Survey of local authority services for deafblind children
Every two years, Sense conducts a survey to assess the extent to which local authorities in England and Wales are fulfilling their legal duties under the Deafblind Guidance.
The latest survey was carried out by the Sense Public Policy team between January and April 2014.
The key findings
How many children are being identified?
It is crucial that deafblindness is accurately identified as the first step towards deafblind children receiving the right support. Despite this, our survey found that local authorities are still identifying too few deafblind children. On average, local authorities reported that they are only identifying 14 deafblind children per 100,000 of the population. If all deafblind children were being identified, this figure should be 31 per 100,000 of the population.
Also in the local authorities who completed our survey in both 2012 and 2014, identification rates had fallen by an average of 7 per cent. Poor identification rates like these can often be explained by low levels of professional awareness about deafblindness and inadequate information sharing between agencies.
Specialist assessments and support?
Early specialist intervention is very important for deafblind children to help promote their good health, development and wellbeing. Worryingly, our survey found that 45 per cent of the deafblind children identified by local authorities had not received a specialist assessment. Also, since 2011/2012, fewer deafblind children who had received a specialist assessment had been given access to one-to-one support - such as an intervenor or communicator-guide, outside of their education.
Lack of senior manager oversight
The Deafblind Guidance states that all local authorities providing children’s social services must have a named senior manager to make sure that the Deafblind Guidance is being properly implemented. However, our survey showed that a low number of local authorities have appointed a senior manager with specific responsibilities for deafblind children. The numbers fell from 61 per cent in 2011/2012 to just 56 per cent in 2014. This is worrying because designated managers should play an important role in overseeing the provision of services to deafblind children.
Potential for improvement
It has been 13 years since the Deafblind Guidance was published but local authorities are still failing to meet its requirements.
Despite these disappointing findings, Sense believes that the new legislation on Special Educational Needs (SEN) has the potential to improve the situation.
The Children and Families Act 2014 will introduce new processes to allow professionals in education, health and social care to work more closely together to jointly assessment the needs of children with SEN. Where more information is shared between agencies, identification rates of children with deafblindness should improve. To help make this reality, the following must happen:
- Local authorities should plan how to embed the requirements of the Deafblind Guidance into their new processes and procedures as they make the transition onto the new SEN system.
- When deafblind children receive assessments for Education, Health and Care Plan, local authorities must ensure that any assessments of social care needs are carried out by a suitably qualified professional.
- Once a child’s needs have been identified through a specialist assessment, specialist support must be provided to help to meet these needs.
- All local authorities must appoint a senior manager to oversee services for deafblind children as soon as possible, if they have not already done so.
- Local authorities should ensure that relevant professionals in education, social care and health have received training about deafblindness and the importance of sharing information with other agencies.
Previous local authority surveys
First published: Monday 28 July 2014
Updated: Monday 15 February 2016