More than 11,000 deaf children across England are missing out on life-changing technology due to councils refusing to fund radio aids, a charity has said.
The National Deaf Children’s Society surveyed local councils and found that around one in three (43 out of 152) do not provide deaf children aged up to four with radio aids to use at home.
A radio aid is a piece of technology which makes the sound the deaf child or young person needs to hear, such as a person’s voice, clearer in relation to unwanted background noise.
The charity says radio aids are crucial to helping very young children develop their language, confidence and communication skills, otherwise they spend years playing “catch-up”.
The charity said the situation is improving, with the number of councils providing them now at 109, up from 77 in 2016.
But it said 11,545 deaf children in these areas are still missing out.
Jo Campion, deputy director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “These figures show that thousands of young deaf children across the country are being thrown into a radio aid lottery, where their chances of having one at home are based on their postcode, not on their needs.
“It’s a tragic waste of potential and it’s deeply unfair.
“Radio aids play an absolutely essential role in young deaf children’s lives at a stage when communication, language and interacting with their family and friends are vital.
“They boost a child’s chances of picking up language, reduce the effect of background noise and help in situations where face-to-face conversations are difficult, like playing outside or travelling in the car.”
She said every council has a duty to provide a radio aid and the charity offers families support on appealing ‘no’ decisions on disability discrimination grounds.
Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said it was wrong to suggest councils had a duty to provide them, but said “as many as possible do so because they know that deafness can make life incredibly difficult for some children who experience it.”
She added: “Despite immense pressures and strains on councils and schools, they are doing all they can to help deaf and partially deaf children get the best start in life.
“This is why there has been a 21% increase in the number of councils providing hearing aids over the last few years despite immense pressures and strains.
“Councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with Send (special educational needs and disability) to a tipping point.
“While it was good the Government announced money for Send last year, it must use the forthcoming spending review to plug the estimated special needs funding gap facing councils of up to £1.6 billion by 2021.”
Sophie Anastasiou’s son Levindinos, five, has moderate hearing loss but because he lives in Leyton, London, he cannot get a radio aid from Waltham Forest Council.
His mother eventually bought one herself.
She said: “With a radio aid, he’s had a new lease of life and many more opportunities to learn.
“He learnt how to write his name in two months of being at school and he’s now ahead in maths and literacy.
“It’s also meant that his passion for singing, playing the piano and music in general has flourished, as has his musical ability.
“If Levindinos hadn’t had a radio aid to use at home, he’d have missed out on his independence because, without them, he always wants to be close to me to make sure he can hear what I am saying.
“He feels less secure exploring without them. With the radio aids, Levindinos can cycle with his friends ahead of me, without having to lag behind so I can support him.”