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Coronavirus and support for deaf children – information for professionals

Published Date: 04 Jun 2020

The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) will have a significant impact on how deaf children and their families are supported in the coming months. We recognise that professionals are already taking exceptional steps to keep services running. We also know that professionals will already be thinking about, and making plans to mitigate against, the many difficulties and challenges that we will experience in the coming months.

This post summarises our advice to professionals in this area. It also shares some of the tips that are being circulated by other professionals on other forums. We will keep this page updated with any new issues or advice that emerges.

Information about coronavirus for families 

We’ve produced a separate post for families and information for deaf young people about coronavirus – please do share this with the families you’re working with. This includes information about accessible information for deaf parents and deaf young people who use British Sign Language (BSL).

Closure of schools 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. The different governments are taking different approaches to the re-opening of schools, as set out below.

England

Currently, schools are remaining open, as much as possible, for children of key workers and children who are the most vulnerable.

The definition of ‘vulnerable’ children includes those who have an Education, Health and Care plan. Previously, Government advice was that these children should only attend school if they had significant other needs that meant they could not be safely cared for at home. This advice has now changed and the Government now expects and encourages ‘vulnerable’ children to start to return to school now, where appropriate.

The Government has asked education settings to prepare for a phased re-opening in June for other pupils, as follows:

From the 1st June

  • All early year settings – although some may need to impose a cap on the numbers who can attend.
  • Primary aged pupils who are in reception year, year 1 or year 6 – i.e. those children who started primary school in the last year, or will be moving onto secondary school in the autumn. The Government has indicated that it hopes to allow other primary aged pupils return to school before the end of June.
  • Special schools can re-open more widely to all pupils as they see fit.

From the 15th June

  • Pupils who are in year 10 or 12 will not be returning to school or college full-time – but they may be asked to return for some face-to-face time to support their home learning. This is to help them prepare for exams next year.
  • Specialist post-16 institutions can re-open more widely to all pupils as they see fit.

The Government has said it’s keeping its plans for school re-openings under review. This means that the above plans may change. The Government has also said that not all education settings may be able to re-open to all pupils to the above timetable. 

In order to limit the spread of coronavirus and keep children and teachers safe, children can expect some changes when they return. These include:

  • Class sizes will be reduced to smaller groups of no more than 15. Some groups may be led by a teaching assistant, working under the supervision of a teacher.
  • There will be limited mixing of groups within the school. Break times are likely to be staggered.
  • Classroom layouts may change.
  • Drop-off and pick-up times are also likely to be staggered.
  • Children will be expected to wash their hands regularly and follow new rules around social distancing.
  • Some education settings may introduce a ‘part-time’ timetable with a mix of onsite and home learning. This means that some children may be asked to come in for part of the day and to learn at home for other parts of the day.
  • Some teachers and teaching assistants may not be able to return to school if they have medical conditions which mean they’re more vulnerable to coronavirus.

The use of face masks in education settings is not recommended by the Government. Exceptions to this are if a child has personal care needs which means protective equipment would normally be used anyway, or if a child develops coronavirus symptoms whilst at the education setting.

We anticipate that there may also be changes to how deaf children receive specialist support. In particular:

  • Education settings may want to restrict the number of external visitors coming in. This means it’s likely that peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf will not be able to carry out face-to-face visits in the same way they did before in many areas. Instead, support and advice may need to be provided remotely.
  • Teaching assistants or communication support workers may be used differently. For example, they may be asked to ‘lead’ groups within the school. They will also be asked to observe social distancing rules when supporting individual children.
  • There may also be new hygiene restrictions around handling or sharing equipment or devices, such as radio aids. This should be done carefully to avoid damage to the radio aid – see later section on Handling radio aids.

We encourage parents, schools and Teachers of the Deaf to discuss how any return to school will work in practice and how deaf children will be supported. Whilst we recognise the challenges in this area, we encourage professionals to continue to be creative and flexible in ensuring that deaf children receive the support they need, as much as possible. The Department for Education has said that education settings are expected to liaise with external agencies to plan for the return of children with SEND.

Even if deaf children fall into the category of those who can return to school, they should not attend school if:

  • They are displaying symptoms of coronavirus.
  • They have a medical condition which means they’ve been asked to ‘shield’ from others.
  • Someone in their house has been asked to shield, and there is a concern that the child will not be able to follow or understand rules around social distancing.

Our advice to families is that if they are concerned that their child should not be attending school for health reasons, they should seek medical advice and discuss their concerns with the education setting.

Children are encouraged to return to education, as appropriate and if requested by the education setting. However, parents will not be fined for non-attendance at this time. 

More information is available in the following government documents:

Wales

Schools in Wales will reopen to all pupils from the 29 June, with the summer term extended by a week - therefore ending on 27 July. The Welsh Government has stated that:

  • Each school will implement a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.
  • In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
  • There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.
  • Pupils are expected to attend school. However, families will not be fined if they do not send their children to school this term.
  • Children and teachers who are shielding or at more risk, including pregnant workers, are not expected to return this term. This also applies for pupils and teachers who live with relatives who are shielding.

In the meantime, schools are expected to remain open for children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Further education colleges have been asked to prepare to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners.

More information from the Welsh Government can be found here.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

Education settings will remain closed for the foreseeable future – except for children of key workers and children who are the most vulnerable.

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 have been 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:

In Northern Ireland, the Government is funding additional emergency childcare provision to care for vulnerable children and children of key workers, using a more restricted definition of ‘key workers’.  

In Scotland, the Government has said that schools will start to re-open from the 11th August, depending on scientific advice. They have also said that:

  • There will likely be a blended approach – where children are taught at school part of the time and otherwise at home for the other.
  • Classroom layouts may change.
  • Drop-off and pick-up times are also likely to be staggered.
  • Children will be expected to wash their hands regularly and follow new rules around social distancing.

More information is available from the Scottish Government.

Handling radio aids

We don’t believe that the handling of radio aids presents a risk which is any larger or smaller than the risk of handling any other devices within a school in relation to the coronavirus.

The NHS advises that everyone should wash their hands with soap and water frequently. Regular hand-washing will help to reduce the risk of surfaces of any devices being contaminated. 

Where there is a specific concern, we understand that radio aids can be wiped in the same way as mobile phones. However, professionals must take care to ensure that any cleaning is done in a way which ensures the device does not get wet. Any moisture entering the device could result in damage. Teachers of the Deaf should ensure that education settings are clear on how to do this safely. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have produced advice on this. 

Remote support for deaf children

Many schools and colleges are introducing some form of remote or online teaching to ensure students can continue to access education. Other schools and colleges may provide workbooks and written tasks for students to complete. 

It is important that schools and colleges take steps to ensure these are, as much as possible, accessible and appropriate for deaf students. Peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf will have a key role to play in supporting education settings to make these adjustments according to the individual needs of deaf students.

Key considerations will include:

  • Ensuring that any online content is subtitled. Some education providers are adding subtitles to some of their online content – e.g. BBC Bitesize daily lessons whilst many of the videos at the Oak National Academy are subtitled and BSL interpreted. We are challenging other providers to follow suit. For online teaching, some software (e.g. Google Hangouts and Microsoft Team) is available with automatic speech-recognition translation – however, the feedback we have from young people is that the reliability of this can vary.
  • Additional communication support, beyond what they would normally receive, may be required for deaf young people to access online teaching. Remote speech-to-text support and BSL interpreting are now both well-established and can be delivered through software for online meetings (e.g. Zoom). Professionals should explore the availability of funding to support this.
  • Ensuring that deaf children and young people are able to take radio aids home with them. For many deaf children, radio aids will support them in being able to continue their learning and access sound on their computers, tablets or mobiles. Radio aids may also help them to keep in touch with family and friends and avoid feelings of isolation. Deaf children and their families should be provided with information on how to manage radio aids independently and carefully, including how to troubleshoot any issues. Given the alternative is to deny deaf children access to education, we expect local authorities to waive any requirements they might have around insurance at this time.
  • Establishing mechanisms for deaf children to keep in touch with their education setting, any specialist support staff and their Teacher of the Deaf. Options include Facebook groups, Skype video calls or webchats, FaceTime, Zoom conference calls, Google Hangout, Microsoft Team, etc. Professionals may need to be creative in finding solutions. Our website features a blog from an auditory verbal therapist on telepractice, which colleagues may find helpful. Separately, although aimed at deaf adults in the workplace, a blog on The Limping Chicken website helpfully summarises the different options available for video calls.

