This site is intended for health professionals only

Health services fail deaf children with additional complex needs

Health services are failing to provide adequate treatment for deaf children with additional complex needs, a report published today by the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has revealed.

The research from NDCS and the University of Manchester discovered failures in diagnosis, problems accessing medical treatment, and professionals consistently failing to share information. The report, which is the largest of its kind, described some professionals as ‘overwhelmed by the complexity of needs' and others as treating deafness as a minor condition that can be addressed later in the child's life.

NDCS Chief Executive, Susan Daniels, said: “We are alarmed by the findings of this research which shows health services are not geared up to support children who are deaf and have other complex needs. 

“As the number of children with complex needs rises, due to increasing survival rates of children who are born prematurely or suffer a severe illness, it is becoming even more important for services to drastically improve how they support these families. We urge health professionals to work with parents to address shortfalls so that deaf children receive the support and care they need.”

Report author Dr Wendy McCracken, Senior Lecturer in Deaf Education at the University of Manchester, said: “This research is important because there are growing numbers of children who are deaf with additional complex needs, yet they are the group most frequently excluded from research studies.” 

“From the testimonies of the parents interviewed, the common theme that emerged was the huge difference that supportive services make to their child's life, but that all too often these services are not put in place quickly enough, or not at all.”

The report comes ahead of the government's special educational needs (SEN) Green Paper, due to be published this month, and urges professionals to give deaf children with ACN access to the full range of services appropriate to their needs and rigorous, timely, initial assessments. 

It is estimated 40% of the total population of deaf children have some kind of additional disability. NDCS estimates that 10% of deaf children, approximately 4,500, in the UK have Additional Complex Needs (ACN). The research was commissioned by NDCS to find out more about the support children with ACN receive, and the challenges they face. Dr McCracken interviewed 50 families of children with conditions which, when combined with their deafness, require more tailored approaches to their individual needs.

Health professionals can contact NDCS's freephone helpline on 0808 800 8880 for further information on childhood deafness.  Professionals can also refer parents to NDCS's wide range of specialist publications, events and one to one support.