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.

Seven things we’ve learnt from the latest CRIDE report

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

Last week, the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) published the latest results for England from its annual survey of education services for deaf children. Though it has its limitations, it’s one of the best sources of data out there on deaf children and the report managed to attract a fair bit of media coverage (including in the Huffington Post and the Guardian). In this blog, I set out my own personal take on seven key findings from the report

1. There are more deaf children

Or, at least, there are more deaf children that local authorities know about. There are now at least 45,631 deaf children in England, a reported 11% increase over the previous year. It’s difficult to be sure whether this is because there are genuinely more deaf children and/or whether local authorities are getting better at identifying those that live in their area.

2. There are fewer Teachers of the Deaf

In 2017, we saw a 2% decline in the number of qualified Teachers of the Deaf in England. Since 2011, we’ve seen a whopping 14% decline. These figures don’t take into account the number of trainee Teachers of the Deaf or Teachers of the Deaf in special schools – but it’s still clear there has been a significant long-term decline. Despite this, government action to address this has not been forthcoming.

3. There’s a looming retirement crunch

Over half of all visiting Teachers of the Deaf are over the age of 50, meaning they’re likely to retire in the next ten to fifteen years. Combined with the long-term decline in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf, this could have a disastrous effect on deaf children, unless urgent action is taken by the Government.

4. Deaf children continue to be a diverse bunch

We know, for example, that 7% of deaf children have at least one cochlear implant, 14% use English as an additional spoken language at home while 22% have an additional special educational need. There can be a huge variety of need within deaf children which has important implications for Teacher of the Deaf training.

5. We still have an incomplete picture on post-16

It’s clear that local authorities continue to struggle in identifying deaf young people post-16, despite the introduction of a new 0 to 25 special educational needs framework in 2014 in England. For example, local authorities told us that 1,356 deaf young people left school in 2016. This is far less than we’d expect, based on what we know about the number of secondary aged pupils.

6. We know a bit more about the use of sign language in education

We already knew, from previous CRIDE surveys, that around 10% of all deaf children used sign language in education in some form. For the first time, instead of asking about all children, CRIDE asked about those who are severely or profoundly deaf. This revealed that, of this group, 29% use sign language in education, of which 8% use British Sign Language. It’s important to note that this doesn’t tell us about how much sign language is being used outside of school.

7. Government statistics on deaf children are still flawed

We know from CRIDE that there are over 45,000 deaf children across England. However, if we were to look at government figures, we’d be missing a large chunk of this group, around 42% of all deaf children. We’re calling on the Government to get better at collecting data on all deaf children.

There are still more stats yet to come – expect reports on deaf children in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the next month.

Right to Sign campaign update: Minister says no

Ian_Noon

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

Earlier this year, the National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board, after months of hard work, launched their new Right to Sign campaign, calling for young people to have more opportunities for young people to learn sign language in schools.

They surveyed over 2,000 young people – deaf and hearing – and found that a whopping 92% thought schools should offer British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE. They published a report setting out the results in full and the case for action.

And the response from the Government? No.

Yesterday, when asked if the Department for Education in England would encourage exam boards to offer BSL as a GCSE, the Minister, Nick Gibb, said: “At present, there are no plans to introduce any further GCSEs beyond those to which the Government has already committed.”

To our knowledge, this is the first time the Government has ruled out introducing a BSL GCSE since the campaign was launched. It’s a massive disappointment and a real slap in the face for all of the hard work done so far by the Youth Advisory Board.

It’s hard not to feel angry about the response. It’s simply unfair and unjust that BSL, an official language in the UK used by thousands of people, is being treated in a way which implies it has a lower status and importance than other languages already being taught as GCSEs. It could even be seen as discriminatory to deaf people.

We’re not going to be deterred and will keep pressing the Department for Education in England for action – our briefing sets out some of the arguments we’re using. Two members of the Youth Advisory Board will also be asking MPs to support their campaign when they head to party political conferences later this month.

If you want to show your support for our work, please sign the Youth Advisory Board petition. More information about the different ways you can support the campaign can be found on the Buzz website.

 

General election 2017- Scotland

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Lois Drake, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May announced a snap election would take place on 8 June 2017. What will your new MPs in Scotland do to ensure deaf children and young people and their families in your area get the support they need?

There has been positive progress lately in Scotland for deaf young people and their families. The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 (BSL Act) was passed which marked an historic moment for deaf people across the country.

The implementation of the new laws is now underway with the draft BSL National Plan open for consultation. However work must continue by closing any existing gaps in support that exist for all deaf children and young people and their families.

