Groundbreaking research has found alarming numbers of Victorian children are starting school with speech and language problems.

It's hoped world-first brain scanning technology will help unlock the secrets to why some kids are falling behind.

A landmark study tracking two thousand children by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has discovered a "hidden epidemic": One in five starting prep has poor language skills.

"It is worrying. Worrying to many parents and worrying to teachers" said Professor Sheena Reilly of the MCRI.

And yet Victorian schools have one speech pathologist for every 3700 children. That's one for every 700 kids who desperately need it.

Researchers are examining genetic factors and sophisticated imaging technology to track differences in brain patterns that could explain why some kids struggle.

They even want to eventually test babies in the womb, according to Dr Angela Morgan from the MCRI.

"We want to find early brain markers of those children most at risk of going on to have a language impairment," she said.

"One of the reasons this is so important is that latest research shows that one in two children in the juvenile justice system has a speech or communication disorder."

Speech Pathology Australia is calling for one therapist for every school.

Speech Pathologist Robyn Stephen believes responsibility shouldn't be squarely placed on the shoulders of teachers, who "deserve the support of speech pathologists".

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