Challenging the crisis in children’s social care

Last month, there was a very important cross-party debate in the Commons about the crisis in children’s social care in England – discussing rising thresholds; cuts to local authority early support services; reductions in social care packages for disabled children; the rising numbers of children being taken into care; and the postcode lottery of spending on children’s social care.

I applaud the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children and their dogged attempts to keep this issue in the spotlight and bring this to the attention of government ministers.

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor, National Deaf Children’s Society

The Government isn’t recognising that there is as a national emergency in social care funding, despite widespread charities, academics, parent groups and the Local Government Association saying there is.

So, during these times of austerity and Brexit, should we simply back off, do nothing and sympathise with the local authorities who are struggling to provide vital local services to deaf children, including education and social care?

Yes and no.

Yes, we do indeed sympathise with position local authorities are in – many of whom say they are simply unable to provide the statutory services they once did but are still are under a legal obligation to provide.

No, because we shouldn’t simply accept this. The law hasn’t changed, the additional support we know deaf children and young people receive hasn’t changed, and many deaf children still fall behind their hearing peers.

From my colleagues in our Policy and Campaigns team to our network of parent and deaf campaigners, our Children and Family Officers, our Helpline team and our Appeals and Disputes advisors – we all work to professionally challenge wherever services are failing in their legal duties to meet the needs of deaf children and young people. The National Deaf Children’s Society is indeed a team effort.

This includes supporting professionals working directly with deaf children. The National Deaf Children’s Society has a free social care advisory service that any professional can call for advice and support.

In these difficult times, we must not be afraid to challenge the issues when necessary but we must equally remain hopeful for this current and future generations of deaf children and young people and their families.

An update on British Sign Language in Wales

I’ll never forget one particular phone call with a mother of a newborn baby who had just been diagnosed as deaf. Like 90% of families with a deaf child, her family had no previous experience of deafness. Her baby’s diagnosis had come as a huge shock. She broke down in tears and said: “I just want to know that I will be able to talk to my baby.”

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales, National Deaf Children’s Society.

Being able to develop communication with your baby is something many of us take for granted. And yet it is so fundamental – both in terms of establishing a bond and developing language.

For many families, sign language is one option they would like to pursue to help establish communication with their child. And yet, too many families are struggling to access support to learn to sign. British Sign Language (BSL) courses are often costly or do not cover the type of vocabulary required by a young family.

Earlier this month, I was contacted by the BBC to comment on the story of a Monmouthshire couple who have resorted to fundraising in order to access BSL classes to sign with their daughter.

I was also in touch with Assembly Members, who debated BSL access issues in the Assembly (a video and transcript is available on the Welsh Assembly’s website). During this debate, the Welsh Government promised to review availability of BSL classes across the country. This review is much needed and the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru will be following its progress closely.

The Education Minister also stated that she’d consider developing a national charter for the delivery of services and resources for deaf children, young people and their families. The National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru has been in touch with the Minister to express our support for such a charter. We feel it could be used to drive forward improved support in a number of ways, including access for families to learn BSL.

Fingers crossed that this review will be the first step to addressing this important issue.

The Debate in the Assembly also covered other BSL issues…

The debate also covered calls to offer a BSL GCSE in Wales; an issue that the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru has often raised. The Education Minister confirmed the new curriculum would enable schools to opt to teach BSL.

In the meantime, Qualifications Wales (the body responsible for GCSEs on offer in Wales) has expressed willingness to adopt a BSL GCSE developed in England once it becomes available.

The National Deaf Children’s Society is aware that discussions are ongoing in England around developing a BSL GCSE, so we will keep watching this space!

Why kids with disabilities should not miss out on school attendance rewards

When my son finished his first term of primary school he was glad to shrug off his uniform, put on a Christmas jumper and relax. But there was one part of school he wanted to continue playing at – the attendance awards ceremony.

He wore his older brother’s attendance award badge at home, to the playground, to visit friends. He played at being the Head Teacher handing out awards for the children to show their parents. But he didn’t get an award that term. And it turned out he probably wouldn’t get one in the future.

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So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

Finn has regular audiology and speech therapy appointments as a result of his hearing loss, which bring his attendance below 100%. I asked the school whether Finn could get an award if his only absence was for essential medical appointments. I was told that it would not be possible: they could not review the reasons for absence of every child, but they could recognise Finn’s efforts by giving him a special badge instead.

