Social & Emotional Support for Deaf Children, Young People and their Families
A story by West Scotland Deaf Children's Society
We provided 261 activity clubs for deaf children via Zoom; 4 face-to-face at St Roch’s After-School Club and a cinema trip bringing deaf young people together, enjoying time with their peers alleviating the isolation & loneliness experienced whilst giving their carers the opportunity to have a break
What Social & Emotional Support for Deaf Children, Young People and their Families did
The provision of four fun, inclusive & accessible clubs every week throughout the pandemic, where we sent out craft packs and completed them together over Zoom, saw us creating Egyptian head dresses, clay models, treasure boxes/treasure maps, animal puppets and enjoying art workshops, keep-fit classes, magic shows, games, quizzes, a virtual visit from Santa Claus and we even learned to juggle! Additionally, St Roch’s After School club allowed pupils to participate in extracurricular activities including boys’ and girls’ nights and a cinema trip.
Carers from the Zoom clubs had the opportunity to have a much needed break from supporting their children at home whilst, supported by our staff and two BSL Interpreters, their children were enjoying & fully immersed in our activities. St Roch’s after school activities also allowed parents to get some time to relax knowing their children could be taken home by taxi.
Our young people assisted in the planning, preparation and delivery of our events ensuring they both enjoyed the activities and had ownership of them. Our project helped instill confidence and improve mental health by reducing isolation and loneliness, something which has been even more of a challenge and issue for deaf children/young people and their families because of lockdown, face masks and social distancing. All activities were offered to & enjoyed by deaf children, young people, some siblings, and their families throughout the West of Scotland (and a few beyond) through our membership, schools with a Hearing Impairment Unit, peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf, colleagues in other Deaf Organisations, Social Work Departments, Audiology Departments, our website, and social media pages.
Despite the additional challenges, our project was able to successfully deliver our targets and outcomes. In normal circumstances we would have provided around 60 activities/outings, the need to deliver digitally & increase the frequency of the activities, to combat the particular issues with isolation & communication, saw us ultimately deliver 261 Zoom and 5 face to face activities.
What West Scotland Deaf Children's Society has learned
The need to move to a digital format as a result of the pandemic was initially quite a challenge but, knowing the importance of the clubs to our deaf children and their carers, we quickly adapted and, in consultation with them, were able to deliver a programme that met the needs of the majority. Additionally, we both offered and provided one to one support for some young people who were unable to cope with Zoom Clubs to ensure that they too were being supported.
The lockdown, whilst difficult for everyone, has been particularly isolating for deaf children, young people and their carers. Unable to communicate with their friends and relatives by telephone, and many unable to Facetime, Skype, or even for those who can, not everyone is able to communicate using BSL or has the deaf awareness skills necessary to facilitate lip reading. Likewise the use of social distancing & facemasks makes it impossible to lip read and muffles sound making life extremely difficult for those who are deaf. This became such a priority that in addition to providing the clubs we also offered BSL Classes over Zoom and produced BSL videos to help families communicate with their deaf young people. The clubs, classes and additional support has been necessary to help combat the isolation, loneliness and impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
We've also learned that even post pandemic there is a need to continue with the digital clubs via Zoom as it gave our young people who had not previously been able to attend the face to face clubs the opportunity to attend. They have specifically requested that we continue with this in conjunction with our (pre-pandemic) weekly clubs.
The other benefit was the inclusion of other family members who joined in our activities and were able to see first hand their deaf siblings enjoy time with their peers. Something many don't otherwise have the opportunity to witness. They too felt welcome & included in the group & were able to share in the activities which also improved their deaf awareness & BSL skills.
As always working with our colleagues across the sector and in education we were able to identify and offer these services to families who would really benefit from this service.
How West Scotland Deaf Children's Society has benefitted from the funding
Better Breaks, Short Break funding is hugely beneficial to us. It enabled us to continue to provide clubs which are fully inclusive offering fun, stimulating, and rewarding activities that they would otherwise not have. This offered carers and other family members the opportunity to have a break from their caring role. The resultant impact this has on the mental health and wellbeing of all concerned cannot be overstated particularly as we have all navigated our way through this very difficult period. As, with the support of SBF, we were able to run the clubs digitally, we successfully secured additional funding to help with our permanent staff costs, additional Interpreter fees and resources. We remain indebted to the Better Breaks Short Break fund for their continued support of our charity.
