Lack of early years support undermines newborn hearing screening programme


A hearing loss evaluation survey shows that the benefits of hearing screening at birth are being lost with a quarter of parents of deaf babies (25%) not being given the support they need to develop crucial skills to communicate with their babies following identification. This is just one example of widespread problems in early years support for deaf babies leading to a significant gap between the language and communication skills of deaf children and hearing children when they start school.

A report called ‘Right from the Start’, released by the National Deaf Children’s Society, coincides with the 10 year anniversary of newborn hearing screening in England and looks at the impact of screening and early years services.

Nearly 6.7 million babies have been screened since the newborn hearing programme was introduced, which has meant every week an average of 12,645 babies are screened of which 34 will be identified as deaf. Prior to this, children born deaf were often not identified until aged three or older, well past the critical ages for learning to read, write and make friends. An undiagnosed deaf child aged three will only know 25 words, compared to the 700 words hearing child of the same age will know.

Most babies born deaf are identified within a few weeks, however many are being let down because they are not receiving the level of support needed at this critical development stage. The Right from the Start report shows:

  • Just under a third (31%) of parents don’t feel they got the support they needed to make sure their child made good progress after being identified through newborn hearing screening.
  • The report also found a quarter (25%) of parents said they didn’t get any general advice on language and communication development, following identification.
  • Over a fifth (22%) of parents said they couldn’t access the support they needed from Teachers of the Deaf who play a pivotal role in supporting their child’s education in the early years and at school.

This comes at a time when the numbers of deaf children are rising (18% in the last five years) at the same time local authorities are cutting numbers of qualified Teachers of the Deaf – a 4% decline in the last five years. Only a third (35%) of deaf children are achieving their early learning goals in literacy and writing compared to three quarters (76%) of other children. And last year the NHS England’s Action Plan on Hearing Loss reported unacceptable variation in the quality of audiology services.

Susan Daniels Chief ExecutiveSusan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Newborn hearing screening has been happening for ten years, thanks to the relentless efforts of parents and years of campaigning by the National Deaf Children’s Society. That should mean that deaf children and their families now get the support they need right from the start. But a decade on, that’s still not happening. If a child is identified early as being deaf and receives good quality support in their early years, there is no reason that deaf children shouldn’t achieve the same as hearing children.

“Although the government introduced the Children and Families Act in 2014 which promised a transformation to how children with Special Educational Needs and Disability were supported, there remains a gulf between the aspirations of the reforms and what parents are reporting is actually happening to their children. Today’s report shows widespread problems from patchy quality of audiology services to limited access to support from Teachers of the Deaf, which mean we are still a long way from giving deaf children the positive futures they deserve. We’re calling on the Government, local authorities and health bodies to work together and make a commitment to ensure high quality support is in place as soon as a child is diagnosed as deaf.”

Rebecca and LucasRebecca Stubbs from Stoke-on-Trent is mum to Lucas, 10, who is profoundly deaf. Rebecca said: “Everything has always felt like a battle to get the support my son needs and, more importantly, deserves. After Lucas was fitted with his first cochlear implant at the age of 17 months, our local audiology team simply supplied us with batteries! Where was the follow up? Our teacher of the deaf has been very supportive but their time with Lucas has been minimal and we’ve had to fight even to keep that. Lucas is a very bright boy and in the top set for maths at school but I worry desperately he won’t reach his full potential without the right ongoing support.”

Give deaf babies the positive futures they deserve by joining the Right from the Start campaign at

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