The Isle of Wight Council is among the one in three local authorities that don’t provide vital technology for young deaf children to use at home and it’s leaving many of them facing a daily battle to hear their family and friends, the National Deaf Children’s Society has warned.
Figures from the charity reveal that the Isle of Wight is among the 43 of England’s 152 councils that don’t provide radio aids for 0-4 year-olds to take home. The council has 86 deaf children in its care who are denied this life-changing technology during their early years.
Radio aids, which transmit the wearer’s voice directly to a child’s hearing aids or cochlear implants, are crucial in enabling deaf children to develop their language, confidence and communication skills from a young age.
If they don’t gain these skills early on, deaf children face a lifetime of playing catch-up and a greater risk of isolation as they struggle to understand what’s happening around them.
The National Deaf Children’s Society says it is deeply unfair that thousands of children are still missing out because of where they live, describing it as a “tragic waste of potential.”
It wants every child to have access to the technology and is demanding an end to the “radio aid lottery”, calling on the Isle of Wight Council, as well as the other 42 councils that don’t provide them, to ensure that every deaf child has the opportunity to use one at home.
Research shows that radio aids improve interaction between young deaf children and their parents, with significant increases in conversations both in the car (144%) and outdoors (88%).
Current Government data also shows that in the early years, just 38% of deaf children reach the expected level of development in areas like communication and language, compared to 77% of hearing children.
The situation is improving nationally, with the number of councils that do provide them reaching 109 (72%), up from 77 (51%) in 2016.
Jo Campion, Deputy Director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “These figures show that young deaf children across the Isle of Wight are being thrown into a radio aid lottery, where their chances of having one at home are based on their postcode, not on their needs. It’s a tragic waste of potential and it’s deeply unfair.
“Radio aids play an absolutely essential role in young deaf children’s lives at a stage when communication, language and interacting with their family and friends are vital. They boost a child’s chances of picking up language, reduce the effect of background noise and help in situations where face-to-face conversations are difficult, like playing outside or travelling in the car.
“Every council has a duty to provide this life-changing support and the Isle of Wight Council now has a simple choice; deliver for every deaf child in its care, or stand by and let even more of them needlessly fall behind.”
An Isle of Wight Council spokesperson said:
“Despite the interpretation of nationwide data collated by the National Deaf Children’s Society, no family on the Island has ever been refused specialist equipment. On the contrary, we work closely with individual families to meet individual need.
“On the Island the needs of deaf children are met by a highly skilled team of qualified teachers of the deaf with additional masters level qualifications in the specialisms of Educational Audiology and Early Years. The wider team also includes a specialist communication support assistant. This is against a national backdrop of special educational needs cuts, with declining numbers of specialist teachers, particularly in deaf education.
“The service continues to meet the needs of a wide range of deaf children including those with mild, temporary and unilateral hearing losses. Parent feedback demonstrates how effectively this is achieved through family-centred approaches. This puts individual children’s needs at the heart of decision making, including access to specialist equipment.
“All children, regardless of age, have equal access to specialist equipment and the service is proud of the joined-up working with families, the local audiology department and Southampton Auditory Implant Service to ensure that this is done at an appropriate time in the child’s habilitation to hearing aids or speech processors (for cochlear implanted children).”
Hannah Seaman, parent of a pre-schooler fitted with a radio aid system for use at home and in school, said: “Without the guidance and support of our local teacher of the deaf team I would not have had a clue where to begin with what equipment my four year old son would benefit from in preparation for him starting primary school in September.”