Deaf children, many with other additional needs, will have opportunities to socialise & have fun participating in activities they've had a say in planning. The children will be happier, more confident and socialise more easily. There will be an overall improvement in their mental health & wellbeing.
We provided a wide and varied range of fun, stimulating and rewarding activities, delivered mainly via Zoom, four times each week (261) to all deaf children, deaf young people and some of their siblings. A further 4 face to face after school clubs were provided, and more recently an additional outing to the cinema, where all pupils from St Roch's Hearing Impairment Unit, were able to participate in a variety of different extracurricular activities outside of school time. All activities were discussed, selected and planned in consultation with our young people and their families to ensure they fully met their interests, needs and capabilities. It is important to us that all activities, whether virtual or in person, are fully inclusive to ensure that everyone can enjoy participation which is vital to improving their confidence, self esteem and mental wellbeing.
One child had moved to the country with very little BSL or English. She was very nervous and found it difficult to socialise with other pupils. As a taxi was provided to return the pupil home, she was able to attend fun activities such as a girls’ night and visit a cinema for the first time. She is now a much happier and more confident girl in school with others. A young man who attends the Zoom Clubs has always been quite shy, reserved and somewhat reluctant to join in mainstream activities. He has attended the Zoom clubs throughout the pandemic and we have all noted a huge difference in him. He now actively joins in without encouragement, will make jokes and freely interacts with his peers and our staff. His Mum tells us "without these clubs he would have a very lonely social life. He is always made to feel welcome and feels a part of something."
Carers will be provided with respite opportunities & chances to engage with other families. As a result, they will have improved wellbeing & reduced stress. They will be more confident in stepping away from their caring role & allowing us to look after their child no matter their complex needs.
Carers were provided with many opportunities for respite. With the extremely difficult period we have all been experiencing during lockdown, this was even more important for carers who were like all of us unable to leave homes unless essential and for a large degree of the time also home school their children and or work from home. Even carers with children with complex needs were able to benefit from some respite.
One family whose child has multiple complex needs has had to shield throughout this entire period. Without respite from either other family members or professionals they have been in a very isolated situation. Our clubs, and additional one to one support, have given her something to really look forward to and she has not missed any at all. Her Dad tells us they most enjoyed "the togetherness of the group and how they have helped so much during the pandemic" and that they as carers have at times both managed to get a break, and at others at least one of them has while the other provides assistance to their child. He says "It's a fantastic club and staff. Don't know what we would have done without them!"
The clubs will give carers the opportunity to establish support networks with staff and other carers. Through shared experience and support, Carers will have an improved emotional well-being, reduction in stress and anxiety and therefore be able to sustain their caring role.
Despite not being able to meet face to face, our carers were able to communicate & gain support from our staff and other carers in many ways - telephone; Facetime, Zoom, email, and via our Facebook groups. The frequency of our digital clubs meant we saw each other more than ever & this both fostered new & strengthened existing support networks & relationships with both our staff & other carers. We regularly consulted on what was needed, welcomed, or helpful to assist in their role as carers. The pandemic put additional pressure on all carers. Knowing that their child had the opportunity to attend the Zoom clubs every week, where they could meet up and enjoy activities with their peers, was greatly appreciated not only for the respite it offered but also because it was a chance for them to see their child fully engaged and happy in a supportive and inclusive environment which was not available elsewhere.
One carer told us: "My child interacting with his peers in fun activities each week was something for him to look forward to. It's given him more confidence with his deaf peers and he's even opened up. It gives him a fun, safe environment with young adults which apart from school he doesn't experience in our area. It's a lifeline to building his confidence & widening his group of friends. Without it his social life (with kids his own age) would be very lonely. I was able to work from home and it was great to know he was safe online having fun with his peers." Another states: We looked forward to participating each week through lockdown with 1 parent giving other family members a short break. It provided much needed routine, focus & outside safe interaction whilst school was closed & there was so much uncertainty."
