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Coronavirus and support for deaf children – information for families

Published Date: 02 Apr 2020

This blog has been written for families with deaf children. It covers things that parents need to be aware of in the coming days and weeks, such as school closures, access to hearing aid repairs and batteries, and supporting deaf children during the spread of coronavirus.

This blog will be updated regularly throughout the next few weeks as new information becomes available.

What is the coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect the lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus. Most people will have mild symptoms (dry cough, high temperature) and recover quickly. However, the virus is hospitalising some people and causing death in around one in 100 people. Those most likely to become seriously unwell are the elderly and those who are already unwell with other health conditions. Children and younger adults tend to have much milder symptoms, but those with severe asthma or weakened immune systems could still have serious complications.

Where can I get more information about the coronavirus?

Information about coronavirus is available from the NHS and also from NHS Scotland.

Information videos on coronavirus in British Sign Language (BSL) are available from SignHealth and from NHS Scotland.

Information videos on coronavirus in Irish Sign Language (ISL) and BSL are also available from the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

The NHS 111 service is available 24 hours a day and can be used by deaf people who use BSL: https://interpreternow.co.uk/nhs111Deaf young people can also register to send text messages to 999 in an emergency.

The Government is issuing guidance on a daily basis about the spread of the infection and the actions being advised to protect both the population generally and those who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness. The daily briefing from the Prime Minister and his scientific advisers can be viewed on BBC iPlayer with or without a BSL interpreter.  

The Scottish Government has also published information for families. Separately, the Northern Ireland Executive has set up a community helpline, available weekdays:

Finally, the website for your local authority may also have information about coronavirus and support in your area.

School closures and other education settings

The Governments across the UK have announced partial or full closures of nurseries, schools, colleges and universities to help limit the spread of coronavirus. In general, schools and early year settings are remaining open for children of key workers and children who are the most vulnerable. Our understanding is that schools will be providing care or ‘supervised learning’ to children, rather than the usual teaching that would children would normally expect.

Unless a deaf child has significant other additional needs that mean they need ongoing personal care or they need significant social care support (and are not the child of a key worker), it is likely they will be asked to stay at home to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

More information is available on the UK Government websites:

Guidance on essential ‘key worker’ roles can be found on the UK Government websites:

Your child’s school or early years setting will likely have been in touch already to say if your child can continue to attend and what the arrangements are over Easter. In the event that your child’s normal education setting still needs to close (for example, because of staff shortages), your child may be asked to travel to a different ‘hub’ school or early year setting.

Support at home

If your child will not be attending school then we expect that teachers will prepare work that is sent home or made available via the school’s homework app. Some teachers (particularly of older pupils and students) will be offering some remote or online lessons whilst children are at home. If you have any concerns about how accessible this distant learning will be for your child, have a chat with their teacher or Teacher of the Deaf. This way, you can ensure that whatever method of contact is used, your child can access it and be included.

Some things to think about:

  • Are online videos being subtitled? Some software, for example Google Hangout, is available with automatic translation – however, the feedback we have from young people is that the reliability of this can vary.
  • Even if your child does not usually have communication support in class, they may require it for accessing online teaching. Remote speech-to-text support and BSL interpreting are now both well established and easily accessible. Your Teacher of the Deaf can help with exploring options for funding this.
  • Ask your child’s school or Teacher of the Deaf about bringing their radio aid home. For many deaf children, radio aids will allow them to continue their learning and access sound on their computers, tablets or mobiles. It may also help them to keep in touch with family and friends and avoid feelings of isolation.
  • Find out how the school, support staff, and your Teacher of the Deaf is planning on keeping in touch with students while the school is closed. You might like to suggest ways to keep in touch which your child already uses and that work well for them. Options include Facebook groups, Skype video calls or webchats, FaceTime, Zoom conference calls, Google Hangout, Microsoft Team, etc. Although aimed at deaf adults in the workplace, a blog on The Limping Chicken website helpfully summarises the different options available for video calls.  

