This page sets out a coherent and clear vision for therapy and support services for children with hearing loss in New Zealand. The vision is not limited by the structures, interest groups and systems currently in place in New Zealand. Rather it seeks to work up from some core principles and then propose an approach that will fulfill and enact those principles.
The hearing loss sector is quite fragmented with strongly opposing ideological positions. However, interestingly all segments agree on three core principles when it comes to providing the best outcomes for children:
- Parental Choice – parents should be empowered and resourced to lead and direct their child’s educational approach.
- Parental Responsibility – the key to successful educational outcomes for children with hearing loss are active and involved parent(s).
- The earlier the better – this means early identification, early and appropriate amplification/technology and intensive quality therapy to support the parents’ choice.
These principles are at the centre regardless of whether the child is being raised with NZSL only as a language, purely oral or mixed. They apply regardless of whether technological interventions are used (Cochlear Implants, BAHA, Hearing Aids, FM systems, etc) or not.
It is important to have a national goal to measure success against. Given the Universal New Born Hearing Screening Programme is now fully rolled out and identifying those children with hearing loss at birth, it is now feasible to set a goal of:
More than 90% of children with hearing loss starting school with no language deficiency
Modern early intervention methods mean that infants with hearing loss can develop language at much the same pace as those children with normal hearing. Relatively short bursts of intensive therapy can catch these children up and set them on a trajectory to be on a par with their hearing peers. This is regardless of the communication approach chosen.
Measurement should use standardised tests normed against hearing children.
The Ministry of Education should provide to children with hearing loss:
- Guidance and counselling services for their parents including the development of regular Individual Education Plans
- Funding of similar amounts to what is currently provided. It should be noted that this funding is currently tied up into a multitude of funding mechanisms. It will need to be “disaggregated” out
- Audit of the quality of service provision by service providers
- Monitoring of achievement of Individual Education Plan goals, progress against the national standards and reporting against the national goal of “more than 90% of children with hearing loss starting school with no language deficiency”
Parents should be able to choose the therapy programme and support services required from an array of approved service providers. The choice would be set and managed through each child’s Individual Education Plan.
Approved Service Providers might included:
- The Deaf Education Centre
- Cochlear Implant Programmes
- Deaf organisations who might wish to develop programmes
- Hearing clinics who might wish to develop programmes
- Speech Language Therapists
- Music Therapists
- Other accredited and approved service providers
Parents should be able to manage this themselves or may wish to place all their child’s funding with one provider who would then manage it for them. This would allow for the whole array of parents – from those who want to be heavily involved to those who want their child’s therapy and support managed for them – to be empowered. The more parents are engaged and empowered, the better the educational outcomes are likely to be. This is regardless of the communication approach chosen by the parent(s).
This approach is essentially what is happening in the Australian context. Their national programme is called Better Start. A similar approach is currently being implemented in the UK.