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Hear Us Now: creating a sound future for deaf children

4 min read

Parliament has the power to improve outcomes for deaf children. When early and effective support is in place, and access to this support is universal, deaf children can achieve the same things in life as their hearing peers. This support can also unlock significant economic benefits. But this is not currently happening.

The response from Members across the House to our #HearUsNow campaign has been fantastic, most recently by donning colourful outfits for Loud Shirt Day and hearing directly from young deaf children about the impact of early support at our Power of Speech event. But together we have more to do. Deaf children and their families deserve more.

All children have the right to develop language and communication so they can achieve their potential in life. For children who are born deaf, early and effective support is vital if they are to develop the language and communication skills they need to get an equal start at school.

There is not a “one size fits all” approach to providing support for deaf children and their families. Like any family, they have different needs and wants for their child and their futures. Some will choose sign language, some spoken language and some will use both. What is important is that there is equitable access to the services and support in the critical early years of their lives. 

Government and Parliament can and should raise the expectations of deaf children across the UK

Yet all too often, financial, practical and limited access to skilled practitioners in the health and education services mean that families of deaf children are not able to access the support they need. Deaf children continue to be at risk of lower academic achievement, poorer employment prospects, and at higher risk of bullying and social exclusion. This should not be the case. 

In the United Kingdom, we have a fantastic newborn hearing screening programme and state of the art hearing technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, available on the NHS. But we are not seeing the outcomes that we know are possible and are evidenced internationally. We lag behind countries including Australia, Denmark and New Zealand in our provision of early support for families of deaf children. 

For 20 years the charity Auditory Verbal UK has been directly supporting families of young deaf children who wish for them to develop listening and spoken language, with the specialist programme of auditory verbal therapy. This particular approach equips and empowers parents with the tools to develop their child’s listening, talking, thinking and social skills, maximising hearing technology. Eight in 10 children who spend two or more years on our Auditory Verbal programme achieve the same spoken language as their hearing peers, rising to 97 per cent of children without additional needs. Most attend mainstream schools. But 92 per cent of deaf children do not have the option to access this support.  

Auditory Verbal UK has launched a new strategy that is urgently calling on the government to make sure every family, who wants their deaf child to learn to listen and talk, is able to access an Auditory Verbal programme through NHS and local service provision. To do this we need to invest in specialists and train a small proportion of the current workforce of speech and language therapists, audiologists and teachers of the deaf, and mandate Auditory Verbal therapy on the pathway as an option for families.  

Economic analysis shows that an investment of just over £2m a year for 10 years would deliver £152m of economic benefit in the same period. This rises to £11.7bn over 50 years through improved quality of life, employment prospects and lower costs of schooling.

Government and Parliament can and should raise the expectations of deaf children across the UK. By delivering equity of access to Auditory Verbal therapy we can unlock significant social and economic benefits and enable many more deaf children to have the same opportunities in life as their hearing peers. It is time to Hear Us Now.

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