A charity has warned that deaf children’s education will continue to suffer unless staffing issues across Scotland are addressed.
The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is calling on local authorities to commit to returning qualified Teacher of the Deaf numbers to 2011 levels over the next decade.
It comes as a report published by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education showed Teachers of the Deaf numbers in Scotland have fallen by 40% in a decade.
Additionally, almost half (45%) of these specialists are due to retire within the next ten years.
NDCS said the fall in numbers is twice that in other parts of the UK, and launched a new five-year-strategy to combat the issue this week.
Every Moment Counts will aim to ensure that all deaf Scottish children receive the support they need during their early years (0-5), or as soon as their deafness is identified.
The charity is shifting the focus of its campaigning to early years as it believes that families need the most support during this period, so they feel empowered to make decisions and support their child.
Missed opportunities to spot deafness and provide the support deaf children need can lead to lifelong impacts, according to the charity.
Kirsten Abioye’s son was not diagnosed as deaf until he was almost three, due to failures at their local heath board’s paediatric audiology service.
“Our experience of early years was really hard,” said Ms Abioye.
“The audiology department was unhelpful and dismissed me as an anxious mum. We experienced delays and a general lack of communication which left us in a difficult position.
“We knew something was going on with our son but did not know how to support him. His diagnosis brought overwhelming relief.”
Teachers of the Deaf can help bridge this gap, the NDCS says, by providing specialist support to deaf children of all ages once their deafness is identified.
Kirsten describes her family’s Teacher of the Deaf as an “advocate, support system, teacher, encourager, source of information – all in one woman.”
She said: “Her support has been a lifeline, and she works closely with our son’s nursery who also provide excellent support.”
But even with a great Teacher of the Deaf and nursery, Kirsten’s family still struggled.
Kirsten continued: “It was a very isolating, stressful time because we just wanted to be able to support our child. I contacted the NDCS and had a chat with a member of staff, who was really understanding.
“She listened and understood my panic that we had missed the opportunity for language learning and were really behind.
“She helped me fill in an application for a family learning course, funded and run by the charity, which kick started our British Sign Language learning.”
Mark Ballard, head of Policy and Influencing for Scotland with NDCS, said: “Deaf children are just as capable as their peers when they have right support in place, ideally from the very beginning. But many families in Scotland are struggling to access this support.
“It means that deaf children just aren’t being given the opportunity to thrive in those crucial formative years.
“Once they fall behind, it can be incredibly hard to catch up and this can have a lasting impact that affects them throughout their lives.
“Every moment counts, from the time a child’s deafness is identified, to their first day at school and beyond. We owe it to deaf children to give them the best start in life.”