Deaf Parenting UK (DPUK) Gaps in Services

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Gaps in Services

Identified need for Deaf Parents

Deaf Parenting UK was established following the research on gaps in services for Deaf parents in USA and in UK. From research, the following facts demonstrated the lack of awareness and consideration on the needs of Deaf parents:

Fact: 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents but what happens when Deaf children grow up into adults and become a parent.

Fact: Deaf Adults have 90% chance of having hearing children and yet, no information/support were available to them.

In lights of the following common examples of situations that arise in Deaf parents’ daily lives, the services offered to Deaf parents were non-existent or very limited and patchy as compared to hearing parents.

Common examples:

  • Deaf parents often believe children start learning at school. This means that for the first few years, children do not develop their language skills and fall behind their peers when they start to access education
  • Deaf people are unable to access mainstream parenting classes, midwifes or health visitors due to staff inability to communicate in sign language or who are not Deaf aware
  • Deaf people are unaware of their rights and when Social Services become involved, they are unable to self-advocate so families face risk of having their child removed or put into care placements or have their child’s name onto the child protection register
  • Deaf people are more likely to experience mental health problems and depression as a result of isolation due to communication barriers (Source: St George and South West London NHS Trust). Therefore, there are significant risks of post-natal depression

Specific examples:

  • A Deaf couple had three children. One of which was playing with water taps and made the floor wet, ignoring requests to stop. By moving the child to turn off the water, the child slipped on the wet floor and was taken to hospital after banging his head. Because of a lack of understanding of the roles of Social Services and hospital staff, all three children were placed into care as deemed at risk. Often Deaf people have been brought up to follow without question a social worker even when they have no access to information or communication about what is happening.
  • In Sept 2004, the BBC showed a documentary about a couple expecting their first baby. Communication during birth and in situations afterwards such as with a GP, took place by pen and paper. Deaf Parenting UK was involved in advisory capacity to raise awareness about Deaf parenting issues.
  • In March 2005, CH4 showed a documentary about a Deaf couple of which the mother is also Deaf blind with two children. Deaf parents experienced frustration by lack of awareness among professional about their ability to parent their children. Issues of concerns especially came from the children’s grandparents about how the Deafblind mother can cope with children. Deaf couple felt grandparents rather than being criticized about their parental ability would better support them.
  • A Deaf lady had two children, both by caesarean with no information provided on birth options. During her third baby, with a different partner, full information was provided and a different birth option chosen.
  • A small self-help Deaf parents group was established in Ealing. This showed a big demand for training especially in health. Deaf parents have little or no understanding of various diagnoses eg: the difference between HIV positive and negative.
  • The following case studies/ examples are extracted from the book entitled: ‘Pregnancy and Birth: a guide for Deaf women’.
  • “Because my first language is BSL, I really wish all information on pregnancy and birth was available in BSL, but nothing is available. It was difficult to access information from any bookshop or library in general parenting books because of the high level of English and I had to rely on my husband or someone to explain the information from English into BSL.”
  • “When I found out I was pregnant I was so shocked as it was unplanned. A few days later, I went to see a doctor. An interpreter was present and the doctor referred me to a midwife. I told the midwife I needed to have an interpreter throughout my pregnancy and I wanted to choose the interpreter who is also my friend. Later on, [in the pregnancy] my GP was trying to make me choose other ways to have someone who can relay for me, for example, asking if my partner is hearing (actually Colin is Deaf), or a hearing friend or my mum, because the interpreting fees are high and they wanted to save money.”
  • “Though I speak well for myself, I am still Deaf. My midwife has often told me that to book an appointment, I could just call her on the phone as I speak well. I explained that I can’t hear the phone and prefer to use a fax, for ease of communication, knowing that they are not aware of Typetalk.* She hesitated, saying that it would be difficult as the fax machine is held in a different office and there is no guarantee they will check my fax.
  • This is also a problem at my GP’s surgery. Once I used my fax to book an appointment with my GP and he was annoyed at the number of faxes sent between us and told me to get my hearing husband to arrange the appointment for me. Why should I? I am a very independent person and want to do things for myself.”
  • “I put in big capitals on my birth plan that I was hard of hearing and how they could help me. I think that helped a bit, but when the crunch came, nobody told me what was going on. I was cut when I didn’t want to be and I did feel ignored. When the baby was born, they told my husband it was a baby girl – and I was lying on the bed, exhausted and forever asking whether I had a baby boy or a girl while the midwife and the nurse were cleaning my baby. The midwife was stern and told me that I had a girl. That midwife came on shift while I was in labour so she wasn’t aware that I am hard of hearing.”
  • “I had a tour of the maternity ward. I had to phone a couple of times beforehand to make sure that the hospital got me an interpreter. I went, and it turned out that they had booked a communication support worker, who had only Level 2*. Worse still, it was someone who didn’t have any experience with childbirth, so he didn’t have a clue what all the terms were about.”

*BSL Level 2 is a qualification in British Sign Language. It does not include any interpreting skills.

  • “The midwife came for a check up of the baby and me. I made sure that my hearing mother wasn’t around then, because then the midwife would only talk to her, and not to me.”
  • “During the first night after my baby was born, I was asleep and I couldn’t hear my baby crying. The baby alarm that vibrates wouldn’t work as the ward had many crying babies and the alarm kept going off. So I told the nurse to alert me if my baby cried while I was sleeping, but she didn’t. Instead, she woke me and had a go at me, saying “your daughter has been crying”. I told her that I couldn’t hear my daughter crying so how could I know if she had been crying?”
  • I had poor access to communication support during antenatal classes. I had a ‘communicator’ but she was Level 1*. The hospital booked her. I missed out on lots of information. I saw a video about preparing for labour but it had no subtitles and no BSL translation on the video. The communicator wasn’t much help as I didn’t understand the video. I would have preferred to go to antenatal classes specifically for Deaf parents so that I was in a signing environment. Maybe I would have understood more from those classes and shared more enthusiasm with other Deaf parents. Instead, I had classes where I was the only Deaf parent and I was so isolated, I couldn’t interact with other parents so I become quiet and felt left out from the chit-chats between them.

*BSL Level 1 is a basic qualification in British Sign Language similar to a short introduction course to a spoken language eg: French. It does not include any interpreting skills.

When we wanted to attend the local health centre’s antenatal classes, we made some enquiries to see whether they would provide a sign language interpreter. I was amazed that they would not provide interpreting support for a Deaf father if his partner is not Deaf.

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