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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered support for deaf children in south Gloucestershire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am delighted to have secured a vital debate about the issues faced by deaf children and their families in South Gloucestershire. I am grateful to the House authorities for ensuring that there is a signer today in the Public Gallery and live subtitles during the debate.
I secured the debate after meeting parents and families of deaf children in my constituency, and subsequently the National Deaf Children’s Society, to discuss the current review of service provision across the four authority areas in the west of England. I thank those families and the NDCS for discussing the matter with me in great depth, and for all the work they do up and down the country to make life better and fairer for deaf and hearing-impaired children.
Hearing loss affects more than 10 million adults and around 45,000 children in the UK. Of those, around half are born deaf, while others can acquire the condition later during childhood. Around 370 children are born with severe to profound deafness in England each year. Deafness in children can be temporary or permanent, and it can be mild or profound. It can be in one ear or in both. Regardless of its type, it is often a very high-need condition and it can have a serious impact on children’s development and their ability to achieve their ambitions. It can affect language development, ability to communicate and educational achievements and attainment, and it can increase the risk of isolation and mental health difficulties. Around 48% of deaf children fail to reach the expected levels of language communication skills in their early years. It is easy to see how this condition can go on to have a negative impact on children and affect their quality of life.
Local authorities and schools in England already are required to provide support for deaf children, to ensure that young children especially are not at a substantial disadvantage to their hearing peers. The fact that only one in five children passes GCSE English and maths in the south-west demonstrates that there is still much more to do. Deaf children in South Gloucestershire face the same issues. Despite the fact that deafness is not a learning disability, 44% of deaf children are likely not to do as well as their peers. It is clear that more needs to be done to close the gap, to support children and to ensure that they have a fair chance of maximising their educational achievements and fulfilling their potential.
Deaf children and young people in South Gloucestershire rely on support provided to them by the Sensory Support Service, which has served other neighbouring local authorities since 1996: Bath and north-east Somerset, Bristol and north Somerset. The service supports the educational development of children in the area who have sensory impairment and who are aged between zero and 16.
In November 2017, the four authorities decided to carry out a review of all the support services. That review is at an early stage. A stakeholder reference group has been created to enable parents, charities, children and carers to input into the review, and it allows anyone affected to have their say. The stakeholder group is meeting for the first time later this month, and it is timely to have this debate just days before that meeting is due to take place. The redesigned service will come into effect around September 2019, and it will continue to be jointly commissioned by the four authorities. Now is the right time to ensure that the new revised service is fit for purpose and is serving deaf children well in our community.
There are four main points that I would like to raise, which should be considered as part of the review: early years support, teachers of the deaf, speech and language therapy and, importantly, the provision of radio aids.