If you are working with deaf students in Higher Education, a blog on the Wonkhe website summarises the issues that deaf students may face at this time. Deaf young people in Higher Education may need to ask for additional funding from Disabled Students Allowance for any additional communication support needed.

The Welsh Government have issued FAQs for students in higher education, which covers advice for students with additional learning needs. In England, the Department for Education has produced guidance on ‘SEND risk assessments’. The guidance suggests that local authorities, education settings and parents should consider moving equipment (such as “sensory equipment”) or services (such as online sessions or telephone support for parents in developing interventions) into the home. Qualified Teachers of children with sensory impairments are cited as examples of professionals who could be involved in designing/adapting interventions or learning materials.

Guidance to support home learning can be found on the UK Government websites:  

The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf website also includes a list of useful resources for home learning.

In these challenging times, it is recognised that local authorities may need to redeploy staff, including Teachers of the Deaf, to support the most vulnerable children. We encourage professionals to work together to explore the most effective ways of providing critical support, whilst maintaining, as much as possible, peripatetic support to deaf children and families as needed.

Exams

All school and college examinations have been cancelled across the UK. Any final grades will be calculated using a range of evidence, including teacher assessment, coursework and mock exam results. We encourage Teachers of the Deaf to inform this process, as much as possible, to ensure that a deaf child’s final grade reflects their ability.

Any final grade will have the same status as any grades given to pupils in normal years.

At the moment, if students are not happy with their results when they are released in August, they can take written exams or assessments in the autumn. However, this might mean a young person not being able to move to the education provider of their choice in September. Our advice to young people if they are worried that they will not get the grades they need is to have a plan B and to think about what courses they could do as an alternative. They should not postpone thinking about this until August.

It is not yet clear if and how it will be possible to appeal a calculated grade. We understand that an appeal will only be allowed if the school or college can argue that an administrative error was made.

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

A similar approach is being taken for vocational qualifications. Teachers will be asked to calculate an expected grade, drawing from a range of evidence including results of previous assessments taken. However, there will be some qualifications where some kind of assessment will still be required. This will generally be for qualifications where very specific skills are required to enter a particular profession.

Further information is available from the UK Government websites:

We understand that some universities are carrying out assessments/examinations remotely. Universities should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that any such assessments are accessible (including provision of extra time if that had been previously agreed) 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.

Moving on from school and college

It’s important that deaf young people who were due to move on from school or college this summer do not postpone making preparations for moving on to what they want to do next - whether that is college, university or work-based training. To do nothing now would risk a young person not having their education in place for the autumn or being left without support. Teachers of the Deaf or other professionals who normally support transitions to college or university should still seek to support remotely, as much as possible.  

Where a child has an Education, Health and Care plan, statement of special educational needs or a coordinated support plan, a review meeting should have taken place to plan next steps. For young people in England and Wales, it is important that their new education provider is named on their plan/statement. The legal deadline for this to have happened is the 31st March.

Review meetings can be held online. Additional communication support should be provided as needed to ensure deaf young people can fully access this meeting and feed into the plan. Young people and their families should still expect to receive all relevant paperwork in advance to prepare for the meeting.

Colleges are currently accepting applications and deaf young people should still try and reach the learning support/disability teams to talk to staff about their arrangements for the next academic year through online meetings (with communication support provided by the college if necessary).

If a young person is moving onto higher education this September then they can contact the disability advisor for their preferred university from which they have received a conditional offer. They can request a meeting to talk about the support that needs to be in place by next September. If communication support is required for the meeting then the university should set this up.

If a young person is wanting to visit universities to decide which universities to list on their UCAS form next year then they will have to wait until this is possible. In the meantime, they can check out the information different universities have on their website for disabled students. If there is a lot of useful info on the website for disabled young people and accessible materials (e.g. subtitled videos) then this will probably be a good sign.

Deaf young people expecting to start higher education in September should still be applying for Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) if they require any communication support or technology in higher education. It may take longer than normal to obtain the medical evidence of deafness required for the application process which needs to come from a GP or audiologist. DSA assessment centres should still be open and offering DSA assessments remotely through video or phone, providing communication support when needed.

Careers advice  

Careers advisors may be less accessible now to support young people with making decisions about what to study next or where they want to work. However, schools, colleges (and careers organisations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) can still make arrangements for careers advisors to be accessed online. Young people can also use webchat to contact national careers services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Young people can also find careers information on our website on work and careers for deaf people.

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

New laws (the Coronavirus Act 2020) have been passed that allow local authorities in England and Northern Ireland to effectively ‘suspend’ a child’s statement or Education, Health and Care plan. Instead, local authorities have to do their best (to use “reasonable endeavours”) to meet the support needs set out in a plan or statement. Local authorities and schools are expected to work pragmatically and flexibly with parents, as much as possible, to ensure a child’s continuing needs are met.

The suspension of statements or plans is time-limited and the Governments in England and Northern Ireland are required to issue a new notice every month if they think local authorities need this flexibility.

The Coronavirus Act allows local authorities in Wales to do the same. However, at the time of writing, these powers are not in force.

What does reasonable endeavours mean in practice?

The following section applies to England only and sets out our advice to families. Information for families in Northern Ireland about this issue is available on our website.

There is no single straightforward definition of what reasonable endeavours means – and what is reasonable in one situation may not be reasonable in another. There will be a range of different factors to be considered in deciding if a setting or local authority has done all they could reasonably do.

In addition, coronavirus is a crisis where, for all families, public health needs must take precedence. For example, speech and language therapists are being redeployed to provide critical care in health in many areas. One-to-one support may therefore no longer be possible in many cases. Separately, a large number of specialist staff may be unwell themselves or forced to self-isolate as a result of coronavirus.

The Government has issued some guidance around this but ultimately, the final arbiter of what is reasonable would be a judge in a court or Tribunal. However, we would expect to see the following approaches taken when considering what reasonable endeavours can be put in place:

  • Education settings and local authorities must look at each case individually to see what could be reasonably provided if what is normally provided or required is no longer possible. Specific levels of need or vulnerability should be taken into account.  There should be no ‘blanket’ policies or wholesale cancellation of support, plans or statements across an area.
  • Education settings and local authorities should work with families as much as possible to agree any changes. Families may have their own suggestions and ideas for how things could be done differently.
  • If what is normally provided or required is no longer possible, families should be given the reasons for this in writing, along with an explanation of what reasonable endeavours the local authority have used to ensure that the required support is still, as much as possible, provided, along with details of what will be provided instead.
  • A consideration of how to respond to the individual needs of children in creative and flexible ways, as many education settings and local authorities already are. This includes drawing on the wider skills of other staff or other families as appropriate.
  • Whether any reasonable endeavours themselves are likely to be accessible to deaf children and young people. It’s important to recognise that the needs of deaf children will vary – what’s accessible to one child, may not be accessible to another.

Whilst each individual case is different, below gives some examples of alternative arrangements that could be put into place that we believe could fit the criteria of ‘reasonable endeavours’:

  • Where deaf children and young people are known to have good use of their hearing for understanding spoken language, and/or known to have good lip-reading skills, using video conferencing instead of telephone appointments
  • Providing remote communication support as needed. For example, if providing online teaching or doing any kind of online assessment, we would expect the education setting/local authority to consider funding the cost of a remote speech to text reporter or a BSL interpreter. Similarly, if a deaf child uses a communication support worker in the classroom, exploring if this support can still be provided remotely or in different ways to support a deaf child can complete homework tasks, etc.
  • Provision of radio aids in the home. Individual bespoke insurance arrangements can be purchased if this is a concern. In any event, we would take the view that the need to ensure continued access to learning reasonably outweighs any insurance concerns.
  • If staff can no longer provide support remotely, providing a range of suggested, optional activities or interventions that families can chose to do if they are able to. Alternatively, considering if alternative staff who have some knowledge but not necessarily the right qualifications can be brought in to provide support.
  • Where appropriate and where it can be managed effectively, facilitating or making use of peer to peer support opportunities among families.

