Supporting individuals to keep safe

Supporting people who are deafblind to keep safe should be seen as a part of ensuring their wellbeing.

Learning about keeping safe involves aspects such as:

  • learning to look after oneself
  • becoming independent
  • being able to communicate
  • support to make the right choices
  • being able to know and control what is going to happen and when.

As someone supporting a potentially vulnerable person it is important that your practice supports the person in these varied ways. This will contribute to their understanding and ability to stay safe and thereby reduce their vulnerability.

Remember to check the preferred communication modes of the person that you are supporting before commencing any explicit teaching about keeping safe. You may need to ensure you have prepared any learning material into a format that the person can access and understand.  The professional who supports the person regularly will often be aware of what format the person requires this information. This may include tactile sign language, BSL, photographs or picture, Braille, DVDs etc. 

As someone supporting an individual  who is deafblind, you may want to consider why that  individual may be more vulnerable to abuse than others. 

Information on what is abuse, how to report abuse and signs of abuse

Promoting skills for ‘keeping safe’

It is important to focus on an individual’s positive attributes and strengths in order to support the development of protective factors which may help to reduce the individual’s vulnerability to abuse.

A key message for parents is that as a deafblind child may take longer to learn new skills, it is important for your child to receive instructions in a consistent manner from an early age since mixed messages can lead to confusion.

For this reason it is important to work in partnership with the professionals who support your child especially the MSI teacher that your child is entitled to receive support from. This will ensure that your child receives the same messages from everyone in their life about basic concepts such as body awareness, privacy, communication, as well as an understanding of what are acceptable behaviours of them and of others.   Fostering an understanding of these will help to develop a network of protective skills around your child.  

Communication and language

For the deafblind child having a method of communication is fundamental to their wellbeing and development. McInnes and Treffery (1982) identified that “without adequate means of communication the child is unable to progress through the stages of cognitive development appropriate to his age”.

Good practice

  • The earliest stages of a child’s communication development are based on secure attachment to their care giver and a sense of security. This means that a child is more likely to communicate with people with whom they have a good relationship with.
  • It is important to understand the communication method a child is using to convey “No” when they are faced with a situation they are unhappy with. This can be built on to promote their skills to stay safe.
  • A consistent approach will also help with your child’s future communication development. For example, it may be advisable for to use  personal symbols/signifiers that a child is familiar with to help inform them of who they are interacting with.
  • The use of personal symbols/signifiers will help a child to differentiate between a familiar person and a stranger.
  • If a child has the ability to acquire a formal language system such as BSL or English, it is important to learn the correct vocabulary so they can accurately report anything that they are concerned about.

Vision, Hearing and Mobility

It is important to maximise your child’s residual hearing and vision as this will help their understanding of the world around them reduce their sense of isolation by enabling them to interact with others more easily and . will encourage your child to be more confident  with  practicing and  learning to be mobile

Good practice

Your child may qualify for a specialist support worker known as an intervenor. The intervenor is there to help your child access information in the environment that he or she is receiving in a distorted or incomplete way.

Funding for a school intervenor should be discussed with your child’s MSI Teacher whilst funding for a social intervenor who can help your child to access activities and leisure opportunities in the community is through your child’s social worker with the Children’s Disability Team.

They will need to carry out a specialist assessment called the Deafblind Guidance assessment.

Touch and body awareness

Touch provides a child from his or her earliest days with the most fundamental means of contact with the external world. For deafblind children whose senses of vision and hearing are impaired or absent, touch can become the prime mode of receiving and sharing information and for some children, forms the basis of their means of communication. Touch is also an integral part of developing a secure attachment with familiar people in a child’s life and for some deafblind children may be the only means that they have of appreciating human contact which is essential to one’s sense of wellbeing and security.

Similarly having a sense of one’s body image is fundamental to developing an understanding of the outside world. This begins at the earliest level by understanding where one’s body starts or ends in relation to objects or the environment and forms the basis of increasing body awareness.  

