suitable for delivery to a wide range of Health, Education and Social Care staff.”

Val is currently working with Young Devon to support consistency across the ICS in the messages communicated in speech and language training which they offer as workshops to professionals and parents.

Mind Your Words

Val is one of the supporting authors on the Mind Your Words course which is free to access. Run by the RCSLT (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists) the course improves understanding of children and young people with social, emotional and mental health needs and speech, language and communication needs.

The Way We Talk

The Way We Talk project is breaking the link between speech, language and communication needs and disadvantage, exacerbated by COVID-19, to improve relationships, resilience, social, emotional, mental health and life chances.

Keep an eye on our Devon SCP website for all course and resource information as it is released.


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