Radio aids in the early years – your rights

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

We published research last year which shows that radio aids – which provide deaf children with additional amplification – can have a big impact in their early years development. In particular, they can make it easier for children to hear their parents and others more clearly when, for example, in the buggy or in a car. Despite these clear benefits, many local authorities do not make radio aids available to parents of pre-school deaf children to use at home.

We’re calling on local authorities to work with health bodies to review their policy on this issue and to ensure that parents are given the opportunity to try a radio aid with their children aged 0-4 , both at home as well as in early years settings to see if it works well for them.

Quality standards on the use of personal radio aids state that every deaf child should be considered for a radio aid at first hearing aid fitting.  However, families tell us that this does not always happen.  So what should parents do if the local authority says no? Here’s a brief summary of your options in challenging this:

First, you should ask for information on why your child has been turned down for a radio aid. In some cases, there may be good reasons why a radio aid is not the right option at this time. It’s also possible that a Teacher of the Deaf may have concerns about loss or damage to equipment. Having an open discussion may help to find possible solutions to any issues.

If the answer is still no, you can challenge this decision in two different ways.

  • If your child already has an Education, Health and Care plan (England), a statement of special educational needs (Wales and Northern Ireland) or a co-ordinated support plan (Scotland), you can also ask for a review of the plan/statement so that a radio aid can be added to it. You also have the right to request an assessment for a plan or statement if your child does not already have one. Our website has more information about your rights under laws for children with special or additional needs.
  • You can also make a formal complaint to the local authority on the grounds of disability discrimination. In particular, if you live in England, Scotland and Wales, local authorities and education settings are required, under the Equality Act 2010, to provide ‘auxiliary aids’ (which includes radio aids) as a reasonable adjustment to disabled people. They are also required to take steps under the Public Sector Equality Duty to proactively remove any disadvantage that disabled children may experience. Given the importance of good language and communication in the early years, we think it should be seen as unreasonable to deny a family with a deaf child a radio aid unless there are good reasons why not. Our website has more information about the Equality Act and how it can be used in education.
  • If the local authority still says no, you can appeal to a special Tribunal that hears cases about potential disability discrimination and/or a failure to follow laws relating to special or additional needs. There are time limits, so it is important to get more advice or information as soon as this happens.

For more information and advice, you can contact our Helpline. You can also borrow a radio aid through our Technology Test Drive.

If you have already made a complaint to your local authority or are still experiencing challenges, please do get in touch. We’re looking for families who, with lots of support from us, might be interested in taking legal action on radio aids in the early years – you can find more information about this in our short video.

It’s been too long! A call to update 2009 Safeguarding Disabled Children guidance.

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

In 2009, the Government in England published guidance on safeguarding disabled children. Guidance which, when read now, seems a world away from the way social care is delivered, written and even spoken about in 2018.

Since 2009 there have been some significant changes in the area of social care support affecting deaf children across the UK. There have been new laws, including:

• The Equality Act 2010 (UK) which addresses the discrimination faced by certain recognised groups, including disabled people, whether at school or in the community.
• The Children and Families Act 2014 (England) which includes arrangements for services to work together to support children with special educational needs and disabilities.
• The Social Service and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, both changing the way we consider how to support children and adults, focusing on promoting well-being and preventing need in the first place.

Since 2009, The National Deaf Children’s Society has commissioned research and undertaken surveys which confirm the barriers that deaf children face in accessing children’s social care in England. Specialist deaf sensory social workers have been replaced by social workers who now have to work across a huge range of children’s disabilities, leading to a possible ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ situation.

In addition, since 2009, the population of looked after children across the UK has risen from around 80,000 to 94,000. At the same time, funding cuts have led to the Local Government Association saying it will need £2 billion to address the shortfall in funding for children’s services by 2020.

We have also seen the ending of Aiming High for Disabled Children funding and the soon-to-be replacement of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards in England with new, untried ‘Safeguarding Partners’ tasked with leading on safeguarding children in their areas.

Deaf children are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in society. Despite this there is no evidence to support the view that we are safeguarding deaf and disabled children any better than before.

Scotland, however, have recognised this and in 2014 updated its guidance relating to disabled children and brought it in line with their new way of supporting children and families.

