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Supporting families with deaf children - coronavirus info for professionals

Published Date: 15 Oct 2021

We recognise that professionals are continuing to work hard to ensure that families and deaf children continue to receive the support they need, despite the continuing challenges around coronavirus. In response to a range of questions and issues that have been raised with us by professionals, this blog sets out our position on a) remote working and b) catch-up support for deaf students.

Remote working

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many ‘visiting’ or professionals working in a peripatetic role (such as Teachers of the Deaf and speech and language therapists) have replaced face-to-face support with remote support to deaf children, young people, their families and education settings. Multi-disciplinary meetings have also been hosted remotely.

Professionals have reported to us that remote working brings a number of benefits, including:

  • reduced travel time, leading to increased capacity as well as potential cost savings
  • in some cases, improved engagement with deaf children and young people, families and professionals
  • improved attendance in multi-disciplinary meetings.

In making any decisions around whether and how to continue these remote ways of working, we believe that services and professionals should consider:

1) Avoid any blanket policies; consider the individual needs of deaf children and young people and families

Whilst support can sometimes be provided remotely, this will not always be the most effective way of meeting the family’s needs.

In terms of home visits in the early years, reasons why a face-to-face visit may be more effective or necessary include:

  • family has limited IT to be able to carry out virtual calls
  • there is a need to provide coaching or demonstrate or model good practice which cannot be done effectively remotely
  • the family would benefit from emotional support that cannot be done effectively remotely
  • to carry out accurate and effective assessments and monitoring
    when fitting or checking equipment, such as radio aids
  • concerns about safeguarding and a need to see a child in person.

In terms of visits to deaf children in education settings, reasons why a face-to-face visit may be more effective or necessary include:

  • IT within the school is unreliable or the education setting is unable to provide appropriate facilities or supervision
  • the child struggles to engage in virtual calls and/or there is need to engage interactively with the child to support their learning
  • to carry out accurate and effective assessments and monitoring
  • when checking equipment, such as radio aids. This includes checking whether the equipment is being used appropriately by the child’s teacher and support staff
  • to develop positive rapport with a deaf child.

In any risk assessments around whether to conduct face-to-face visits, we expect services and professionals to consider the risks to a child’s development if support is not provided face-to-face.

Such risks are likely to be higher in the early years if families do not receive the support they need to support a deaf child’s language development. Given the importance of early intervention services in the early years, the National Deaf Children’s Society believes there needs to be a particular focus on restoring face-to-face support, as much as possible, where this is likely to benefit the child and family.

Government guidance sets out the steps that can be taken to reduce risk, including social distancing, etc.

We acknowledge that, in some cases, there may be no alternative but to provide support remotely for a short period (for example, because of a local lockdown or if someone in the household has coronavirus symptoms). Professionals should ensure that support can still be provided remotely, as much as possible.

At the same time, the National Deaf Children’s Society will challenge any blanket policies on face-to-face support that do not take into account the individual needs of deaf children or their families. We may also campaign against such policies, refer to the Government or, as a last resort, consider legal action.

2) The use of any savings from remote working

The National Deaf Children’s Society believes that any savings generated from remote working should be invested in improving and widening service provision.

This might include, for example, increasing the frequency of visits to some children, widening the service offer to children with perceived ‘lesser’ needs, such as mild, unilateral or temporary hearing loss, and/or increasing support to post-16 deaf young people with transitions.

Any move to remote working should be done because it will benefit deaf children and their families and increase capacity. We will not support any moves to remote working where this is being done solely as a cost-cutting measure. There can be no justification for cutting budgets as long as there remains an attainment gap between some deaf and hearing children and as long there is any kind of ‘rationing’ of support to those with perceived ‘lesser’ needs.

3) Consider how it will create opportunities for networking and information sharing

In terms of multi-disciplinary meetings, concern has been expressed to us that remote meetings do not always allow for more informal networking or information sharing. We encourage professionals to consider these factors in any decisions on remote meetings with colleagues by, for example, allowing periodic face-to-face meetings where considered beneficial.

Catch-up support

Deaf children and young people have faced significant disadvantages in accessing education since the coronavirus pandemic began, with many struggling to follow online lessons or understand their teachers where face coverings are being worn in classrooms. Ensuring that they receive appropriate and accessible catch-up support must be a priority if we are to prevent further disadvantage.

Deaf students will clearly benefit from many of the same catch-up strategies already being deployed in many schools and colleges – such as small groups, 1-1 support and extra-curricular activities.

However, some interventions may not be appropriate, depending on the individual needs of deaf students. For example, any proposal to lengthen the school day may cause issues for some deaf students in terms of listening fatigue and overload.

Parents of deaf children tell us that they are not always confident that necessary steps are being taken to ensure that catch-up support is appropriate and accessible.

As with all education matters, we expect education settings to have regard to the individual needs of deaf students when developing or delivering catch-up programmes. We believe that advice from a Teacher of the Deaf should be sought to ensure that any interventions are appropriate to the deaf student. This will be especially important if the intervention is being delivered by someone who has not worked with the deaf student before.

Teachers of the Deaf will also have an important role to play in using appropriate specialised assessments to identify what progress deaf students have made.

We also believe that UK Departments for Education must ensure that there is sufficient funding available to ensure that all deaf students can receive appropriate and targeted catch-up support. They should also set clear expectations that Teachers of the Deaf be involved in advising on deaf-friendly strategies.

Where any catch-up support is being provided remotely, education settings must ensure that all necessary reasonable adjustments are made to ensure these are accessible and appropriate to deaf students. We expect UK Governments to reiterate these messages in government guidance.

In light of the disruption that deaf students have experienced, it is possible that some young people currently taking qualifications may want to pursue the option to repeat a year in school or college (e.g. those in year 11 or 13 in England). They may also seek additional support for English and Maths in further education. Whilst we acknowledge this may not be an appealing option to many deaf students, we believe it is important that they are supported to pursue this option if they make an informed choice to do and that funding is available to them to do so.

Issues around catch-up support cannot be divorced from wider systemic issues relating to deaf education. For example, the long-term decline in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf will make it harder for specialist education services to ensure that deaf students and education settings can receive the expert advice and support they need. UK Governments must also act to address these wider issues.

More information

Professionals may also be interested in our coronavirus blogs for families on the following topics: