Fostering deaf children

Fostering deaf children

04/10/2016 12:00am

Could you offer a home to a deaf child? Moving to a foster home can be an unnerving and difficult time for any young person, but for those who have difficulty with their hearing, there is the potential for the experience to be even more challenging. While the percentage of deaf children in foster care in the UK is thought to be relatively low, you may at some point have the opportunity to have a deaf child placed with you.

Some children may have a small level of hearing loss that means communication needs to be more considered, while others could suffer from a greater degree of impairment or even profound deafness. If you have some experience of working with deaf children previously or can use British Sign Language, this will certainly be an advantage, but is by no means a pre-requisite for fostering deaf children. This post aims to provide guidance on the challenges you may encounter when fostering a deaf child, as well as considering how you may be able to overcome them.

Things to consider

Staying in a new place can be a scary experience for anyone and for deaf people, unexpected or unexplained loud noises can be very unsettling. When your foster child arrives at your home, you may want to take time to show them where items such as the washing machine or other noisy appliances are kept.

Being able to communicate effectively with your foster child will be a crucial focus for you and to do this successfully you should be aware that the needs and techniques of each child is likely to differ, often widely. Your foster child may be used to using sign language or lip reading; they may use hearing aids or have cochlear implants. In addition to being comfortable with their method of communicating, you should learn how any technology needed to help them hear works, and how it can be fixed should anything go wrong with it.

We’ve included some further tips for communicating below, but it’s important to understand that the needs of a deaf child may not start and end with their hearing issues. It’s possible they may have other disabilities or challenges, resulting in a combination of needs. There may also be a need to attend regular audiology appointments or speech and language development sessions, which will be in addition to the usual appointments and reviews you’d expect to attend with any foster child.

Tips for communicating

There are lots of little things you can do when communicating with a deaf child to make it easier for you to be understood and for them to understand you. The first point is to speak clearly but using your normal voice, using visual cues such as pointing or drawing to help where appropriate. Tools such as wall planners can also be helpful for organisation and reference, showing when and where you and the child are expected to be.  For individuals who are hearing impaired, background noise can have a huge impact, so turn off TVs and radios not in use. Communication when in larger groups – such as at a dinner table in a restaurant - may also be more difficult.  Taking turns to talk in such situations will allow the young person to better follow and get involved in conversation.

Being able to see your face clearly can help a deaf person to understand you better. With this in mind, try not to obstruct your mouth when speaking or to stand in front of bright lights that could make it difficult to see your face. Shouting and slowing down speech can make it more difficult to work out what you’re saying, so stick to speaking clearly but normally. There may be times when you struggle to convey meaning but try not to give up if this happens. If oral communication proves difficult, try writing things down on paper or using your mobile phone to type it out. 

Would you like to be considered for deaf fostering? As well as short and long-term placements, you may also be able to assist through provision of short break or respite care. If you have any questions or would like to discuss how you can become a foster carer, please contact our friendly advisers.