Thursday, February 25, 2010

Deaf children 'being failed by local authorities'

Deaf children 'being failed by local authorities'

Almost two-thirds of local authorities in England are failing deaf children and their families, research suggests.

The University of Manchester study of 57 authorities found 60% did not view deaf children as "children in need", despite being defined as such in law.

The report, for the National Deaf Children's Society, said deaf children were 3.4 times more likely to be abused and 40% had mental health problems.

It raised major concern over deaf children's protection, the NDCS said.


The research found that only about a third of local authorities had specialist teams or arrangements with designated responsibility for deaf children and their families.

This research shows widespread lack of awareness among social care services of deaf children's needs
Brian Gale, National Deaf Children's Society

Where there were "children's disability teams", they were unlikely to have any specialist expertise in this area.

"The lack of specialist knowledge and expertise was significant because it demonstrably hampered teams from being able appropriately to recognise the seriousness of a presenting problem when it concerned a deaf child," the report said.

Four authorities were found to have no designated services arrangements at all for deaf children and their families.

And in 46% of the authorities assessed, there were no qualified social workers who worked with deaf children and their families either as part or whole of their job remit.

'Optimum outcomes'

More than 50% said they had no formal referral arrangements between social work and education professionals, and nearly 45% said they had no formal referral arrangements between social work and health professionals.

Only 37% of local authorities surveyed showed evidence of co-working arrangements between child protection teams and specialist social workers, and 18% described a situation in which there was no co-working at all.

"There is clear evidence, on a widespread basis, of poor integrated children's services arrangements in respect of deaf children and their families," the report said.

The report said the findings were of concern because deaf children were at "particular risk of a range of less than optimum outcomes".

"They are 3.4 times more likely than hearing children to experience abuse; 40% will experience mental health problems in childhood; educational attainments lag significantly behind national averages.

"Deaf children, whether using spoken or signed language, face significant challenges in achieving normative linguistic, cognitive and psychosocial development."

Child protection

NDCS policy and campaigns director Brian Gale said the findings raised serious concerns about the protection of deaf children.

"This research shows widespread lack of awareness among social care services of deaf children's needs. In addition to the increased risk of abuse, 40% of deaf children will experience mental health problems.

"It is vital that local safeguarding children boards take heed of this research and improve their child protection arrangements for deaf children before it is too late."

Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said: "We are committed to transforming and improving services and support available to disabled children and their families, and are investing over three-quarters of a billion pounds from 2008 to 2011 through the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme.

"We know that disabled children are more vulnerable and need more specialist care which is why last year we published new guidance to help safeguard disabled children.

"This recommends that all those working with deaf children, including social workers should be trained in deaf awareness and disability equality."

Ann Baxter, a spokeswoman for the Association of Directors of Children's Services said: "Every child, whether they have a disability or not, who may require significant support over and above the services provided to all children, should receive an assessment of their needs and receive a package of services that meets those needs.

"Universal services, such as schools, will also strive to be flexible enough to accommodate particular requirements of their pupils, whatever their needs, where necessary referring the child to the specialist support of local authorities or other partners."

The University of Manchester research is published in Every Child Journal.

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