A decade on from newborn screening and deaf children are being failed

10 May 2016

New data shows that the benefits of  hearing screening at birth are being lost with a quarter of parents of deaf babies (25%) not being given the support they need to develop crucial skills to communicate with their babies following identification. This is just one example of widespread problems in early years support for deaf babies leading to a significant gap between the language and communication skills of deaf children and hearing children when they start school.  


 A report called ‘Right from the Start’, released today by the National Deaf Children’s Society, coincides with the 10 year anniversary of newborn hearing screening in England and looks at the impact of screening and early years services.

Nearly 6.7 million babies have been screened since the newborn hearing programme was introduced, which has meant every week an average of 12,645 babies are screened of which 34 will be identified as deaf. Prior to this, children born deaf were often not identified until aged three or older, well past the critical ages for learning to read, write and make friends. An undiagnosed deaf child aged three will only know 25 words, compared to the 700 words hearing child of the same age will know.

Most babies born deaf are identified within a few weeks, however many are being let down because they are not receiving the level of support needed at this critical development stage. The Right from the Start report showed:

  • Just under a third (31%) of parents don’t feel they got the support they needed to make sure their child made good progress after being identified through newborn hearing screening.
  • The report also found a quarter (25%) of parents said they didn’t get any general advice on language and communication development, following identification.
  • Over a fifth (22%) of parents said they couldn’t access the support they needed from Teachers of the Deaf who play a pivotal role in supporting their child’s education in the early years and at school.

This comes at a time when the numbers of deaf children are rising (18% in the last five years) at the same time local authorities are cutting numbers of qualified Teachers of the Deaf - a 4% decline in the last five years. Only a third (35%) of deaf children are achieving their early learning goals in literacy and writing compared to three quarters (76%) of other children. And last year the NHS England’s Action Plan on Hearing Loss reported unacceptable variation in the quality of audiology services.

Susan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Newborn hearing screening has been happening for ten years, thanks to the relentless efforts of parents and years of campaigning by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

“That should mean that deaf children and their families now get the support they need right from the start. But a decade on, that’s still not happening. If a child is identified early as being deaf and receives good quality support in their early years, there is no reason that deaf children shouldn’t achieve the same as hearing children.

“Although the government introduced the Children and Families Act in 2014 which promised a transformation to how children with Special Educational Needs and Disability were supported, there remains a gulf between the aspirations of the reforms and what parents are reporting is actually happening to their children. Today’s report shows widespread problems from patchy quality of audiology services to limited access to support from Teachers of the Deaf, which mean we are still a long way from giving deaf children the positive futures they deserve.

“We’re calling on the Government, local authorities and health bodies to work together and make a commitment to ensure high quality support is in place as soon as a child is diagnosed as deaf.”

Rebecca Stubbs from Stoke-on-Trent is mum to Lucas, 10, who is profoundly deaf.

Rebecca said: “Everything has always felt like a battle to get the support my son needs and, more importantly, deserves. After Lucas was fitted with his first cochlear implant at the age of 17 months, our local audiology team simply supplied us with batteries! Where was the follow up? Our teacher of the deaf has been very supportive but their time with Lucas has been minimal and we’ve had to fight even to keep that. Lucas is a very bright boy and in the top set for maths at school but I worry desperately he won’t reach his full potential without the right ongoing support.”

Dame Evelyn Glennie is supporting the campaign and said: “Being deaf should never hold you back. The Right from the Start campaign is so important as it is shining a light on what deaf children and young people can achieve with the right support.”

Give deaf babies the positive futures they deserve by joining the Right from the Start campaign at www.ndcs.org.uk/rightfromthestart



For further information please contact Priya Manek, Head of Media and PR:

T 0207 014 1146 or email priya.manek@ndcs.org.uk or contact Charlotte Coombes, Senior Media Officer: 0207 014 1149 or email charlotte.coombes@ndcs.org.uk 


Notes to editors

  • The National Deaf Children’s Society is the leading charity dedicated to creating a world without barriers for deaf children and their families.
  • There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK. The National Deaf Children’s Society helps deaf children and young people thrive by providing impartial, practical and emotional support to them and their families, and by challenging governments and society to meet their needs.
  • The National Deaf Children’s Society believes that every deaf child should be valued and included by society and have the same opportunities as any other child.


Facts and stats about deafness

  • There are more than 45,000 deaf children living in the UK. Four babies are born deaf every day in the UK.
  • More than 22,000 children in the UK have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. More than 20,000 children in the UK have mild hearing loss or deafness in one ear.
  • There are more than 32 million children worldwide with a hearing loss.
  • Half of all permanently deaf children have acquired deafness which developed after birth and during childhood. This most commonly happens in the first three years of life but can happen at any time. Causes of acquired deafness include childhood illness or infection (e.g. meningitis) or head injury.
  • Permanent deafness in children is most commonly caused by genetics, followed by congenital infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) which are passed on to a baby during pregnancy. Deafness may also be caused by complications associated with extreme premature birth.
  • One in five (770,000) pre-school children have glue ear at any one time. Eight out of ten children will experience glue ear before the age of 10. Glue ear is a build-up of sticky fluid behind the eardrum that prevents sound passing through the ear as well at it should. It is often but not always linked with ear infections. Glue ear and ear infections are the most common reason for children to visit their GP.
  • Deaf children can do anything other children can do, given the right support. Without this support, deaf children and young people are vulnerable to isolation, abuse, bullying, poor self-esteem and low levels of achievement.
  • Deafness is not a learning disability yes despite this deaf children are almost twice as likely to fail to achieve five GCSEs, grades A* to C (including English and Maths), when compared with other children.

Impact of deafness on development and learning

·         Any delay in identifying deafness will have a huge impact on a child’s communication and language development. This in turn can affect a child’s social and educational development, which may lead to a longer-term risk to mental health and quality of life.

·         Hearing children acquire language and learn the rules of conversation through incidental learning (learning through overhearing). Incidental learning also helps children to understand what is happening (for example, parents discussing arrangements to visit grandma) and develop social skills (for example, overhearing a more interesting game and moving to join in).

·         Long-term UK and international research shows that a deaf child is more likely to develop communication skills at the same rate as their hearing peers if their deafness is identified when they are a baby and they are given appropriate intervention and support.