In Scotland, the Government has stated that it is currently producing guidance and information for families on support for vulnerable pupils. In addition, materials developed for home learning should also take into account the needs of children with additional support needs. Specialist support services will be expected to continue as far as possible.

Children with Education, Health and Care plans or statements of special educational needs

New laws (the Coronavirus Act 2020) have been passed that will allow local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to effectively ‘suspend’ a child’s statement or Education, Health and Care plan. If this is the case, local authorities will have to do their best (to use “reasonable endeavours”) to meet the support needs set out in a plan or statement.

Any such suspension will be time-limited. Your Government will have to issue a notice every month to say if it thinks local authorities might need the flexibility to suspend plans or statements.

The new laws do not give local authorities the power to amend the contents of a statement or a plan. This means that, once any suspension is lifted, your child’s statement or plan will have the same legal status that it did before.

Tribunals

In terms of the work of Tribunals that hear appeals on statements or plans, the different Tribunals in the nations are currently taking different approaches:

  • England - the Special Educational and Disability Tribunal hearings will continue by paper or by telephone (and, where the technology permits) by video starting on Monday 23 March 2020.  More information about this can be found on the IPSEA website.
  • Northern Ireland - we understand that the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is currently suspended until at least the end of May.
  • Scotland - Health and Education First-Tier Tribunals are being postponed until at least the end of June, unless the case is urgent. Any urgent hearings will be conducted by telephone.
  • Wales – we understand that the Special Educational Needs Tribunal Wales are currently looking into setting up virtual hearings.

Exams

All school and college examinations have been cancelled across the UK. Although we don’t yet have the details, any final grades will likely be calculated using a range of evidence, including teacher assessment, coursework and mock exam results. Any final grade will have the same status as any grades given to pupils in normal years. If a young person is unhappy with their final grade, there may be an opportunity to appeal how it was calculated and/or to sit a final exam as soon as reasonably possible, once schools and colleges re-open.

Further information on examinations and assessments can be found on the UK Government websites:

We understand that some universities are or were carrying out assessments/examinations remotely. Universities should ensure that any such assessments are accessible, so that deaf students are not unreasonably disadvantaged. This is a legal requirement under the Equality Act. If this is not possible, the assessment/examination should be deferred.

More information about the Equality Act and deaf children and young people’s rights in education can be found on our website.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants

There are significant changes to audiology services to reduce the amount of social contact with members of the public who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. This includes the cancellation of all routine audiology appointments. You may also find it difficult to get to the hospital because of changes to public transport or because your family is self-isolating at the time. Audiology services are working hard to ensure that they can still offer telephone support, and provide repairs, new earmoulds and batteries as needed.

Repairs

Audiology services will ask you to leave the faulty hearing aid in a box at clinic reception (a friend or family member could drop it off for you if you can’t go yourself) or you can post it to them for repair. Make sure you remove the battery before putting the hearing aid in the post. You will then be able to collect the hearing aid the following day, or it may be dropped off to your home, or posted back to you.  

Batteries

It is sensible to make sure you have a supply of batteries in advance and the NHS will continue to supply at least two packets per hearing aid at any one time. Don’t wait until you have run out to request new ones. Call or email your audiology clinic and they will arrange to post new batteries out to you.  

In an emergency, if you do run out and can’t get replacements from your usual NHS service, you can buy hearing aid batteries from Boots and other chemists, high street hearing aid dispensers or opticians.

Earmoulds

New earmoulds for children are being made without impressions when possible. Manufacturers are re-printing moulds (based on stored scans of impressions) where available, adding a small percentage for growth and then posting to the family. Where scans are not available, services may ask you to post in one of their child’s earmoulds at a time (so that they are not without amplification altogether) and a remake can then be made from this. These are not perfect solutions but are working for some children. Where impressions are considered necessary, services will try and see children in this situation if they possibly can. Contact your audiologist for advice if your child needs them.

