Fund shortage could silence speech project

Junior infants Lucy May Daunt, Freddy Doherty, Jamie Hogan, and Meiling Lin with Simon Coveney at the launch of a report on the Happy Talk language programme.

A project which has boosted speech and language skills of young children from Cork’s northside could face closure next year unless it succeeds in securing new funding.

The Happy Talk Project, which works each year with 450 children from young babies to age six, was launched after it was found that many children in the area it serves had speech and language problems on entering school. In 2011/2012 in the Glen and Mayfield areas of Cork City, more than 60% of children in junior infants presented with speech and/or language delay.

However, figures for this year show 63% of children entering junior infants had language skills appropriate for their age — 25% higher than in 2011.

The improving figures are attributed to Happy Talk, which focuses on parental involvement, oral language awareness, and interagency working. The parental engagement level is now at 75%. The project has been funded via Pobal, the National Early Years Access Initiative, and the HSE. However, Happy Talk co-ordinator Aoife O’Shea said unless “matching funding” could be secured by July, the project’s future could not be guaranteed, despite an over-whelming desire among parents in the community for it to continue.

She said the programme was successful from a public health perspective and, while it was not designed to replace speech and language therapy services provided via the HSE, “we are designed to augment them”.

She called on the Department of Children to review the findings from the programme and to ensure it can continue.

Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, visited the project yesterday in Blackpool: “This project will be assessed, I will talk to other ministers. We do have some time and considerations around funding to extend the project, but on the face of it, it looks to be producing great results.”


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