Alayne McKee and I have just got back to NZ brimming with ideas about how to take Talking Trouble Aotearoa NZ forward. We like a visual at TTANZ so this one below shows where we went, although we also met with an SLT in Glasgow who works in the prisons there, and the Exeter trip ended up being swapped with a trip to a team in Watford who deliver programmes for people who have intellectual disability and who have involvement in the justice system.
We had a packed itinerary of visits to speech-language therapists working in care and protection and justice settings in Scotland and England, and to three universities involved in research in areas we are interested in. We also caught up with some international experts outside of speech-language therapy whose work we have learnt much from, such as Alayne catching up with Professor Laura Lundy to talk about ensuring child and young people’s voices are heard, and I was very pleased to meet again with Dame Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson whose work relating to communication access in justice settings is groundbreaking. It was so useful to spend time with colleagues working as Intermediaries in Police interviews and Courts. (‘Intermediaries’ do the same role we do in NZ courts where we are referred to as ‘Communication Assistants’). We did several presentations about our NZ projects and I attended two conferences: Intermediaries for Justice, and the NAPLIC Conference (for professionals supporting language and communication development).
Alayne had been granted a Winston Churchill Fellowship Travel Grant for this trip and I used two awards received in 2017 from the NZSTA (New Zealand Speech-Language Therapists’ Association) to help fund this learning.
The timing of our trip was determined by a course at Talking Mats in Scotland where we trained to be Accredited Trainers with them so we can offer professionals in NZ training in using Talking Mats in their work. Talking Mats is a tool that facilitates easier communication and reflective listening, and we’ve found it to be incredibly useful in a range of settings in our own work, from helping young people to express their views about where they live, their education, goals, strengths or worries, and as a tool to help professionals consider the language skills and needs of the people they work with. We were also lucky enough to attend an advanced Talking Mats module on Keeping Safe which is their resource used to explore safe-guarding and well-being. This is being used by hundreds of social workers in Scotland, and elsewhere, and by many different professionals too involved in ensuring people can express their views on topics that are often difficult to speak about. We can see huge relevance in NZ for using Talking Mats to help with HEEADSSS and other well-being assessments as well as being relevant in any setting that needs to explore sensitive and difficult topics such as enabling people to disclose issues of safety. Watch this space for when we will be offering Talking Mats training or contact us to arrange for us to provide this in your setting.
We will be preparing detailed reports about the learning we filled our baskets of knowledge with from our various visits, but our overarching conclusion was that the various projects that we have underway in NZ to create better communication accessibility for people involved with care and protection, justice, mental health and behaviour settings are progressing in a positive direction. Although we were envious of some of the progress made in some of the settings we visited such as having full time SLTs in mental health settings, in youth justice teams, in prisons, in care and protection secure settings, and in Liaison and Diversion Teams, or in Virtual School Teams (that focus on ensuring that children in care have their learning needs met), we are growing awareness of the need to address speech, language and communication needs. Our team is providing practical assistance and training in NZ, and this work is growing relatively quickly. NZ is much smaller and relationships with some of the key people who can facilitate change are easier to establish. The services and projects underway benefit from us being able to weave in experiences and knowledge gained across the various settings and sectors we are working in, and we are lucky in NZ that there is an innovative and creative culture, passionate about improving the lives of children and young people.