Aims. To investigate factors associated with language delay in a cohort of 30-month-old children and determine if identification of language delay requires active contact with families. Methods. Data were collected at a pilot universal 30-month health contact. Health visitors used a simple two-item language screen. Data were obtained for 315 children; language delay was found in 33. The predictive capacity of 13 variables which could realistically be known before the 30-month contact was analysed. Results. Seven variables were significantly associated with language delay in univariate analysis, but in logistic regression only five of these variables remained significant. Conclusion. The presence of one or more risk factors had a sensitivity of 89% and specificity of 45%, but a positive predictive value of only 15%. The presence of one or more of these risk factors thus can not reliably be used to identify language delayed children, nor is it possible to define an “at risk” population because male gender was the only significant demographic factor and it had an unacceptably low specificity (52.5%). It is not possible to predict which children will have language delay at 30 months. Identification of this important ESSENCE disorder requires direct clinical contact with all families.