Given the significant changes which have taken place in social care over the last almost decade, The National Deaf Children’ Society and The National Working Group on Safeguarding Disabled Children, are calling on the Government to update their guidance on social care. This new guidance will need to support professionals working with disabled children on the front-line, in order to adequately recognise these children’s needs and rights.

It’s a small step but a necessary one in the effort to give deaf and disabled children the same protection from harm that other children have.

Westminster Hall debate on deaf children’s services

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

Deaf children were at the heart of Parliament today when MPs debated the crisis facing deaf children’s services across England. There was lots of passion and commitment in the debate and a wide range of different points were raised, including:

• the pressures that local authority budgets are under – with over a third planning to make cuts to specialist education services for deaf children this year. Whilst government funding may be at a record high, the reality on the ground is clear that it’s not enough
• the need for more flexibility in how SEND funding can be used. Local authorities don’t have the same flexibility they used to have to move funding from schools where needed to respond to growing pressures
• the dramatic decline we’ve seen in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf over recent years, and the need for urgent action to address this. Many MPs spoke of the important role that Teachers of the Deaf play, particularly in the early years.
• importance of meeting the needs of deaf children who use sign language, and the need for the Government to support the development of a new GCSE in British Sign Language
• the need for high expectations for every deaf child, and the scandal that too many deaf children are not achieving their potential, because they’re not getting the right support.

The most powerful moments in the debate came when MPs talked about the experiences of families from their own areas. Peter Aldous MP praised Ann Jillings for her campaign work, whilst noting that she shouldn’t have to fight in the first place for her son Daniel to get the help he needs. Another MP, Darren Jones, talked about Ella, a bright confident deaf young person whose needs were often being overlooked because she seems to be “doing well”. And Emma Lewell-Buck MP spoke sadly about a young person who feels “left out” and “depressed and frustrated” because his school is not providing the support he needs.

We were hoping for positive words and action from the Minister, Nadhim Zahawi. But, while he indicated that funding was being kept “under review”, there was little else for us to go on. Frustratingly, there was a run-through of all the different bits of funding that the Government has in this area. All of this missing the point that a) it’s not enough and b) often this funding is not aimed at front-line staff who support deaf children. For example, there’s still no money out there focused on making sure we have more Teachers of the Deaf coming through the system.

So, the Stolen Futures campaign goes on, and we’ll keep on raising these issues with the Government until they take action.

We’d like to thank all MPs who spoke in today’s debate, especially Jim Fitzpatrick MP who led the debate and continues to champion the needs of deaf children. We’d also like to thank all the deaf young people and families who got in touch with their MP to share their experiences. This debate wouldn’t have been half as powerful without your stories.

PS: You can read the full transcript here.

Who is celebrating today?

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Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Today is A-level results day. This means lots of TV footage of young people opening an envelope and then crying tears of joy as they pull out the sheet of paper that tells them they got the grades they need to get into their chosen university. Certainly for many, today will bring good news but what about deaf young people — how many will be celebrating?

One thing that irritates me about the media’s coverage of A-level results is that it completely ignores the fact there are many young people taking other qualifications than A-levels. Many students are also receiving BTEC and Level 3 diploma results on the same day or a bit earlier but you wouldn’t know it. Were their achievements not worth celebrating too? I think they are.

Sadly, too many deaf young people are not achieving what we call ‘Level 3 qualifications’; these are A-levels, BTECs, diplomas and other qualifications that will enable them to move onto higher education or widen their employment choices. According to Government data in 2017 only 41% of deaf young people in England achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent qualifications by the age of 19. This is a figure we believe is too low (65% of young people without disabilities achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent).

So what were the other 59% doing between the ages of 16 and 19? Most were continuing to work towards Level 2 qualifications (equivalent to GCSE) or below. This is important progress to make in order to be ready to take a Level 3 qualification or to move onto an apprenticeship. In 2017, 74% of deaf young people had achieved the equivalent of 5 GCSEs by the age of 19.

What happens after the age of 19 — do they continue studying or do they go into work? This is where Government data runs out.  We just don’t know and this is why we are commissioning research that will track young people over a period of 5 years, beyond education into employment. Watch this space — we will be releasing more info about this research soon.

If you have achieved your A-levels, BTECs or diploma today then a big congratulations! However, let us spare a thought too for those deaf 18 year olds who are not quite there yet or taking other routes. With the right support to gain the skills they need, some focus and ambition, they too can have bright futures.

