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What are the aims of the National Deaf Children’s Society?


There are around 50,000 deaf children in the UK: we believe that each child should be provided with equal opportunities and we aim to remove any barriers and provide better access to support, enabling all children to meet their full potential.

Deafness is not a learning disability and with most deaf children attending mainstream school, we need to work hard to prevent them from falling behind their peers both academically and emotionally.

What are the biggest issues faced by deaf children?


Educationally, deaf children are struggling due to a lack of specialist provision within their mainstream schools. A third of councils are cutting their budgets to support deaf children – this will have a significant impact upon children who are already struggling to learn effective communication skills. Without the right support, they could become more vulnerable and at risk of being isolated, abused or bullied.

The cuts to early intervention services will also have a significant effect upon deaf children and their families. More than 90% of deaf children are born to parents with no experience of hearing loss or understanding of how to communicate with deaf children. This poses a significant challenge and without easy access to early intervention services, we could store up problems leaving families needing access to more complex help in later years.

How much involvement do you have with social work teams?


Although the numbers of deaf children are rising, it is still very much a low-incidence disability which is geographically spread across the UK. We recognise the pressures facing social work teams when trying to fight for resources to support vulnerable children.

At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we are here to provide additional support for social workers to help them work more effectively with deaf children.

Last year, we launched our social care advisory service – this is where we can answer any calls or emails from social workers who may need a little advice or guidance. It may be that you need some support to make an assessment stronger or perhaps you need advice as to what should be included within a support plan. Our advisory service isn’t a substitute for a specialist social worker, but it is a useful resource which is freely available to social work professionals.

What resources are available for practitioners working with deaf children?


Our website offers a wide range of resources which have been created with the needs of social care staff in mind.

As well as best practice guides there are a range of interactive videos and downloadable brochures which can help professionals understand the difficulties faced by deaf children and their families.

We work closely with (LSCBs) to provide advice for the implementation of the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance and we also advise Children's Hearing Services Working Groups (CHSWGs) across the UK. This gives us the opportunity to offer strategic advice for how families can access good quality, local support services.

We also provide regular training workshops to help upskill social workers – as well as pre-set courses, we offer bespoke training packages to in-house teams looking to learn more about working with deaf children. Later this year we will also be launching remote learning opportunities which will help social workers to access training at a time that suits them.

What are the biggest challenges faced by social workers when working with deaf children?


Deafness can affect children in so many different ways; there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some children may have been born deaf, whilst it could occur during later life for other children (perhaps as a result of an illness). This means that social workers need to really understand the experience of the child and how deafness has affected them.

It can be challenging for professionals as different members of the same family may have very different perspectives. When you add in the voice of the ‘Teacher of the Deaf’ (a qualified professional who may have been providing additional support within a school), it can be incredibly difficult for social workers to retain the voice of the child when undertaking any assessments or reports.

How can a social worker upskill themselves to maintain strong practice when working with deaf children?


Language is key to all communication – social workers will have picked up similar skills when working with service users who may not speak English. For instance, they should remember to always face the child – communication can be picked up via lip reading and where possible, use aids such as photos, drawings or symbols to aid understanding.

There are numerous resources available, and thanks to a growing use of technology, there are a wide range of apps which can be downloaded and used to back up conversations and aid communication.

What happens when a social worker is unable to communicate via sign language?


It is important to remember that many deaf children may communicate orally without using sign language. Even where sign language is used, there are many different variations of sign language available, so you may find that even if you have a professional within your team with the ability to sign fluently, you could still have issues.

Our advice is to always use a qualified interpreter – you must not rely on using a family member to interpret for you as it could significantly change the narrative and lose the voice of the child.

We would recommend using an interpreter registered with the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD). As a voluntary regulator, their members adhere to set standards and a guaranteed code of conduct.

What advice would you give to someone who has never worked with a deaf person in a professional capacity before?


Social workers must think about the impact that deafness has upon all outcomes. When assessing a deaf child, generic thresholds are not suitable – it’s an additional vulnerability which must be considered to prevent a child from being lost in the system.

Working with deaf children within social services is still relatively rare, so it may feel like a struggle for many social workers. This is why we set up our advisory support service, which can help practitioners understand all the considerations which must be taken into account during any assessments.
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