Good practice

  • It is advisable to talk to your child’s MSI teacher in order to determine whether  hand under hand strategies of encouraging learning through touch are preferable to hand over hand guidance
  • Learning about  socially acceptable forms of touch should start from a child’s earliest days
  • Key concepts in relation to touch and body awareness such as appropriate/ inappropriate and private/public need to taught in a consistent manner from an early age
  • It is important to work towards enabling your child to become as independent as possible in relation to issues related to in personal care and hygiene
  • Social and sex education should begin at an appropriate level at the earliest opportunity. It is important for example when teaching labels for body parts to use the correct terminology and not to ignore certain parts as well as to do this in the correct context eg when dressing or undressing your child. Talk to your child’s MSI teacher if you need more advice on this
  • Work in partnership with the professionals who support your child such as teachers and physiotherapists so that there is a consistent approach between home and school in relation to matters related to touch, body awareness and social and sex education
  • If your child is prone to bruising through falling over or self injurious behaviours, these incidents should be noted to reduce the risk of unexplained marks being attributed to these behaviours.

Behaviour that challenges

A high correlation between behaviour that challenges and physical abuse occurs, demonstrating a high degree of abuse occurring during challenging incidents.

Good practice in this area includes the following:

  • all people who have behaviour that challenges should have a positive behaviour support plan in place.
  • professionals should receive training and support in dealing with behaviour that challenges to ensure that situations do not result in abuse occurring.

Resilience

There are many definitions of resilience but most have similar components. Gilligan’s (2000) definition — ‘a set of qualities that helps a person to withstand many of the negative effects of adversity…….Bearing in mind what has happened to them, a resilient child does better than he or she ought to do’ — is one of the more straightforward. Most authors consider that resilience is a mixture of nature and nurture. Attributes that some children are born with, such as good intellectual ability and a placid, cheerful temperament, are associated with resilience. Children who are born prematurely and/or with disabilities, who cry and cannot be comforted, who cannot sleep or who will not accept being held are more vulnerable to adversity and may be less likely to be resilient. (Resilience: What it is and how children and young people can be helped to develop it, Kirstie Maclean, Director, SIRCC)

Routines

We all rely on routines. Most people follow a routine when they get up or when they arrive at work for example. When this routine is broken we may feel stressed and frustrated such as when the shower doesn’t work.

Children who are deafblind depend on routines to help them understand what is happening and what will happen next. A routine can give them information which they cannot access through their senses. Following a routine not only helps them to learn about the world around them but also provides them with a sense of security as the world seems less hostile and frightening. .

Some routines occur naturally and others can be deliberately introduced in order to teach the skills needed to stay safe.

Good practice

  • Start with short simple routines such as when playing ‘peek-a-boo’ games so that your child learns to anticipate the cloth being lifted off their face or the tickle in ‘round and round the garden’
  • Routines can be introduced into the act of saying hello to someone so that the new person has to introduce themselves in a way that is relevant for your child
  • Routines as part of daily life skills can be a powerful means of teaching key concepts such as appropriate/ inappropriate or private/ public. This could be applied to places to dress/ undress or parts of the body that can be touched by the child or others
  • Routines also help to create a safe predictable environment which is conducive to promoting your child’s communication development as well as their mobility skills.
  • A trained support worker such as an intervenor at school or in the community can build on the work that you have started at home
  • For more advice talk to your child’s MSI teacher.

Deafblind guidance assessment. .
Councils in England and Wales have to follow guidance on how to provide services for deafblind people. The newest update takes account of the new Care Act and is called 'Care and support for deafblind children and adults guidance' (link to the UK Government website).
The guidance is to make sure deafblind people receive the support and services they require from their local authority, and it must be followed. It was introduced after years of campaigning by deafblind people and charities, including Sense.

1. Daniel and Wassell, (2002) Assessing and Promoting Resilience in Vulnerable Children Vols. 1, 2 & 3, London & Philadelphia, Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd. See also: Daniel, B., Wassell, S. and Gilligan, R. (1999) Child Development for Child Care and Child Protection Workers, London and Philadelphia, Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.

First published: Wednesday 8 April 2015
Updated: Tuesday 1 December 2015