THE BLOG

We Must Be More Vigilant to the Concerns of Deaf Children

05/11/2015 10:41 GMT | Updated 04/11/2016 09:12 GMT

As NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said last month, while the jailing of Stuart Hall, Max Clifford, Rolf Harris and the like show that no one is above the law, we must never forget the victims of 'non-celebrity' sex crimes who will have suffered horrendous experiences and deserve to seek justice.

Some of these adults will have remained silent over many decades and those that do come forward are often worried they won't be believed. Sadly some of these people will have come forward earlier in their lives and not been believed. This is exactly what happened in the Woodford School for the Deaf case, in which former students were abused by the owner Eric Ingall over a period of three decades. This week this case, which was originally highlighted by the BBC Two See Hear programme earlier this month, was shown on BBC Newsnight.

This high profile coverage of the Woodford School case, I believe, is a breakthrough in terms of putting the abuse of Deaf children, into the spotlight. The piece which features interviews with adults about the abuse they suffered as children at the school, shows that when the former pupils spoke up about the abuse and the case came to court in 2004 the Judge threw the case out.

Deaf and disabled children are 3.4 times more vulnerable to being abused - but I know from my work as a Development Consultant for Deaf & Disabled children at the NSPCC that when we have asked Deaf adults to talk about experiences of abuse during their childhood they tell us they were ignored or not believed. It is so important that we tell these adults that they will be listened to and that they must come forward and that we encourage children who are suffering from abuse now to do the same.

Sexual abuse of Deaf children is still continuing and it is a difficult subject to discuss within the Deaf Community. We know with hearing children it takes, on average, up to 7 years for them to disclose abuse. For a Deaf child it is much longer and there are many reasons for this. Limited contact with the local community and professionals not understanding the needs of Deaf children can all act as huge barriers to seeking help. These barriers also include feeling guilty or fear of being blamed for the abuse themselves as well as social isolation.

So how can we remove these barriers and help to identify abuse? I believe it's about creating a culture or an environment where Deaf children can feel safe to disclose and are supported after doing so. The key element here is for adults that work with, care for and support Deaf children to really understand the need to continuously create opportunities for children to explain how they are feeling and regularly encourage them to share if anything is worrying them.

This means being creative and flexible in developing and using different communication methods which will resonate with Deaf children. Opportunities to do this will always exist in the home, but also in the classroom or at youth clubs. It is in these places that you can really get a sense of a child's behaviour. If they are displaying defiance or anger this can often be a sign that they are trying to communicate to you that something is wrong.

We urgently need a new approach to sex and relationships education for Deaf children and those with special educational needs. We also need health and therapeutic services for Deaf children where they have access to British Sign Language interpreters. Deaf children have different needs and sadly these are not always adequately addressed in a way that fully supports them today.

It's so important that adults report concerns at the earliest opportunity. It doesn't matter if you're wrong. At the NSPCC our 24/7 helpline is run by trained child protection professionals and you can contact them by Sign Video, text, online form or phone.

We know that children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone known to the child or their family - which is why it is so important that when there are concerns about a Deaf child the agencies involved share information and find specialist means of supporting these families. By this we mean social workers for Deaf children, advocacy services, counselling services, and British Sign Language Interpreters. People who have the specialist knowledge to support Deaf families.

Of course, there are other things we can do to support Deaf children, such as developing more accessible materials such as posters and BSL videos for the community, schools and GP surgeries so that Deaf children understand what abuse is and they and Deaf adults can seek accessible support. Earlier this year we at the NSPCC helped to create the NSPCC's Underwear Rule video for Deaf children - which teaches them how to recognise inappropriate behaviour and to inform a trusted adult to help them to stay safe from sexual abuse. Our hope is that parents and professionals will use this video with Deaf children and encourage them to seek help. So far the video has received over 50,000 views, so we hope it's having impact, but together all organisations and professionals with a responsibility for Deaf children must do more.

Please do not hesitate to talk to us here at the NSPCC if you have a concern for a child, or need to seek some advice. You can contact us for free through our SignVideo Service at nspcc.signvideo.co.uk, by texting 88858 or by emailing us at help@nspcc.org.uk.

I hope that the brave adults who spoke out about the abuse they suffered at Woodford School will encourage other people in the Deaf Community to do the same. We need to ensure that future generations of Deaf children understand that abuse is wrong and if they report it they will be taken seriously.