Social care safety nets for deaf children to be slashed?

Most of the time, I can see the logic behind a government policy, even if I don’t personally agree with it. From time to time though, I come across proposals that are just manifestly completely bonkers, shoddy and ill-thought out. And that happened last week when I went to the campaign launch for Every Child in Need to hear more about proposals to weaken social care safety nets.

A bit of context first. We know from research that deaf children are pretty much invisible on the radar of social care services. We know also there’s a real lack of specialist expertise in deafness among the social work profession. And we know that sadly deaf children are more vulnerable to abuse and mental health difficulties.

So it’s pretty alarming that the Government have put forward proposals that would have the effect of making it harder for deaf children and other children in need to get the help they need. Even more alarmingly, the Government’s own impact assessment has identified that these proposals come with considerable risks for children in need. To think the Government initially planned not to bother with any consultation on these changes…

Key issues include:

* Doing away with the requirement for social care services to do an ‘initial’ assessment of children referred to them. If urgent help is needed, it will take longer for this to be identified and sorted.

* Doing away with any timescales for when a full ‘core’ assessment must be done by.

* Weakening the requirement to produce a plan of action at the end of the assessment.

The government’s rationale? Social workers should be freed from ‘bureaucracy’ and trusted to get on with their jobs. In an ideal world, this would be fine. But we live in a world instead where there are fewer social workers around, particularly any with any expertise in deafness. We also live in a world where local authorities are slashing budgets for social care services. And we also live in a world where parents of children in need continuously have to take councils to court to get the help their child needs. In this context, these safety nets are more important than ever. They’re essential.

The Every Child in Need website has lots of info about how you can support the campaign, including by signing their petition against the changes.


Response to story on abuse at deaf school in America

There was a rather sad reminder last week that deaf children are more likely to be abused, when news broke of a school in America where 200 deaf children had been abused over two decades from the 1950s.

Reading the papers, it was hard to tell what was most distressing. The seemingly woeful lack of action taken by those in charge at the Catholic Church when the allegations came to light and a continuing attitude which comes across, in my view, as not particularly apologetic.

Or the fact that deaf children and people had been trying to speak out about these allegations for years and had been effectively ignored. In the end, the abuser died before he could be brought to justice.

The hope is that something like that could never happen again. Yet research by the University of Manchester earlier in the year shows that most local authorities in England are pretty poor in their social care and child protection arrangements for deaf children. NDCS is calling on all Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards to conduct a review of their local child protection arrangements.

PS Just a reminder that the views expressed in this blog are mine only.

BBC news exposes how social care services are failing deaf children

We knew that social care services for deaf children were bad… but a piece of research now published by the University of Manchester has confirmed just how serious the failings are. Some of its findings, just to pick a few, include:

* 60% of local authorities don’t regard deaf children as being “children in need”, even though the law clearly says any child with a disability is a child in need.
* Only a third of local authorities have designated teams that focus on the needs of deaf children. Other local authorities tend to have teams with no little or specialist expertise.
* 46% of local authorities had no specialist social workers for deaf children.

NDCS is calling on local safeguarding children’s boards to take a hard look at the research and do what they should have done years ago – review the local arrangements for making sure deaf children get the support they need. NDCS is also lobbying the Government to make sure this happens. There’s some more info on this, and the research itself, on NDCS’s website.

It’s pretty shocking reading, and it’s good to see that BBC news have covered the story. It’s also headline news on BBC breakfast news this morning and a young deaf person, Megan, appeared on the programme earlier to talk about her experiences. Hopefully, this will raise awareness of the issue.

Are social care services meeting the needs of deaf children?

There was a striking story in the papers yesterday about a NSPCC statement that at least 60 children are sexually abused a day. It reminded me of separate statistics suggesting that deaf children are at least twice as likely to be abused than other children – not because they’re deaf, but because the communication barriers that deafness imposes may make it harder for deaf children to say what is happening or because they may be perceived to be an ‘easy target’. Fortunately, it’s still very rare.

NDCS is doing lots of work in the first half of this year over social care services for deaf children – not just to prevent abuse, but to ensure deaf children and their families get the support they need. For example, to get specialist equipment like flashing fire alarms and arrange communication classes for the whole family. Research to be published in late February is expected to show that most don’t, despite the fact that deaf children are recognised in law as “children in need”.

Five years ago, the Government recognised this and recommended that Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards conduct a review of local social care services for every deaf child in their area. To NDCS’s knowledge, to date, none of them have done so. NDCS has had some initial conversations with officials with Department for Children, Schools and Families about how we can make sure these reviews happen, five years on, and hopefully this is something we’ll be working together on. There’s also a couple of consultations NDCS intends to respond to.

If you’ve got a deaf child now, how much contact and support have you had from social care services? Does the support meet your needs? NDCS is looking for examples – good and bad – of how social care services work with families of deaf children. If you’d like to share your experiences in confidence, drop us a line at or leave a message below.

Lame response from Laming review on social care

American research suggests that deaf children are three to four times more likely to be abused than other children. And research from the University of Manchester suggests that deaf children are invisible on the social care radar.

So you would think that a major review into child protection arrangements in England would have something to say about ensuring that social workers and the general workforce know how to ensure deaf children are safe from harm.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Lord Laming published a reveiw of child protection arrangements last week, following the Baby P tragedy last year. NDCS and NSPCC submitted a lengthy response highlighting the vulnerability of deaf children. Sadly, the review makes no recommendations that directly address the needs of deaf children. They just don’t seem to figure as a priority worth highlighting.

A huge missed opportunity, and very disappointing. We intend to write to the Government to ask how, in implementing the Laming review, deaf children will benefit.

Deaf children: invisible on the social care radar?

I’ve blogged a bit about mental health and deaf children in the past. Of course, one way to avoid deaf children needing to have access to high quality mental health services is to prevent emotional well-being problems from emerging in the first place.

So I was really interested to read phase 1 of a report that NDCS has commissioned from the University of Manchester on social care which was published recently (and which NDCS did a press release on). The research is looking at the impact of recent changes in how services to children are delivered by local authorities. Depressingly, it found that the needs of deaf children are often overlooked and that there a few trained social workers that specialise in the needs of deaf children. In many cases, deafness literally becomes an invisible disability.

One of the striking conclusions is that there is a widespread assumption out by social care professionals that hearing aids and cochlear implants ‘fix’ deafness. Which is rubbish. Such children still have a hearing impairment. This hearing impairment still creates communication barriers. And those communication barriers can still lead to deaf children feeling isolated, insecure and inferior – unless support is in place.

Which is why social care is so important – they can help provide this support from the start and stop problems from becoming critical. But if social workers lack the expertise in deafness to do this and are not undertaking proper assessments of deaf children, then many deaf children may continue to fall through the net.

The good news is that there are examples of best practice out there, mostly where professionals have championed the needs of deaf children. Going forward, our job in campaigns will be to make sure that this best practice becomes the norm. We’ll let you know how we get on.

In the meantime, we’re looking for stories of how deaf children have fared with their local social care and mental health services. Drop us a line if you know of any case studies that can help us inform our campaigns.