Deaf children missing out on early years support

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Ten years on from newborn screening, new research shows that deaf babies and toddlers still struggle to get the right help in their pre-school years.

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Images of 100 deaf babies identified by newborn hearing screening were projected onto the Shell Centre on London's South Bank last night to celebrate a decade of the programme in England

One in four deaf babies are not receiving the right early years support after being diagnosed as infants, according to a report by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Parents of deaf children told the charity that they felt support after identification failed to help their child make good progress (31 per cent) and that they did not get any general advice on language and communication development (25 per cent). 

Almost a fifth also reported being unable to access support from their Teacher of the Deaf, a qualified teacher who is additionally qualified to teach deaf children.

The NDCS launch of the Right From The Start campaign for better quality early years support for families of deaf babies, coincides with the ten-year anniversary of the newborn hearing screening programme and looks at its impact on services and outcomes for young deaf children.

Prior to screening being introduced, many deaf children were undiagnosed before the age of three, by which time they would be significantly behind their peers in education and social development. Research suggests that an undiagnosed deaf child would know 25 words at age three compared to their hearing peer knowing more than 700.

Rebecca Stubbs is mum to ten-year-old Lucas, who is profoundly deaf. She said, ‘Everything has always felt like a battle to get the support my son needs and, more importantly, deserves. After Lucas was fitted with his first cochlear implant at the age of 17 months, our local audiology team simply supplied us with batteries! Where was the follow up?

‘Our teacher of the deaf has been very supportive but their time with Lucas has been minimal and we’ve had to fight even to keep that. Lucas is a very bright boy and in the top set for maths at school but I worry desperately he won’t reach his full potential without the right ongoing support.’

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said, ‘Newborn hearing screening has been happening for ten years, thanks to the relentless efforts of parents and years of campaigning by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

‘That should mean that deaf children and their families now get the support they need right from the start. But a decade on, that’s still not happening. If a child is identified early as being deaf and receives good quality support in their early years, there is no reason that deaf children shouldn’t achieve the same as hearing children.

‘Although the Government introduced the Children and Families Act in 2014 which promised a transformation to how children with Special Educational Needs and Disability were supported, there remains a gulf between the aspirations of the reforms and what parents are reporting is actually happening to their children. Today’s report shows widespread problems from patchy quality of audiology services to limited access to support from Teachers of the Deaf, which mean we are still a long way from giving deaf children the positive futures they deserve.

‘We’re calling on the Government, local authorities and health bodies to work together and make a commitment to ensure high quality support is in place as soon as a child is diagnosed as deaf.’

  • See our interview with Susan Daniels in Nursery World on Monday.
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