Kerena Marchant: What I will tell Surrey County Council Cabinet today about joint funding for Deaf services

Posted on November 24, 2015

Kerena Marchant, from Surrey, started a petition about Surrey County Council’s decision to create a joint tender for services for both blind and deaf people in the area. After her petition got enough signatures, she was given the chance to speak directly to the Council’s cabinet to ask them to change how they provide deaf services. Ahead of that address this afternoon, she has shared what she will say with this site. Below are her words, which describe her views:

The Deaf Community of Surrey ask the Council to revoke the decision for a single tender for VI and DEAF Services and to commission them separately.

The motion that the Cabinet is about to table is:

  • Unconstitutional – for example it doesn’t meet The Social Value Leglisation of 2013
  • It doesn’t meet the principals and provison of the Children and Families Act of 2014 which covers children and young adults up to 25
  • The consultation process failed to give the Deaf community full access
  • Consequentially the Equality Impact assessment is flawed and fails to raise the high risk of this cash saving strategy
  • IF in the light of this the council go ahead and single tender they will have failed legally and morally with a high risk strategy that will result in disengagement and tragedy.

You will note that I have used the word Deaf not hearing impaired. That is deliberate! Deafness is not a medical/health need it is a cultural identity.

The Deaf community are a cultural, linguistic minority with quite specific and specialised needs. Our language is BSL with its own distinct grammar syntax which is different to English and it has no written or spoken form. It underpins our cultural identity and the way we do things – we need visual references not words.

We are a community that needs a range of specialised professionals working with us in the local community if we are to engage in services. We (Deaf) find it IMPOSSIBLE to access services and consultations conducted in English.

This goes beyond the provision of equipment and an interpreter. Specialist social workers train for 3 years in complex Deaf issues. Fluency in BSL qualifications take at least 6 years. Other staff working with the Deaf need specialist training and skills.

Joint funding (health/social care) has started nationally and it is and will be a disaster for this community resulting in no access to services and serves to increase disengagement and risk. Only last Saturday the Deaf community in Bristol were campaigning in the streets about this.

National and local Social services provision to our community must be:

  • accessible,
  • specialist
  • culturally appropriate

or the Deaf community will be cut off from all support and services with dire consequences.

For example it is known from research that Deaf children and adults are substantially at risk from mental health problems, more than non deaf people, and with a national shortage of deaf specialist inpatient facilities access to specialised Deaf mental health support and services in the local community is critical. Recently a young deaf man I know committed suicide due to lack of specialised support in the community. He is not alone.

  • Single service tendering has led to deaf people not being able to access services like housing, employment, support with benefits in a form that is accessible to them. We need specialised SWs trained in the needs of the Deaf community fluent in BSL who can engage direct.
  • there are needless S47 investigations against deaf parents due simple communication/cultural breakdowns between these families hearing SW and professionals with no awareness of Deaf culture.
  • Deaf children and young people up to 25 are facing increased mental health issues in mainstream provision and their EHCPs don’t include local offers of specialised Deaf support. I know a young Deaf adult in Surrey who can’t access the EHCP process due to no BSL access and skilled professionals contrary to the principles of the 2014 Children and Families Act.

This service must provide skilled Deaf signing staff and hearing staff with full BSL, trained in meeting the specific needs of this community, and full BSL access to all services provided from first contact via skype, face time, to engagement with signing professionals SWs equipment accessors and technicians etc. This is not a generic provision, it is highly specialised.

Historically the Surrey County Council flagship Deaf Services team effectively met the needs of the Deaf community until it transferred to a new social enterprise in 2011 as First Point.

However this move saw a decline in effectiveness of the service as Social services department found co-working with First Point too costly in terms of buying in specialist social workers and interpreters. Leaving this high risk community at the hands of non-specialists with disastrous consequences.

I can give you examples of Deaf people who have had to endure generic hearing SWs due to this and have disengaged from SS and other support services.

It has also led to highly specialist staff resigning and going to work elsewhere with an escalation of this with the move to single tendering and Sight for Surrey, non specialist provider, taking over the tender. Deaf signing professionals don’t want to work in joint services – how can a deaf person like me communicate effectively with a blind person?

And we would like to know if the commissioning brief included specialised professionals including social workers. Did the successful bid include this provision? No it is minor issues like equipment and lip reading classes and some interpreting.

The whole move to single tender was flawed from conception day in January 2015 to the awarding of the tender to Sight for Surrey.

The Deaf community were NOT appropriately consulted throughout the process. Their language communication and cultural needs were ignored through the process. And now we have a provider with no expertise in Deafness. And expert professionals are leaving.

Talking to Deaf people who attended “conception” day in Woking in January 2015 and reading the minutes, we were referred to as hard of hearing. Interpreters were there but the day was presented through English making it hard for the interpreters to fully translate and explain concepts and jargon.

At the conclusion of the day Deaf representatives were left asking what is happening? Why single tender? What does this mean?. We didn’t understand the jargon. This is not how you consult with a minority group with specific access requirements. Nowhere in this process have the comissioning team met with the Deaf community direct nor explained the agenda behind this joint commissioning in a form that is accessible to them.

An invitation to a September meeting to discuss the tender by Sight for Surrey – insensitively called a listening meeting!! – was advertised in sign by a very basic signers, a volunteer, not registered or listed as a qualified interpreter. Even I struggled to understand the signing.

At the meeting non registered signers/volunteers of basic level were used ie not intepreters and the standard of interpretation was low leading to more confusion and frustration.

Now Sight for Surrey have taken over the tender Deaf people have been forgotten. Look at the Sight for Surrey Web page The Sight for Surrey current web page describes the service as “committed to working with the blind and partially sighted people in Surrey”.

Since they took over the tender in October, Deaf people report they can’t even contact them. There are no video phones with signing staff on the other end. The web site and face book pages are not accessible to Deaf people nor or promote Deaf services. The result is confusion, anger and disengagement. A recent school holiday club mixed Deaf and blind children – this is not appropriate not what deaf children need ie communication stress of non deaf children.

I therefore invite this meeting to reconsider and ask does this tragedy fulfils the commissioning aims. Behind the decision to single tender?

It is not effective – is leading and has led to the disengagement of the Deaf community

People don’t get lost across the services – deaf can’t even contact Sight for Surrey, information is not accessible and the community is disengaging with tragic consequences

Combining leads to a better continurity for individuals and carers – cant access services, specialist professionals have left

Is it better value for money when a whole community are cast adrift from social services and their support given to a non specialist provider and depleted. Social value and value for Money are now a statutory requirement by law and this tender does not achieve that.

Please reconsider. Please at least keep the contract for Frist Point going past 1 Feb while we reconsider. Adhere to social practice leglislation and don’t make cuts that fall short.

Don’t cast the vulnerable Deaf community adrift deprived of access to vital services and support. They have a right to these services and please respect the democratic process of this petition.

Kerena Marchant was a BBC Producer/director for 20 years working in different departments. She now works for the Court Service sitting on particularly Social Security and Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination appeals.

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