Social Care, Deafness…and the Oscars

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Rachel Shenton’s Oscar-winning film, The Silent Child, highlights the importance of deaf children getting access to language and communication. If a deaf child is deprived of language, deprived of any opportunity to communicate with others, their fundamental human rights are being breached. In the film we see 4 year old Libby taught to flourish when she is taught sign language.

For everyone working in social care, this film is a timely reminder that deafness is not an issue to be forgotten about and brushed under the carpet. Deafness is not a learning disability and, with the right support from parents, education and other services, deaf children can achieve just as well as any other children.

But in reality, children’s social care, and social workers aren’t intervening early enough to prevent deaf children suffering neglect through language deprivation. There are many reasons for this but it’s important to remember that we must not blame parents, the majority of whom have had no experience of deafness and are seeking advice and support to just do their best.

There were once specialist social workers for deaf people working with both deaf children and deaf adults – but an unintended consequence from the separation of children and adult social care services in the mid-2000s meant these teams were no longer viable. Specialist children’s social workers joined general children’s disability teams, and due to pressures on time and resources, support for deaf children drastically reduced. This specialist expertise has now disappeared. Well-meaning professionals, who don’t have the training or the knowledge, are now all too often making dangerous decisions about what is best for deaf children.

I’ve seen some shocking cases. When discussing how a profoundly deaf young person, with significant additional needs, and whose first language was British Sign Language, could be supported in a mainstream children’s home, a senior manager suggested to me they could be ‘taught to lip-read’ and not given any sign language support.
Another social worker told a parent that their child didn’t need any language support as he was “only deaf”. I don’t blame the social workers here – it’s a lack of deaf awareness and a lack of real understanding of the lived experience of a deaf child.
But highlighting these issues isn’t enough. We need action. Research shows that the early years are critical for developing language and communication skills, and if neglected, they have long term consequences. But at the moment, the social care system doesn’t put early intervention services on a statutory footing. What’s more, we are seeing cuts across the country to posts like Teachers of the Deaf who are a key part of an early intervention service.

All of this highlights how deaf children and their social care needs are falling through the cracks. There are various options for how this can be improved. One answer could be to identify and train existing social care professionals as ‘champions’ for deaf children’s social care within their area. Neighbouring local authorities could jointly commission posts and share their resources. Deaf and other sensory charities could also be used more effectively. All of these are viable options for making sure that deaf children don’t get left behind in the social care system, as is sadly so often the case.

So while there are many challenges ahead, I hope that with a clear understanding of the problems, and just a little bit of Oscar glory, we can start to improve social care for deaf children across the UK.

There’s a gaping hole in our ability to support our most vulnerable children

Chris Mullen

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

By 2020, in just 3 years’ time councils will be facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s social care services[1].The figure is eye-watering, but recently a collection of academics, researchers, parliamentarians, practitioners, England’s Children’s Commissioner, but sadly not the new Children’s Minister, gathered at the latest All Party Parliamentary Group on Children to discuss the state of children’s social care services in England. Not one person in the packed committee room disputed this figure, including the Director of the National Children’s Bureau who stated there was a clear crisis in children’s social care funding.

The meeting discussed a survey of 1600 social workers -the vast majority reporting that the bar is becoming higher and higher for children and families to get support by children’s services.[2] It’s hardly surprising.

As my last blog reported, it is only recently that the previous Conservative administration acknowledged the funding crisis in adult social care, with councils now being allowed to raise additional money through ring fenced council tax rises. But why has this not happened in children’s social care?

Is this because children don’t have immediate political power, as ageing or grey voters do, being able to trigger the issuing of P45’s of previous MP’s at the stroke of a pencil at the ballet box? Or is that children’s social care support is perceived by many voters as somehow about undeserving children or that children who receive social care support are in families who should be meeting those children’s needs and not the state?

If in these times of austerity the moral argument has been won to support the needs of our vulnerable elderly population, we must do all we can to persuade our politicians to extend this to children who are equally vulnerable!

Deaf and disabled children are also sometimes supported by children’s social care; but with resources and demand pressures, these children are getting reduced levels of support or are only experiencing social care involvement at the point where preventing abuse and neglect occurs- rather than the safety net support of services to help children and families. Sadly this reinforces the view of those children and families as being undeserving.

This is to be expected where the law is too narrow, and local authorities are not legally required to provide early intervention and early help services to children and families. This is despite mounting evidence showing that if targeted well, these services can prevent more costly state intervention later on[3]. With limited resources, many local authorities are striving to innovate to meet rising demand for services, but ultimately have to intervene to protect children who have suffered significant harm or at risk of immediate harm.

Sometimes when a crisis occurs, new or alternative ways of thinking emerge. In 1946 Britain was broke and devastated by WW2, yet during this time of austerity it took the wisdom of a few to create the NHS which despite its problems, is fiercely supported. We need a similar revolution now. Investing in a safety net of support for all children and families as a democratic right will reap benefits for the whole of society –and that includes those who disagree with such a measure who cannot escape living alongside children and families! And also as a final thought, weren’t we all once children?

Previous Blog

https://ndcscampaigns.com/category/social-care/

[1] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/councils-face-2-billion-funding-gap-support-vulnerable-children-2020

[2] https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2004211/child-protection-thresholds-rising-due-to-budget-pressures

[3] https://www.ncb.org.uk/resources-publications/resources/no-good-options-report-inquiry-childrens-social-care-england

Are universities going to become more inclusive?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Pretty soon, lots of teenagers will be receiving their A-level and BTEC results and find out if they will go to their preferred choice of university. I can remember how exciting and also nerve-wracking it felt to go to university for the first time. If you are deaf like me I think it can be even more so: will it be easy to follow the lectures? Will I make friends? Is communication going to be a problem?

Some readers of this blog will remember our fight against the changes to Disabled Students Allowances back in 2014 and 2015. Whilst the Government decided to maintain DSA funding for specialist note-takers (people with training specifically in writing notes for deaf students), funding for ordinary manual note-takers was removed for the 2016-17 academic year along with some other forms of less-specialised support such as library support assistants and proof-readers.

One of the Government’s justifications for cutting DSAs was because it wanted universities to develop a more inclusive approach to teaching so that learning is accessible to more students. No objections to that – we have always wanted universities to be more flexible. There have been plenty of deaf students who have expressed their frustration over the years at reasonable adjustments not being made such as Dean Kamitis in his recent Limping Chicken blog.

The Government has published guidance for higher education providers on ‘Inclusive Practice’. The guidance encourages universities to make changes so that their courses are more accessible to students with disabilities. Some universities are leading the way. I recently visited Du Montford University in Leicester and was impressed with their approach:

You have been waiting for it and here is the ‘but’. Does a piece of guidance go far enough? – the Government does not appear to have any stick (e.g. loss of funding) to beat universities with should they decide to ignore this guidance. Also, a couple of practitioners have said to me that they are concerned that some universities see inclusive practice as simply about rolling-out lecture capture technology. See this lecture recording for an explanation of how lecture capturing can benefit disabled students: see this lecture recording – oh wait…..no subtitles! And here lies the issue for many deaf students. Lecture capturing is not going to make a difference and could actually make access worse if more course content and materials move online.

Deaf students are small in number – most university disability advisors might be aware of 2 or 3 deaf students at their institution at most. This means that in general, teaching staff are not in regular contact with deaf students and have little awareness of their needs. This is why the National Deaf Children’s Society has extended our Supporting Achievement resources to higher education. Supporting the Achievement of Deaf Young People in Higher Education aims to provide disability advisors and other higher education staff with the information required to ensure deaf students get the support they need.

I know from experience, having people around who understand the barriers you face and how to communicate with you properly makes a huge difference. For deaf young people starting uni this September, it might help reduce those fresher’s week nerves!