So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

It’s very clear that schools shouldn’t be doing this. It is both unlawful under the Equality Act and it is harmful. A system which excludes disabled kids from getting rewards not only unfairly upsets a child each time it happens, but also risks demotivating disabled kids in the longer term, making them less interested in school, potentially with knock on consequences for how well they do and how they feel about themselves.

After reading up on the Equality Act I challenged the school’s policy for a second time. This time the school agreed to change their approach. It may seem like a small thing: a badge, a certificate and a handshake from the Head. But I’m sure it will make a big impression on my son.

At the end of this, I’m left with a few questions:

  • Why is this happening – is it because schools don’t have the capacity to think through how to apply the Equality Act or is it a conscious decision to prioritise increasing attendance?
  • Can Ofsted ensure that they don’t set up the wrong culture and incentives in the way they inspect attendance figures?
  • Can the Department for Education commit to providing clear and consistent guidance to schools on this? It is not enough to say that it is a matter for schools – without clear guidance schools will continue to discriminate against disabled children. You can see the current guidance on the Government’s website.
  • Ofsted are currently consulting on how they carry out inspections. Can they start to ask schools how they reward attendance without discriminating against disabled children? This could be included in their new inspection framework and in the training inspectors receive on how to assess equality, diversity and inclusion.

When challenging a school, there are three useful points to make: that it’s unlawful, it’s unfair, and should be easy to solve.

By Charlotte Green, a parent of three from London – read a longer version of this article on Special Needs Jungle.

If you’re interested in letting Ofsted know what you think of their proposed new inspection framework and how they treat attendance rewards for children with SEND, then take part in their online consultation now. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on Tuesday 5 April 2019.

Names in this blog post have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Supporting deaf children who speak English as an additional language

Did you know that 13% of deaf children across the UK speak English as an additional language (EAL)?

We know that there’s no reason why deaf children can’t achieve as well as other children, providing they receive the right support, right from the start. However, we know that some groups, such as children who speak EAL, can face more challenges and barriers than others. EAL learners are already learning English while at the same time being taught in classrooms on a daily basis in the language they might not yet have mastered. Being deaf can make this even more challenging.

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

This is borne out by government attainment figures – in 2017, 20% of deaf EAL learners in England achieved a grade 5 in both English and Maths in 2017. This compares to 29% of deaf children generally and 47% of all EAL learners generally.

This is why we’re really excited about a new resource we’ve just launched Supporting the achievement of deaf children who use English as an additional language, as well as an accompanying short top-tips video.

The resources are aimed at Teachers of the Deaf but may also be helpful for EAL coordinators, any other education professional working with deaf EAL learners, as well as parents too.

The new resources set out the challenges that deaf EAL learners face and provides information, practical resources and teaching strategies and ideas on how to address them.

It includes, for example, advice on engaging with families who have children are deaf EAL learners. It addresses head-on a question we get asked a lot around which language families should use with their child – their home language or English only? Most professionals and academics agree that parents of deaf children should use their home language (the one the family is most fluent in) with their child as much as possible. As well as helping the child bond with their parents and family, using the home language also makes acquiring other languages easier when they already have a solid first language in place. Using the home language within the home can also help families share values, traditions and cultural identities.

The resource also includes advice on classroom strategies and assessments, as well a few case studies.

You can watch the video and download the resource by going to www.ndcs.org.uk/eal. The resources have been produced with funding and support from the lovely people at The Bell Foundation, who provide advice and support on children who use EAL. We’d also like to thank Laycock school for being the stars of the new video.

We’ve love to hear your feedback on the new resources – let us know what you think by emailing professionals@ndcs.org.uk.

Deaf young people and the Access to Work scheme

What are our top 5 policy asks?

With the right support put in place, deaf young people can work in almost any job role.

Sally Etchells, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

Some deaf people rely on communication support or assistive technology in order to be able to do their jobs. This support can be funded by the Access to Work grant scheme which is run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The scheme is highly valued by deaf young people because it covers the costs of support, above what might normally be expected of an employer to provide through reasonable adjustments. However, we believe the scheme is underutilised and could work better for young deaf people who are making the crucial move from education into work.

We are working to influence the DWP at the moment, and these are the top five things we are asking for.

  1. We want awareness of Access to Work to be raised among deaf young people and the professionals who work with them. Too many people don’t know anything about Access to Work.
  2. We want it to be easier to claim Access to Work if you are a young person organising work experience for yourself.
  3. For short notice interviews and job start dates, we want the DWP to put a temporary support package in place for people, before their Access to Work grant is approved. If this isn’t put in place, it means that many deaf young people have to miss interviews or delay starting their new job.
  4. Deaf people are the biggest group of claimants of Access to Work. We think this justifies the demand for specialist assessors and advisers that understand deafness. At the moment we hear many accounts of poor customer service and a lack of deaf awareness.
  5. We want the DWP to improve data collection around Access to Work. At the moment, we only have figures on the number of deaf claimants, or young claimants, not both!

