Children Act 2004: Social services split has hurt deaf children

The split in social services departments initiated by the Children Act 2004 has had a detrimental impact on deaf children, a study for the National Deaf Children’s Society has concluded.

Researchers at the University of Manchester looked at a sample of five local authorities to examine the level of social care provision for deaf children and their families following the act. The act placed a duty on councils in England to appoint a single director responsible for all children’s social care and education, effectively creating children’s services departments and splitting social services.

Prior to the formation of children’s services departments, many authorities had specialist sensory services supporting both children and adults. But under the new structure these have largely disappeared, creating a void in social care support for many deaf children, the study found. 

Deafness seen as physical impairment

It said that councils tended to view deafness as a physical impairment that could be adequately remedied through hearing aids. This had led to neglect of deaf children’s linguistic and social development needs. Eligibility criteria had also been set so high in teams responsible for deaf children that only emergency cases were getting support.

However, in areas where specialist teams existed deaf children fared much better, it said.

Research lead and professor of social work at the University of Manchester Alys Young, said: “Where local authorities had made a specific investment in deaf children and families’ social care, through specialist teams or team arrangements, then we found clear evidence of professionals working preventively with deaf children and their families to boost their social, linguistic and developmental experiences. Where no such arrangements exist, it is almost impossible for a family with a deaf child to receive an holistic assessment of their needs.” 

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More information

Every Child Matters information

Children Act 2004

National Deaf Children’s Society


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