If you are a young person at uni and you have having difficulties because your course is not fully accessible, you can get in touch with our helpline for further advice and guidance: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/how_ndcs_can_help/support_and_advice/

This blog is mostly relevant to students from England only as the DSA changes have not taken place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Supporting Achievement resource is aimed at universities across the whole of the UK.

“The support I had growing up… and why we shouldn’t take it for granted”

Jacob Oakes

Jake Oakes, Policy and Campaigns Assistant

We all know that feeling of nervous excitement before our first day at school, a new place or a new job. Over these last few months, I’ve reflected a great deal on my first day at Tilbury Primary School, a total communications unit in a mainstream school in Hull.

My parents often tell me that they noticed an instant overnight change in my confidence and ability to communicate. The ethos of the resource base, ‘that deaf children can achieve anything with the right support’ was key in mine and my deaf class mates’ development.

What I gained from attending Tilbury as a deaf child, was a place where I learned that I was not alone in my deafness, a place where I was encouraged to expand my communication skills. Now I can comfortably place one foot in both the hearing and the deaf world.

Additionally, at Tilbury I received extra support in subjects that I was struggling in. I received speech and language therapy. I was taught how to care for my hearing aids and I also learned about my own identity as a deaf person.

Shortly after arriving at National Deaf Children’s Society, I closely followed colleagues  challenge damaging proposals to close the resource bases in Hull. The base, which Tilbury merged into a few years ago, was under threat of closure.  This meant that future generations of deaf children in Hull,  would not have the same specialist educational support that I had.

It was a real eye-opening moment in which I realised that the support that I received when growing up, the support that enabled me to be the person I am today is not guaranteed for every deaf child. Specialist educational support for deaf children whether that be a resource base, Teachers of the Deaf or technological support cannot be taken for granted.

Due to the incredible work of Alison, Sally, parents and campaigners in Hull, the resource bases at Christopher Pickering and Sirius West will remain open for deaf children and young people in Hull. A fantastic result!

If you want to get involved in campaigns like this and join me with the Policy and Campaigns team at NDCS! Sign up to our Campaigns Network here:

http://www.ndcs.org.uk/help_us/campaigns/campaign_with_us/campaign_network.html

General election 2017: Uninspected audiology services

Beccy Forrow Policy and Campaigns Officer

Beccy Forrow, Policy and Campaigns Adviser

Would you send your child to a school that hadn’t been inspected by Ofsted? Would you ride in a car that didn’t conform to industry safety standards? Would you eat in a restaurant that refused to take part in food hygiene inspections? All questions I’d answer no to.

But this is what is being allowed to happen with children’s audiology services in England. Only 15% of services have been inspected and achieved a high enough standard to become ‘accredited’. This leaves the majority of services uninspected – with deaf children, young people and their families having no idea whether they are attending a great service or one that is poor quality and unsafe.

Considering that an NHS report in 2014 found that one third of audiology services were failing to meet critical NHS quality standards, with no incentive to improve, it’s unlikely that many will now be providing a better service. This matters because hearing is critical to a child’s development of language and learning. Early diagnosis and support reduces the risk of delays in language, educational, social and emotional development. But this support needs to be consistently of good quality.

Earlier this year we created an audiology map so that parents could check if their local service had reached a high enough standard to be accredited. However, of 134 services, 40 have so far refused to take part in the inspection scheme at all. Many others have registered for the scheme but not moved closer to an inspection visit over the course of the last few years.

We’re calling on the next Government to make it compulsory for all children’s audiology services in England to take part in the inspections so that parents can be confident that they are fit for purpose. As the inspections cost money and can be time consuming to prepare for, it’s vital that the Government levels the playing field by making the inspections mandatory for all services. Audiology services for deaf children won’t get better on their own.

If any general election candidates come to your door, be sure to ask them about the quality of children’s audiology services. We’ve got some other questions you might like to ask them on our election web page.

