Wendy Anderson: Social work: a new journey? Part 2 (BSL)

Posted on May 9, 2017

In the second part of her feature on Social work, Wendy Anderson focuses on hearing parents of Deaf Children, shared here with kind permission of British Deaf News.

To watch this article in BSL, click here.

In my previous article, I described examples of how and when Children’s Services may become involved in the care and welfare of a child with deaf parents.

In the deaf world there are references to comparisons made between a child of deaf parents in receipt of Local Authority Statutory Children Services attention and a deaf child having parents who are hearing. The question it raises is: “Why is this”?

Whether a child is deaf or hearing their educational attainment is not a matter for statutory children services.

Let’s break this down a bit:

A deaf child born of hearing parents with no connection to deafness is first seen by health professionals. Where the child is deaf they are then referred to the Education support service. These services can refer the family to Children’s Services for support – but the family would have to agree.

Parents (hearing or deaf) are not always comfortable with the idea of meeting a Social Worker from a Children and Families Team.

Every parent wants the best for their child. What happens when the child does not develop speech and/or achieve good language vocabulary compared to its peers?

What, if anything, can anyone do?

There are two parts to this:

The first is educational achievement and what support a deaf child would need and the second is social inclusion/development after school and in the community.

Parents can seek support from an “Educational Health and Care Plan” where the Social Work and Education departments work with the parents and child to support their expressed wishes and needs.

The Code of Practice of EHCP says that children must be consulted with. If the child has no knowledge or exposure to sign language, deaf identity, deaf culture, and being deaf in a mainstream hearing environment – it’s tricky for the child to know what to request.

Indeed, in my experience I have observed a variety of deaf children together in a mainstream setting with differing communication needs, some use lipreading with cochlear implant, others need BSL support and wear cochlear implant.

But what if that person needing BSL support was alone? Who else can they share their BSL, language and culture with in a PHU unit? The BSL-user child has no equal access to language for communication.

Language Acquisition

What about deaf children growing up who find that speech does not develop? This could be for a variety of reasons such as a late diagnosis of deafness and subsequent medical intervention which has not been able to habilitate a deaf child into a hearing world?

Deaf children who struggle with the auditory/oral approach are at risk of falling behind in their language development. Not only this, what if language support in the classroom use level 2 sign language? Who measures and monitors the quality of British Sign Language in mainstream schools? Currently, to my knowledge, Ofsted does not monitor quality of lessons and educational attainment of deaf children. If they did, like CQC with Deaf “Experts by Experience”, Ofsted would have direct feedback from an independent deaf expert who is a specialist in education as well as a social and cultural perspective.

Without this input, it could lead to poor emotional awareness and poor socialisation if a deaf child cannot access the spoken language of the school playground. It could also lead to the perception that we cannot expect any more from the deaf child. Why are Children Services not involved, then? Do they need to be involved?

Some examples:

• deaf child late diagnosis of deafness, cochlear implants given, child now in secondary not able to speak, cannot communicate with their parents, communication from parents is through gestures, and struggles with concepts such as ‘what, why, last week, next week’. There are no underlying cognitive issues

• deaf child unable to attend deaf children’s events as parents cannot drive or have other children to care for

• deaf children not necessarily referred to Sensory C&F team

• no Sensory C&F team means many Social Workers in Children and Families Team have no awareness or understanding of deafness from a social and self-actualisation perspective.

• Children with mild/moderate hearing loss may not receive any additional support from the Education team and would not be referred to the Sensory Children and Families team

Should all deaf children have an independent advocate as part of their EHCP meeting? What about those deaf children in mainstream who wear hearing aids and get no other support?

Some good examples:

• Deaf children supported to attend regional deaf children’s events

• Deaf children supported to attend residential events during school holidays

• Parents using sign language as part of overall total communication

• Parents requesting support from EHCP Plan for social and community aspects

• Some good PHU Deaf units with high standard of BSL support workers for deaf children with good deaf awareness, understanding of deaf culture and deaf identity

No one is ruling out the rights of a deaf child to have equal access to its hearing peers and no one is judging whether a parent should allow oral/audible means as part of the child’s overall needs – if sign language was also introduced, the strongest method of communication will show itself as the child grows.

If sign language is introduced after other methods have not achieved then the language deprivation of the child is likely to be behind already. Concepts key to general understanding of the world around them become ‘lost’ to the deaf child.

If this were a hearing child deprived where their parents did not speak to them and there was no sound from the TV etc, would this be acceptable to the Social Work Team? The hearing child becomes language deprived and socialisation and emotional well-being could become an issue. What’s the difference therefore with a deaf child?

The lack of Deaf specialist Sensory Children and Families Teams across the UK means that this pattern could continue. Even if there were Sensory Children and Families Teams, it is up to the parents to agree to be referred to them to explore further support needs and even then, the parents would need to be informed of its existence from the Education team.

Support, if eligible, could be through the Education Health and Care Plan (using S17 Child in Need as part of the Children’s Act 1989). Until society backs free universal sign language classes for families with young children, and for young people, the qualification of class room support insists on mandatory deaf awareness, experience of working with deaf people, and excellent BSL support for a deaf child in each area/locality can vary.

This is where we need Ofsted. Schools are under pressure to meet Ofsted requirements and parents in the UK are afforded the opportunity to choose which school they would like their child to go to.

What about for deaf children?

All parents want the best for their child – medical and educational support is free at the point of entry yet not so for social needs such as sign language classes, access to locally based resources for deaf children or where transport could be included (some parents cannot drive and public transport does not mean everyone can get to a deaf event that is not in their area).

There are only a handful of specialist Sensory Children and Families Teams across the UK, therefore deaf children (regardless of level of hearing loss) could be missing out.

Another possible factor to consider is whether a deaf young person could make a decision about their needs that contrasts with their parents and/or the local authority. I do not know the answer or whether it is possible as it is early days, although the Mental Capacity Act is starting to affect young people too.

We are already aware of one case involving a child being made subject to DoLs. It is perhaps likely that we will see an increasing number of capacity related cases involving children and their right to decide such things as their education and places of residence in addition to the existing processes of consulting with children.

Children Services will have to develop more awareness in this area when working with Young People who have a right to be consulted with. For deaf children should they have an independent deaf specialist advocate?

Wendy Anderson is Deaf and a qualified Deaf Specialist Social Worker, Specialist Sensory Children and Families Social Worker, Mental Health Social Worker, Practice Educator (Reflective Practice) and previously a Team Manager. She is also the founder of Deaf Independent.

Deaf Independent has produced a brief guidance on Social Work Practice with Deaf. If you would like a copy please contact Deaf Independent.

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