Grommet surgery not under threat

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Vicki Kirwin, Development Manager (Audiology & Health)

Recent headlines across the media have suggested that the NHS plan to cut some “ineffective” routine surgeries to save money. One of the treatments supposedly under threat is grommet surgery for children with glue ear.

We are aware that some of our members have raised concerns about the impact of these cuts on deaf children. However, we don’t feel that the headlines are a true reflection of the NHS proposals. We have read the draft consultation proposed by the NHS and it is clear that grommet surgery will still be available to all children who meet the current guidelines. It seems that the proposed changes are a way of making health professionals adhere more closely to these guidelines, rather than an attempt to stop the procedure altogether.

The selection criteria outlined in the proposal are:

  • All children must have had specialist audiology and ENT assessment.
  • Persistent bilateral otitis media with effusion (glue ear) over a period of 3 months.
  • Hearing level in the better ear of 25-30dbHL or worse averaged at 0.5, 1, 2, & 4 kHz
  • Exceptionally, healthcare professionals should consider grommets in children with persistent glue ear in both ears with a hearing loss less than 25- 30dbHL, where the impact of the hearing loss on a child’s developmental, social or educational status is judged to be significant.
  • The guidance is different for children with Down’s Syndrome and Cleft Palate, these children may be offered grommets after a specialist MDT assessment in line with NICE guidance.
  • It is also good practice to ensure glue ear has not resolved once a date of surgery has been agreed, with tympanometry as a minimum.

We feel that these guidelines are appropriate and we are not currently concerned that there will be a negative impact on the selection process. We don’t expect that it will be harder for families to access grommet surgery for their child; if it’s clinically necessary and their choice of intervention. If families have had issues getting the right treatment for their child we do, however, urge them to contact our Helpline.

The NHS consultation will be published soon and we will be responding to the final version. We will also closely monitor how the proposals are implemented locally. If anyone is concerned about the availability of grommet surgery in their local area please contact our Helpline or the Campaigns team at NDCS.Campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

Jovita’s vlog — Taking Stolen Futures to Parliament

Jovita, one of our Youth Advisory Board members, went to Parliament on 4th July together with the NDCS Roadshow Bus as part of our Stolen Futures event. Take a look at her signed vlog below (this vlog includes subtitles).

The aim of the event was to talk to MPs about budget cuts to services for deaf children and young people. We also wanted to speak to Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP and convince him to have a meeting with us to discuss these spending cuts.

Thanks to Jovita and our other supporters on the day we have now been successful! Nadhim Zahawi has agreed to meet with us to discuss education services for deaf children — well done to all our campaigners! We will keep you updated about the outcome of the meeting.

 

Right to Sign – update on BSL GCSE campaign

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

There’s been another breakthrough in the Right to Sign campaign, and it’s all thanks to two of our amazing campaigners.

Back in June, we explained that the Department for Education in England had done a U-turn and would now allow a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). However, they also said that there could not be any new GCSEs in this Parliament. In theory, this meant that there could be no BSL GCSE before 2022.

Daniel Jillings, a 12 year old deaf young person, decided to take legal action, with support from his Mum, Ann Jillings. His solicitors, Irwin Mitchell, argued that a blanket policy of no new GCSEs was discriminatory, especially to young people like him for whom any new GCSE in BSL would come too late if it couldn’t be introduced before 2022.

In response, the Department has conceded that it will make an exception for a BSL GCSE and that it can now be introduced before 2022. This is great news, and we would like to pay tribute to Daniel and Ann for sticking to their guns and challenging the Department on this.

In terms of what happens next, any exam body, such as Signature, will still need to meet the requirements set by the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual. It’s important that any GCSE is of the highest standard and has the same credibility as other GCSEs. We’re calling on the Department to do everything it can to support and expedite progress, so that a new GCSE is ready to go as soon as possible so that young people like Daniel can benefit from it. We want to see evidence they’re taking a ‘can-do’ attitude towards making a BSL GCSE a reality.

Much will now depend on the progress that the Department, Ofqual and exam bodies like Signature make and it’s still too early to say how any new BSL GCSE will work in practice. However, the Department’s announcement is a big step forward and we can now be more optimistic that change will come sooner rather than later.

More information about Signature’s work in this area can be found on their website. Keep an eye on our campaigns blog as well for more updates.