Interview - Susan Daniels

Monday, May 16, 2016

Chief executive of the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS)

When was newborn screening introduced and what have the benefits been?

Newborn hearing screening was rolled out across England in 2006. Prior to that, children born deaf were often not identified until age three or older. This is well past the critical age for learning to read, write and make friends. An undiagnosed deaf child aged three will only know 25 words, while a hearing child of the same age will know 700 words.

The screening programme removed a major barrier to deaf children’s development by making sure deafness was diagnosed as early as possible, within a few weeks in most cases. This has transformed the lives of many children born deaf.

What is the experience of parents of deaf children?

For example, a mum who has just had a baby identified as deaf will need support from a teacher of the deaf or speech/language therapist, to help establish a way for her to communicate with her baby. It could be signing, fingerspelling, speech and hearing, or a mixture. She’ll also need support from audiologists with hearing technology that suits her child and from nurseries that aren’t afraid to have a deaf child in their class.

Our Right from the Start report shows that, for many families, this just isn’t happening. There are widespread problems in early years support for deaf babies, which is creating a significant gap between the language and communication skills of deaf children and hearing children when they start school. Only a third of deaf children are achieving their early learning goals in literacy and writing, compared with three-quarters of their hearing peers.

Failing to invest in early years support for deaf children risks failing to capitalise on the millions of pounds invested in newborn hearing screening – and condemning deaf children to failure in the future.

What could be done better to give these babies the best start?

Early diagnosis is only the first step. We are calling on the Government, local authorities and health bodies to work together and commit to ensure high-quality support is in place as soon as a child is diagnosed.

We recommend the Government protects and invests in paediatric audiology services and supports them to become accredited. Government and local authorities must continue to protect funding for specialist education services for deaf children. Local authorities must review the provision of support and ensure that radio aids are more readily available to parents of deaf children. We also recommend Government takes action to ensure there is sufficient provision across all local authorities for specialist childcare for deaf children, and that mainstream staff receive the training and advice they need to effectively include deaf children.

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