NHS and routine surgery

The NHS will be stopping all routine surgery to free up capacity and beds for those people who are seriously ill with the coronavirus. Routine surgery includes grommet surgery for glue ear, bone anchored hearing aids and cochlear implant surgery on older children.

The British Cochlear Implant Group has written to NHS Trusts asking them to consider cochlear implant surgery in babies and young children as neurolinguistic emergencies. It has also reminded them of the risk of cochlear ossification in those who have had meningitis, asking that they should still be implanted as priority cases.

If you think changes to surgical priorities is likely to impact your child, have a chat with your doctor and audiologist to find out if there are any other options (such as temporary hearing aids if grommet surgery is not possible) and if there is anything else that can be done to support your child in the meantime.

For children who have already had surgery, cochlear implant centres have been bringing forward appointments and continuing to work their way through switch-ons. There are a few children left to see but teams are planning to see them in the next week or so. Teams will carry out all follow ups remotely where possible. 

Disability benefits

It should still be possible to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions for Disability Living Allowance (DLA - for under 16s) or Personal Independence Payments (PIP - for 16s and over). However, there may be delays in handling your application. If successful, any benefits will be back-dated to when the application was first made.

The Department for Work and Pensions have announced that if your child’s DLA or PIP was due to be reviewed or reassessed in the next month, this will be postponed and your child will continue to receive their benefit at the same level as they do now.

In addition, all face-to-face assessments for PIP are being postponed for the next three months. Instead, officials will look instead at written information that’s already been provided as well as gathering further evidence from other professionals. Young people should be contacted by the health assessment provider if they had an assessment booked in the next few weeks.

It is possible that the health assessment provider may ask to speak with your child over the telephone to collect further evidence. We have asked the Department for Work and Pensions to consider the appropriateness of this for deaf young people. If this happens to your child, we encourage you to contact the health assessment provider to explain that your child cannot use the phone (if this is the case) and to agree an alternative approach. This might include a video call, jointly with the assessor and an interpreter (using technology such as Zoom) or a webchat. Please contact our Helpline if this situation arises.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal is still considering any appeals on decisions made about your child’s DLA or PIP. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, the Appeals Service is still considering appeals. These will be carried out by telephone or video. If you have a hearing scheduled in the coming few weeks please call Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Services (HMCTS) on 0300 123 1142 or (for Northern Ireland) the Appeals Service on 0208 9054 4000 to clarify the status of your hearing. As yet, it is unclear how these will be made accessible to deaf young people. Please contact our Helpline for support and advice on this.

Supporting and reassuring children

We all know how important it is to look after our children's physical health, but their mental health is just as important. Many children are feeling anxious about current events and changes to their usual routine. Have a look at our webpages for ideas on how to support your child's emotional wellbeing. You can also take a look at Public Health England guidance to families on promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing at this time.

Deaf young people can also look at information about coronavirus on The Buzz website

Remember that “social distancing” should not mean social isolation. It is important to our health and well-being that we stay connected with friends and family, even when we can’t do this in person. Support may also be available through local groups for parents of deaf children in your area. Find out what support may be available in your area.

Also consider social media to connect with others and the use of video to communicate with friends and family using Skype, Facetime, Zoom or similar.

You might also like to download and read a free storybook created for children under the age of seven about the coronavirus. The book offers the opportunity to discuss the range of emotions arising from the current situation with young children and is available in different languages. 

Online safety

At this time, deaf children and young people are more likely to be using social media and virtual communication to keep in touch with others. This will be an important way of helping deaf young people to feel less isolated and to support their wellbeing. Now is a good time to remind your child how to keep themselves safe online.

Get in touch

There are a wide range of other issues that will affect deaf children and their families and we will keep this post updated with any new advice. We are keen to hear from you about any other issues and welcome your advice on how you are handling particular challenges. You can share these with us by emailing [email protected].

And remember, if you would like information or advice about anything related to your child, please do get in touch with our Helpline.

Last updated: 2 April 2020 8.30am. We aim to update this blog as soon as any new information is made available.