Help us support deaf children and young people

Back in 2014 the Government announced “a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND and their families”. The 2014 Children and Families Act promised reforms that “put children and parents at the heart of the system”

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Steve Haines, Executive Director of Policy and Campaigns, The National Deaf Children’s Society

However, four years on from the reforms, our CEO, Susan Daniels was on Channel 4 sharing the findings from our latest poll of over 1000 parents of deaf children and young people. Only 5% of these parents thought that the system had improved for their children and almost half felt it had got worse.

The next day I joined a roundtable discussion hosted by the Westminster Parliament’s Education Select Committee with six other campaigners for children and young people with special educational need and disabilities. Although we came from different points of view, there was broad ranging consensus that the reforms had failed to deliver on their promise.

Sadly, as the parents of many deaf children and young people know all too well, accessing support is often a lengthy process of assessment, administration and argument and, in the worst cases, having to take cases to court. It all seems a terrible waste of resources that could be providing vital support for deaf children and young people instead.

As our Stolen Futures campaign has shown, funding for local authority services has continued to decline. In our poll of parents, 82 per cent said they did not feel there was enough funding for deaf children’s education in their area. The fact is that reforms without the funding to deliver them doesn’t equal results.

We’ve been campaigning to protect these vital services for deaf children and young people. We know change is possible and, working with local parents, have been successful in many areas in overturning or avoiding local cuts.

But we need the political will to take action. The day after the Select Committee, Susan Daniels, Ian Noon and I met with the Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi MP. We’d been really pleased when he joined our event outside Parliament earlier in the year, so had high hopes. But despite our best efforts and practical suggestions, we could only come away with assurances, rather than action.

It’s a critical time for services for deaf children and young people. We’re at breaking point. So now, more than ever, we need parents and carers, friends, families, and many others to sign up to our campaigns network and to join our fight for deaf children and young people to be able to access the services they need.

Molly needs your vote!

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Hi I am Molly, I was born in Wales and live in Carmathen and I am profoundly deaf and use British Sign Language. I am standing for election to the Welsh Youth Parliament because I feel passionately about showing that deaf young people can do anything with the right support in Wales. I know what it is like for deaf young people living in Wales and I want to stand up and be a voice for young people and improve deaf awareness across the Country. In the future I want to work in Parliament, help my dreams come true and vote for me!

Within my current school, I have been involved in the school council for the past two years. For the past year I have been the chair of the student council. Since 2016, I have been involved in various youth councils/groups. I am a member of the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Young People’s Advisory Board. I love to support and help others like me.

As a deaf young person in Wales, travel can be really difficult. This means it can be hard to meet other deaf young people. This can make deaf young people feel alone or stressed as they cannot make many friends. I want to change this and campaign about creating more local deaf clubs in Wales.

I want to change the views people can have of deaf people, showing them that they can do any job, or activity they want to do. Deaf young people can do anything.

Also, I would use technology to connect with you to find out your views and thoughts of how to make Wales even better for us! I would do this through e-mails and using social media and make sure they are passed onto the Parliamentary group.

I am really passionate about standing up for change. As an experienced chairperson for other youth councils I have a very positive and determined attitude to help you make changes across your Country.

To read more from my manifesto, click here: https://www.youthparliament.wales/candidate-profiles/060-15-e

Please support me by voting for me in the Welsh Youth Parliament. To vote you must register by Friday 16th November 2018. It will take you two minutes to register and help change Wales for the better.

To register, click here! https://www.youthparliament.wales/candidate-profiles/060-15-e

Supporting children early — England 0 : Wales 1?

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Recently I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) which discussed the APPGC’s second report Storing Up Trouble on the state of children’s social care services and social care funding in England.

Whilst the report highlights a crisis in children’s social care funding and makes various forthright recommendations, the emphasis on what action is required is being interpreted differently by key stakeholders. These can be broadly separated into two positions:

The first position focuses on addressing cuts in early help services, rising thresholds to access children’s social care support and a ‘demoralised’ social care workforce. The other position recognises the pressures on local authorities’ budgets but highlights the variation in the quality of support to vulnerable children across comparable local authorities and focuses more on improving decisions by social workers, their managers, commissioners and political leaders.

The meeting was attended by the Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi who perhaps not surprisingly adopts to the second position. He set out government action to improve the performance of social workers and champion evidence based practice through a new social work innovation fund and the What Works Centre for Social Work.

However, despite the minister mentioning the importance of early intervention on two occasions, he repeated the government’s continued position against any legislation to require local authorities to provide early help services.

At the National Deaf Children’s Society we know the importance of early intervention, a good example being the new-born hearing screening programme introduced in 2006. We also know research shows that early diagnosis and early intervention to support to parents of deaf children by a range of professionals has positive outcomes. Sadly some local authorities are being forced to cut visits by Teachers of the Deaf or support children based only on the severity of their hearing loss and not their actual level of need.

In 2011 Professor Eileen Munro took two years to review children’s social care, consulting widely across the sector and also with service users. Her conclusions were all adopted by the coalition government, except one, a duty on local authorities to provide early help services.

Wales has introduced the Social Service and Well-Being Wales Act 2014 making it the first UK country to place a duty on local authorities to provide a range of ‘preventative services’ for all people (children or adults) which ‘promote well-being’ and reduce their need for care and support. The Act has even brought in national eligibility criteria to prevent post code lottery of social care support seen across England.

If research by the What Works Centre for Social Work does show clear benefits that early help services make to the lives of children and families, the Government will find it hard to ignore the calls to take action. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to call on the Government in England through our campaigns work for a new duty on local authorities to provide early help services.

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.

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.