The Government in England has also relaxed some of the legal timescales around EHC plans and annual reviews. New laws have been passed which effectively suspend these and other timescales if the spread of coronavirus makes it difficult to meet the original timescale.

Instead, local authorities must instead meet their requirements as soon as “reasonably practical”. Again, there is no legal definition of what is reasonably practical. Our advice to families is that they feel that a delay is unreasonable or is for reasons unrelated to coronavirus, or if they feel that a delay will cause significant harm to their child, they should discuss this with the local authority. 

This is a temporary change. The Government has said that the previous legal timescales will come back into force on the 25th September.          

The new laws do not give local authorities the power to amend the contents of a plan. This means that, once any suspension is lifted, a child’s plan will have the same legal status that it did before. This is the case even if a parent accepted that changes were needed in the short-term, in response to the spread of coronavirus.

Local authorities also still have to carry out annual reviews of a child’s plan as soon as reasonably practical. Whilst the review may take a different form (e.g. it may be carried out virtually), the Government has stressed that young people must still be at the centre of the process. For deaf children, this may mean ensuring that remote communication support is provided to enable them to participate.

Where children are due to change schools this year, go to college or start an apprenticeship, the local authority should already have carried out a transfer review by the 31st March. The Government has made clear there is no change to the statutory deadline for this and, if there has been a delay, they need to be finalised as a priority.

More information about these changes to the law is available in government guidance. Families can also contact our Helpline for any information or advice on what these changes mean for their child.

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 operating on a limited basis due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Staff are able to process post and respond to e-mails. Parental SEN Appeals and Disability Discrimination Claims should still be filed by parents as usual and these are being registered and processed. Cases which are ready for hearing can be heard remotely by having a hearing on the papers alone; or by teleconference or secure video-link.
  • 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 is currently looking into setting up virtual hearings.

Supporting families

Peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf should consider how they will stay in contact with families (particularly those with children in their early years) if they are unable to carry out home visits. Options include Facebook groups, Skype video calls or webchats, FaceTime, Zoom conference calls, etc. Professionals may need to be creative in finding solutions. 

Professionals should consider what resources they can share with families so that they can support their child’s education if they aren’t able to attend school. For example, Teachers of the Deaf may wish to share our top tips blog or our Helping your deaf child to learn resources for families.

Our YouTube channel also has a range of video content that families and deaf young people may find useful.

Audiology

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. We understand that most audiology services are unable to provide routine face-to-face appointments at the moment, but audiologists are taking decisions on a case-by-case basis depending on whether they have facilities, staff and personal protective equipment available, and what the level of COVID-19 risk is locally at the time. Families are advised not to go to the audiology clinic unless they have spoken to their audiologist first and have been asked to attend.

For hearing aid repairs, families should phone, text or email their audiology clinic to find out how to get a repair locally. All audiology services offer a postal repair service. Families should be advised to make sure they remove the battery before putting the hearing aid in the post. If it is safe to do so, the audiology service may also have a box at clinic reception where faulty hearing aids can be left for repair (a friend or family member can drop this off if necessary). Our website features blogs on caring for your child’s hearing aids at home and troubleshooting technology which provides families with hints, tips and resources in this area.

It is sensible for families to make sure they have a supply of batteries in advance and the NHS will continue to supply at least two packets of batteries per hearing aid at any one time. Families should not wait until they have run out to request new ones. Families are advised to call or email their audiology clinic and they will arrange to post new batteries out to them.  

In an emergency, families can buy hearing aid batteries from Boots and other chemists, high street hearing aid dispensers or opticians.

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 families 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.

NHS and routine surgery

The NHS will not be carrying out any routine surgery in the next couple of months. 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. Each hospital will make the decision of whether to go ahead with cochlear implant surgery on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether they have facilities, staff and personal protective equipment available, and what the level of coronavirus risk is locally at the time. It is likely that routine surgeries will resume at different times across the country depending on the local risk at the time.