Some key facts prospective MPs in Scotland should be aware of:-

  • We estimate there are as many as 3850 deaf children in Scotland today and we believe that, with the right support, they can do anything other children can do;
  • Deafness is not a learning disability, but deaf learners consistently do worse than their hearing peers at school;
  • Teachers of the Deaf are vital for many deaf children but there is regional variation in staffing levels and services are being squeezed with half are due to retire within the next 10 to 15 years;
  • The latest Scottish Government data shows that last year 11.8% of deaf learners left school with no qualifications (compared with 2.6% of all pupils) and 38.7% obtained Highers or Advanced Highers (compared with 59.3% of all pupils). This gap in achievement at school goes on to affect deaf young people’s life chances, with 24.7% going onto university compared with 41.3% of those with no additional support needs;
  • The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015, Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and a strong focus on educational attainment all have the potential to drive positive outcomes for deaf children and their families;
  • While this progress should be celebrated, there is still much work to be done to ensure that every deaf child in Scotland gets the support they need from birth – with standards of support variable across Scotland, we need MPs who will champion deaf children in their area!
  • The early years are a critical time for deaf children to develop the language and communication skills they need for life, as outlined in our recent report Getting It Right From the Start;

Will your MP be an advocate for deaf children in your area?

Tell them to email us at campaigns.scotland@ndcs.org.uk to request a briefing.

Right to Sign Campaign

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Sophia James, Senior Participation Officer (Campaigns) National Deaf Children’s Society

After a lively debate at a residential event in 2015, a group of 16 deaf young people voted to campaign about British Sign Language. Now, 18 months later, following our charity’s largest ever consultation of young people, their campaign for a British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE and Scottish National 4/5 in schools has finally launched.

Our board are campaigning for the Right to Sign and we want you to give your support to this campaign. To explain what the campaign is about, Beth and Aliko have filmed this video.

There are lots of reasons to get behind this campaign and Frankie, from the YAB, explains in her vlog why she thinks it’s a good idea for young people to have access to learning sign language.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Read our report

Sign our petition

There is also a different action for each country in the UK, which you can find here.

So thanks for your support and let’s make the #righttosign a reality in schools.

BSL and apprenticeships

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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.

Young leaders in Wales

Lorna

Lorna Langton, Gearing Up Project Officer/ Mynd Amdani Swyddog Prosiect

The quiet little seaside town of Colwyn Bay may seem like an unlikely place to invite a group of 14-18 year olds for the weekend but boy did we have a great time! As part of our Gearing Up project, Young Leaders made the most of every opportunity to have fun, learn and make some great friendships on this year’s North Wales Young Leader training course.

Our Young Leaders came from all across Wales, from as far as Cardiff to just a few train stops down the line at Bangor. After everyone had registered we headed off to a fantastic dinner at The Station restaurant just a short walk from where we were staying. This was a lovely chance to enjoy some good food and all get to know each other. By the end of the meal one member of staff, who we discovered is doing his Level 2 BSL at the moment, even treated us to a little magic show!

Saturday morning started with breakfast at our training venue Porth Eirias, what a fab location and the staff were so helpful, it really couldn’t be faulted. The amazing bacon butties and pastries that were waiting for us as we arrived really helped give us all the brain power needed for the day ahead.

The Young Leader programme aims to build deaf young people’s confidence, develop valuable life skills and give them an opportunity to make new deaf friends who have similar experiences to them. This weekend we started with a workshop to establish what the group thought the definition of a young leader was and then we took advantage of the great location on the beach to get out and do some team building activities. The group were really engaged and really added their own spin on their idea of leadership and the people in their lives who they looked up to as role models.

That afternoon we had Pete from the Wales Ambulance Service join us to train the
young people in CPR. They all got stuck in and learned a valuable life saving skill that everyone agreed was really important and helped them build confidence in tcpr-WalesBlog2016heir ability to act in an emergency situation in the future. The young people brought up some interesting views around being young and deaf and having the confidence to take charge in an emergency situation. Then it was time to grab our things and head off to the ski slope for snowboarding training. We were so lucky with the weather and our coaches at Llandudno Ski Centre we’re supportive and made it so much fun. It was great to see the group grow in confidence and ability over the 2 days.

Sunday started with an inspiring and thought provoking deaf role model talk from Dr Andrew Davies of Bangor University. He spoke about the young people finding whatever they were passionate about and taking control of their own education making decisions that would ensure they achieved their aspirations as he had done.

After that stirring session, the young people were all fired up and sparking with ideas when it came to the workshop on our bursary scheme; the Pay it Forward Fund. They came up with ideas that would develop them as individuals, support their communities and help them give back and be role models for younger deaf children and young people in Wales. A few of the Young Leaders submitted applications to the fund in the days after this event.at the beach- WalesBlogJune2016

I’m also delighted that so many of the young people who are involved with the Gearing Up project have already been inspired to use their new skills, interest and confidence to support our young campaigners network in Wales. Any deaf young person who wants to know more about what we campaign on, or who would like to get involved in campaigning can email  campaigns.wales@ndcs.org for more information.

I’m so excited to see how the Pay it Forward Fund develops and I look forward to updating you all in my next blog.

Bye for now,

Lorna Langton

Gearing Up Project Officer/ Mynd Amdani Swyddog Prosiect