You can find out more and apply for Access to Work on the DWP website. Any questions? Contact Sally on campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

Young campaigners wanted! Become a member of UK Youth Voice

UK Youth Voice, a group of young campaigners aged 16 to 25 year olds interested in policy and sharing their views as young people, is now recruiting for new members.

Liam O’Dell, Policy and Campaigns Officer – Digital, National Deaf Children’s Society.

Do you know a deaf young person:

  • Aged 16-25?
  • Who is a member of a UK Youth member organisation
  • Who has a big interest in campaigns and representing young people?

If so, tell them about this opportunity to be a member of a UK-wide group of 28 young people representing their local area.

The two-year role will involve attending four weekend meetings a year and working on UK Youth Voice projects. You will also have the opportunity to influence UK Youth as an organisation, as well as national policy.

UK Youth Voice are currently looking for new representatives for the following regions:

  • North West
  • North East
  • Yorkshire & Humber
  • South West
  • South East
  • West Midlands
  • East Midlands

They are also working with their national partners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to find young people to represent these nations.

Do you know a deaf young person who might be interested? If you do, then they can fill out a short application form.

If you’re not sure whether your local club is a member of UK Youth, or have any questions, you can contact Hannah Graham on 07455 521883 or email hannah.graham@ukyouth.org.

The application deadline is Friday 1 February. Submissions will be assessed by current members of UK Youth Voice, and you may be invited to have an informal interview.

If successful, the first residential weekend will take place from 26 April to 28 April 2019, so be sure to keep those dates free!

Our Children and Young People Participation team can support deaf young people with their applications. If you know a young person who may be interested, you can email the team at cyp@ndcs.org.uk.

New guidance increases cochlear implant eligibility

Today the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidance on who should be considered a candidate for cochlear implants.

Background

Lady looking at the camera, with a PC desk next to her and a bookshelf behind her.

Vicki Kirwin, Development Manager (Audiology & Health), National Deaf Children’s Society.

The previous guidance was issued in 2009. The guidance forms part of the Technical Appraisal portfolio and as such the NHS is expected to make funding available for anyone who meets the criteria and wishes to have the procedure.

The previous guidance said that children could be offered two cochlear implants if their hearing was worse than 95 dB (profoundly deaf) at 2000 and 4000 Hz (the higher frequencies which are considered most important for speech understanding), if hearing aids weren’t able to provide sufficient benefit to be able to understand speech.

We felt that the previous candidacy criteria was dated and no longer fit for purpose. The UK had slipped into a position where we had one of the highest candidacy requirements in the developed world.

Recent research found that cochlear implants would be appropriate for children with lower hearing thresholds than the current guidelines and this meant that many children with profound deafness and cochlear implants were hearing better than children with severe deafness and hearing aids.

Whilst NICE guidance should only be seen as guidance and clinical judgement should also be applied, in practice NHS England refused to fund candidates outside of the identified criteria. This left a significant number of frustrated families (and professionals) who knew of the potential benefits but were unable to access services due to funding restrictions.

We got involved in a research Consensus Group and worked with both the British Cochlear Implant Group (BCIG) and the Action Group on Adult Cochlear Implants so that there is a uniform response to NICE from the sector.

New guidance

Now says that children with severe to profound deafness (defined as hearing only sounds that are louder than 80 dB HL at 2 or more frequencies of 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, 2,000 Hz, and 4,000 Hz) in both ears, and who do not receive adequate benefit from hearing aids are candidates. Adequate benefit is defined as speech, language and listening skills appropriate to age, developmental stage and cognitive ability.

The National Deaf Children’s Society’s position

We thoroughly welcome these changes. NICE haven’t gone as far as we would have really liked (such as providing candidature for children with profound unilateral deafness or children with aidable hearing in one ear but not the other) but it is a massive improvement and means we won’t be behind many European countries as now.

However, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s work does not end here. The new candidature means that many more children now meet the criteria for cochlear implant assessment for already stretched services with ongoing NHS funding pressures. We will be working hard to ensure that services are adequately funded, available, and of good quality for every family that needs them.

If you need any further information or help and support contact our Helpline on 0808 800 8880 (calls are free from all landlines and major mobiles companies), live chat or helpline@ndcs.org.uk.