For children who have already had surgery, cochlear implant centres have been bringing forward appointments and continuing to work their way through switch-ons. Teams will carry out all follow-ups remotely where possible. 

Newborn hearing screening

At the current time, hospital-based newborn hearing screening services (which amounts to around 95% of services) will continue, with some changes to usual protocols and procedures. Community-based screening has stopped.

The British Academy of Audiology has produced guidance on essential activity, which includes the diagnostic testing of babies who have not passed the newborn hearing screen in both ears.

In practice, audiology services are continuing to offer diagnostic ABR appointments to all babies who require them when they are able to do so. Many report that parents were cancelling these appointments anyway. Some are already set up to do home visits for ABR assessments and are still offering this.

The implications of this are:

  • There will be a large number of families whose child’s screening results indicate a concern, but which cannot be formally identified by an audiologist for the near future. This is likely to cause anxiety for many families.
  • For children born in areas with a community screening model, there will be a need to screen a number of children at a later point. There is a risk that some children may fall through the net at this time.
  • There may be a significant backlog of referrals for both audiology and education services once audiology services re-open as normal.
  • There may be a number of children who will be identified as deaf later than would normally be expected. They may subsequently require more intensive early intervention support.

Families who are concerned about their child’s screening results can contact our helpline for information and advice.

Face masks

Communication for virtually all deaf children and young people, including those who use sign language, relies in part on being able to see someone’s face clearly – whether this is for lip-reading, understanding facial expressions or for understanding non-verbal communication more widely (e.g. seeing whether someone is smiling or looks upset).

Face marks can have the effect of obscuring speech, making it harder for deaf children to make use of any residual hearing they have.

Face masks therefore present specific challenges for deaf children and young people.

They are already being used in some situations for public health reasons (for example, in hospital settings). Governments in England, Northern Ireland are now also advising that people consider covering their face when in enclosed spaces (for example, such as when shopping or using public transport).

In England, where schools are starting to re-open, the use of face masks in education settings is not recommended by the Government, except in specific circumstances (for example, where a child demonstrates symptoms of coronavirus whilst at school).

Where it is necessary to wear face masks or coverings to comply with public health guidance, we encourage families and professionals to be flexible and creative in how they communicate with deaf children and young people, depending on the resources they have to hand and the situation they find themselves in. Options might include:

  • using alternative forms of communication – such as writing things down or via text messages, depending on the individual needs of the child
  • dictation or translation apps can sometimes provide a speech to text option when out and about – they do not always work perfectly, particularly if someone has a strong accent or if speech is muffled
  • using face masks with clear panels where the mouth can be seen or, better still, using face visors/shields. Our website includes information about how to make DIY clear face masks at home for those that would like to do so. Such DIY face masks would be for use by the general public, and not for use in health settings. 
  • ensuring the listening environment is as quiet as possible and making use of any other hearing technology used by a child (such as a radio aid)
  • communicating via a window/glass panel
  • considering the need for face-to-face meeting, and whether a video call could work as an alternative for individual deaf children
  • temporarily removing the face mask and communicating within the current safety guidance (e.g. ensuring hand washing before and after, not touching the face when the mask is removed, remaining within the social distancing guidelines of staying 2 metres apart).

These steps will help ensure that deaf children and young people can continue to communicate with others around them and access key information at this challenging time.

We have produced an infographic video that summarises the above top tips.

Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of two or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example primary school age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions.

Face masks or coverings may also present particular challenges to deaf children with speech impediments and/or facial disfigurements. More widely, it would significantly change the way that all children communicate. Some deaf children may therefore need emotional support and patience to get used to this. We will signpost to any useful resources we find on this.

We are calling on UK Governments to review the commissioning and availability of clear face masks.

You can read more about this issue in our separate blog on face masks.

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 applications. If successful, any benefits will be backdated to when the application was first made.