Carers will be less stressed, happier and more satisfied in their ability to provide in their caring role. Their children will be happier, more confident and both children and carers will feel welcomed into a supportive, understanding community with whom they can form lifelong friendships.
The support provided four times each week and additional one to one support where needed has given carers, deaf children, young people and their siblings many opportunities to either have a break, or to engage with and enjoy the activities; or to appreciate the companionship and support network it has provided. All of which has been delivered in a fully inclusive digital environment supported by our staff & two BSL/English Interpeters and when needed also live onscreen digital transcription. We know from our young people and their carers how welcome this has been and how they have seen first hand the improvement in how happy they are, their confidence and self-esteem. This reduces stress and anxiety for all family members.
Our Zoom Club has been a lifeline to child F and her family. The online Zoom Clubs have allowed Child F’s parents to receive respite whilst their child joins in with our activities. This also allows her parents to source any Family Support advice they may need or to ask what the sign is for a certain word. For Child F, this has introduced her to a new group of new friends, who understand her, and how to communicate with her. She is now excited to attend the clubs 3 times per week and is often waiting to join the Zoom sessions much earlier than required. She likes to tell her friends and staff about all the exciting trips she's had to the park and to watch what her friends have done and have planned. Child F also has fun, exciting activities, and events to look forward to at WSDCS that are all guaranteed to be deaf friendly with all of her communication needs being met. All of the clubs/ events are open to the whole family which has meant that Child F and her twin brother are able to do this together. Child F family and staff have noticed a huge difference as her confidence has soared and she is now often leading conversation, is confident to make decisions and also proud of being deaf, just like her friends. As she sees other deaf children signing, staff and interpreters; her signing and vocabulary has improved massively, as has her parents. She was offered BSL tuition as were her parents, siblings, and grandparents which they grasped and have been told this has strengthened the bond that they have and has also made family life much easier and happier. Her parents are more confident signing and have also really enjoyed the support received from the charity. The result has been that Child F mood has improved and WSDCS have been told that she is now a ‘happy child’. Mum says: Our children have loved participating in the Zoom sessions. The packs they have been provided with are outstanding & cover such a wide range of skills and interests. The club is so inclusive to everyone's needs & each team member is so welcoming, friendly & engaging with the children & show a genuine interest in them all. Our experience has been welcoming, fun, engaging, interactive & inclusive. The clubs have enabled her to widen her group of deaf peers and role models & increased interaction with them. The sessions are fully interpreted which ensures equality for all. It has been an amazing experience & we are so thankful for the amazing work the team do. It's had a significant impact on our whole family & enabled increased communication & deaf awareness which ultimately has had a positive impact to her wellbeing & development."
Additional project outcome
Improved deaf awareness throughout mainstream service providers and establishments. We aimed to achieve a greater availability of accessible activities for deaf children and a greater awareness amongst service providers of their needs.
Despite the pandemic and the resultant need to move all our activities onto a digital platform, we still managed to achieve this by arranging to have a number of activities & workshops led by outside service providers. We shared with them our experiences as either deaf adults, parents and siblings of deaf children/young people, and provided some deaf awareness training to ensure they would feel comfortable and confident and that our children would be able to fully engage in the activity. These included an art class, magic shows, a Zumba class, a keep fit class, and we are currently planning a digital collaboration with Ayr Farm Park. Some of the activities were led by deaf adults which meant the children not only enjoyed a fun activity, they got to see role models working in their chosen field which was inspiring. Those who led activities who were themselves hearing and hadn't previously worked with deaf children, saw how with the right support, deaf awareness and BSL Interpreters, all of our children were able to fully participate and enjoy all the same activities their hearing peers can. The result of which was a relaxed, fun and enjoyable time was had by everyone! All of the people involved in these activities and workshop providers enjoyed the experience and were keen to come back for a return visit and this can only serve to improve the provision and delivery from mainstream service providers.