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Talking Is Key To Engagement, But Do We Know How?

November 1, 2010

Communicating with each other is held to be really important as an element of community engagement – and of formal stakeholder consultation – so why do most of us in this line of work spend such little time considering it? Do we need to focus more directly on supporting the bond between parents and dependent children, as a critical element of community life?

When it comes to effective communication, early years practitioners and researchers can tell us a great deal. The programmes they offer for parents and babies can benefit whole communities, not ‘just’ infants and their carers.

The people behind the National Literacy Trust’s ‘Talk To Your Baby’ programme have been pressing the case for parents, carers and other early years practitioners to do just that.

TTYB tell us that much of what a child learns is acquired in the first 24 months of life, and that this is a fundamentally critical period in terms of how that little person will fare when s/he becomes adult.

So far, you say, so obvious…. all very important, but isn’t that stuff the business of Sure Start (assuming it survives) and nurseries, not for us?

Communities as well as creches
How much of this do those of us involved in community development and regeneration actually take on board? How much do most of us really know or think about early years communication skills, about how parents and children communicate, about the huge potential of baby signing and language development and enrichment programmes? Do we even know why we need to know?

We may well acknowledge that benefit comes to those who talk to babies, as well as to the infants themselves; but should we also consider how the very same communication skills might apply to wider communities?

If babies benefit, everyone benefits, immediately
Not only does communicating effectively with their young children build parents’ confidence, but those same skills as they are acquired can benefit the communities in which the parents and other carers live, as much now as in the future when their little ones become full citizens.

Confident and effective communicators, young and older, are a huge asset to any community, as many a leafy residents’ association has demonstrated.

Ensuring that the next generation has the means to engage actively via good communication – with the bonus that the benefit this starts right now – is a task in which we all have a responsibility.

Communication underpins engagement
Being able to talk the talk is a great leveller, and surely the most fundamental of all the skills for community engagement and action.

Developing these skills in local families is too big a task to be left to early years practitioners alone.

Perhaps we regen folk should also be talking amongst ourselves, about how the core message of Talk To Your Baby – begin with babies, at the beginning – is central to everything we as community practitioners are about.

A version of this article was first posted on the New Start Blog website on 1 November 2010.

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