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

We understand that all face-to-face assessments for PIP are being postponed for the next three months. Instead, officials will look 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. Families should contact the health assessment provider to explain that the deaf young person 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. Families can 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 a 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. Families should contact 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 any hearing taking place in the next few weeks. As yet, it is unclear how these will be made accessible to deaf young people. Again, families can contact our helpline for support and advice on this.

Where families receive carers’ allowance, if they are temporarily unable to care for their child normally because they or their child have coronavirus symptoms, the Government has said this will not be treated as a ‘break’ in caring responsibilities for the purpose of this benefit. More information on this is available on the Contact website.

Supporting and reassuring children

We know that many children are feeling anxious about current events and changes in their usual routine.

Other professionals have shared with us 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. The World Health Organisation has also created a story book for children aged 6-11 years, also available in different languages.

Our website also includes information for families on how they can support their child’s emotional wellbeing. Public Health England has also produced guidance forto families on promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing at this time. Deaf young people can also look at information about staying positive on The Buzz website.

Many families will also be feeling anxious too. Families should be encouraged to stay connected with friends and family, even when face-to-face contact isn’t possible. In addition, support may be available through local groups for parents of deaf children.

Tragically, deaf children and young people may experience the loss of a family member due to the spread of coronavirus. The Child Bereavement Network provides advice to professionals on working with children experiencing bereavement at this time. 

Safeguarding considerations

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 deaf children and young people how to keep themselves safe online.

Whilst professionals may need to be flexible in how they keep in touch with families and deaf young people at this challenging time, there are a number of safeguarding and data protection issues that you will need to consider. These are to protect not only the deaf young person and the family, but also yourself from any misunderstandings or unfounded allegations. You should always refer to the safeguarding lead for your setting, service or local authority for any specific advice or queries.

In many cases, services or schools will be using video software like Skype or Zoom to keep in touch with deaf children and families. You should ensure, as much as possible, that all such virtual conversations take place in a communal space (i.e. not in a child’s bedroom) and with other family members present. In line with your usual practice, you should ensure there is transparency about when any such virtual conversations are taking place and that these are pre-arranged with the family so that all participants are ready and able to take part effectively.

Separately, we have been asked about the use of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is becoming a widely used tool for keeping in touch with either parent carers and/or deaf young people. However, it is not without its safeguarding or data protection risks. In particular, WhatsApp is not designed for ‘business’ use and will not fully comply with data protection requirements.

We advise against using WhatsApp, but if they are using it, professionals will need to consider how to mitigate such risks and whether alternative means of keeping in touch with families should be used. Specific issues to take into account when using WhatsApp with deaf children and young people include:

  • You must have consent to contact the family in this way. As above, we advise against using WhatsApp as a means to contact families and deaf young people, but if you are doing so you must have the adult’s consent and/or parental consent for any under 18-year-old to do this, as well as your manager’s and organisation’s explicit and written consent to do so.
  • Where appropriate, and taking into account issues around confidentiality, use group chat instead of individual conversations. For example, you could add a colleague or a parent to any conversations you’re having.
  • In line with usual safeguarding requirements, you should never use your personal mobile phone or give out your personal number to others. You should also never create or record any images of any individuals.

In light of the above, you should consider alternatives (such as private/closed Facebook groups) for conversations with families in line with the policy and procedures of your setting or service.  

The Government in England has produced guidance for professionals on safeguarding and remote education.

Keeping yourself safe

At this challenging time, professionals should also take steps to keep themselves safe and well. Guidance for employees can be found on the Government website.

Keep in touch

We encourage professionals to keep their local contacts and networks live and to continue to work together to troubleshoot specific issues that arise in their area. For example, Children’s Hearing Services Working Groups (CHSWGs) will continue to have a key role to play in ensuring that services are working well together.

Whilst workplace IT issues can sometimes be a barrier, we encourage professionals to be creative in addressing how they do this. As above, options include Facebook groups, Skype video calls or webchats, Microsoft Team, Google Hangouts, Zoom conference calls, etc. 

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 professionals about any other issues and welcome their advice on how they are handling particular challenges. You can share these with us by contacting [email protected].

And remember, if you would like information or advice about individual cases, please do get in touch with our helpline.