General Election 2017. Deaf young people matter.

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Less than half of young people aged 18-24 are expected to vote on June 8th. Personally, I think this is a tragedy as it means that politicians may be less focused on trying to win young people over because this will not be the key to winning elections. It can be argued that policies on housing, benefits or higher education, for example, might be different if more young people voted.

We at the National Deaf Children’s Society want to make sure that the needs of young people are high on the agenda. We have some key asks for each of the parties to help ensure deaf young people have bright futures. For this year’s general election they are:

    1. Ensure deaf young people receive access to specialist careers advice. Imagine as a deaf young person thinking about what you want to do in the future but you did not know you had rights under the Equality Act or that there was funding for communication support and technology in the workplace (Access to Work). Sadly, this is the reality for many deaf young people and we believe it influences their subject choices at school and college. We want all deaf young people to have access to specialist careers advice so that they are better informed to make choices about their futures.
    2.  Revamp the Access to Work employment support scheme. As a user of the Access to Work I can say I probably could not do my job without it – it pays for the communication support I need to access meetings and training. However, when applying for the first time you will need to very clear about what support and how much of it you need. We don’t believe the application process is friendly for young people and would like to see specialist advice from dedicated champions when they apply for the first time, as well as support that it is flexible and tailored to their needs.
    3. Make it easier for deaf young people to complete apprenticeships. The main political parties are keen on apprenticeships. So are we. High-quality apprenticeships can be a good way of ensuring deaf young people gain vital work experience alongside achieving qualifications. We believe the funding system for additional support on apprenticeships is currently unsatisfactory and needs to be improved and simplified.

Help us put the needs of deaf young people on the agenda by asking the parliamentary candidates for your area what they would do on the above issues if elected to parliament. Also, if you know any deaf young people over 18, encourage them to register to vote- they do matter!

BSL and apprenticeships

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

In January there was quite a bit of press about a decision by the Government to allow BSL qualifications to be accepted as alternative to the English requirements for apprenticeships in England. This is something that the National Deaf Children’s Society campaigned for along with other deaf organisations.

Since the announcement in January, there have been quite a few questions asked about how the new policy will work. I am going to tell you what I know so far.

Click here for a BSL version of my blog.

Why was this change made?

Currently, if you are taking an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in England you will need to pass English at Level 1 or 2 (functional skills or GCSE) to complete the apprenticeship. For some deaf people this makes completing an apprenticeship much more difficult. We believe it is also unfair for those who use BSL as their main language.

Who is eligible for this change?

People who are deaf and use BSL as their main language.

Which qualifications will be accepted?

For intermediate apprenticeships, the Level 1 certificate in BSL.

For advanced apprenticeships, the Level 2 certificate in BSL.

Can be the Signature, iBSL or ABC qualification.

Is the Level 1 or 2 certificate in BSL the appropriate qualification?

The Level 1 and 2 BSL qualifications are primarily aimed at beginners learning BSL. For a deaf first language BSL user and already fluent are they appropriate? Maybe not but what is the alternative? The Level 3 or 6 courses are much longer and there are fewer teachers. Ideally, we would have a functional skills BSL qualification which would allow BSL users to apply their BSL skills to workplace scenarios.

What if a deaf apprentice does not have a BSL qualification?

They can take the required qualification as part of their apprenticeship. Their training provider will receive the same funding as they receive for providing English tuition. For most people this will just mean taking the Level 1 or 2 BSL assessments with a bit of coaching beforehand.

When does the new policy start?

There is a change in apprenticeship regulations required which is a legal change. The Government expects to do this this April. Fingers crossed.

What about those who do not use BSL?

Some who are oral will find it difficult to pass English and Maths functional skills qualifications for the same reasons as BSL users- delayed language development impacts reading and writing skills. The Government plans to set up a pilot where apprentices with disabilities that impact on learning can work towards functional skills qualification at a level appropriate for them. We don’t know when this will happen or how big the pilot will be.