Stakeholders’ perspectives about waiting for speech and language services for children

Nicole McGill, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Kathryn Crowe, Charles Sturt University, Australia; University of Iceland, Iceland (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Due to high demand, many children with speech and language needs and their families must wait for speech and language services. Long waiting times were identified as a key finding of a 2014 Australian Government Senate Inquiry into speech and language services. Waiting times of 12 months or longer can mean children miss the benefits of specialised support in the early years, with short- and long-term implications for children, families, and professionals.

Aim: To explore stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences of waiting for children’s speech and language services by analysing written submissions to an Australian Government Senate Inquiry.

Method: Of 337 written submissions to the Senate Inquiry, 117 submissions included content about waiting for children’s speech and language services and were analysed via inductive thematic analysis. Included documents were written by organisations (36%), parents (32%), speech-language pathologists (SLPs; 32%), and others (including academics, educators, and learning support staff).

Results: Three themes emerged.

Duration: Participants described the magnitude of the wait and mismatch between supply and demand for services.

Consequences existed for consumers (e.g., impacts on participation, continuity of care, emotional and financial burden), professionals (e.g., impacts on wellbeing and effectiveness), and society (e.g., burden on services, impact on community capacity).

Actions: Consumers sought alternatives to waiting through advocacy and information seeking, while professional actions related to speech and language service delivery and policies.

Conclusions: Speech and language services did not appear to meet the needs of many stakeholders in this study. There is a need to reimagine speech and language services and better support the needs of consumers and professionals to minimise the burden of waiting and facilitate timely speech and language support in early childhood.

Implications for children: Your talking is important. We are working to tell people that and make sure we can help you if you need it. 

Implications for families: You are not alone in working through the challenges of accessing and waiting for speech and language support.

Implications for practitioners: Waiting lists pose a challenge for early childhood professionals in seeking and providing specialised support for children with speech and language needs. Action is needed to reimagine service provision and support the wellbeing of children and families.

Funding: This research was supported by a Charles Sturt University RIPPLE PhD scholarship awarded to the first author.

Key words: families’ voices, professionals’ voices, workforce issues, communication, policy, vulnerable communities

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: