#CCCUconf17: A whistle stop tour

I cannot do justice to this event in the, already, too many words here. But I can give a flavour of the type of issues discussed. I hope you enjoy the read as much as we enjoyed the event!

THANKS EVERYONE INVOLVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#CCCUconf17: A whistle stop tour

Last week we held the second annual conference at The Canterbury Police Research Centre Research (CPRC) at CCCU[1]. It was a time for celebration as it marked the first anniversary of our centre and whilst writing up the annual report in preparation for the first advisory board meeting we reflected on what we have managed to achieve in our first year. Actually this made us feel very proud indeed.

The theme of the conference was ‘Learning from Evidence: Mission impossible?’ and as ever we were very keen to create an environment that was not only welcoming of police practitioners and academics but also to offer an agenda which was as much about academic research and theory as it was about practitioner experience and reality. This as most of you know is absolutely our ethos at the centre. After holding an incredibly successful event last year on stress in policing, I was concerned about the ability to create something so special again (and so it seemed was my head of school but he only voiced this post event). However, my worries were soon quashed as the conference opened. The atmosphere was relaxed, full of smiling faces, engaging and welcome to challenge and different ideas – which is exactly what we had hoped for. So therefore, perhaps not mission impossible more mission ‘coming along slowly’.

We are also lucky and honored to have such a practitioner and academic focused support network in the centre. I won’t mention them all as they know who they are and how grateful we are to them but it was lovely to see speakers coming back to the event from last year both as attendees and speakers. The support they have given us over the year is not to be underestimated –  pushing some of them well out of their comfort zone to the point where we ask them to speak themselves. We also had a wealth of well wishes from those that could not attend this year which is both generous and reassuring that people want to be involved in our work.

All of the papers were excellent and, as said above presented a true and honest reflection of the views of those speaking. However, and again this is what we wanted, there were some key challenges in every direction!

  • The academic papers challenged each other
  • The practitioners challenged the research and used reality to highlight that sometimes academic findings ‘just aren’t like that in real life’.
  • The academics also challenged the practitioners
  • Local practitioners challenged each other
  • Practitioners challenged the pracademics

 

However, whilst I am highlighting these challenges, despite these different ‘languages’ and views, within the context of the conference environment it was comfortable and challenge was received openly. This is an absolute credit to the type of environment we have ALL created at these two events. Plus, this highlights how much we all care and really ultimately want the best for policing… I think!

The one glaring overarching theme that came through for me at the conference this year was LEGITIMACY. Despite the differing takes that we all have on this issue it seems, to me, that this term captures so much of what was voiced last Wednesday and Thursday and this is worth exploring.

Whilst defining the many complex meanings of legitimacy is not for here, (I will save that for my PhD!), the presence of the concept was clear during both days. It came out in different formats and for different reasons in the papers we heard but, nonetheless, the notion of legitimacy was key to the majority of them without it being mentioned explicitly. I will do my best to explain this using the themes coming from the different speakers. So here goes my attempt!

Legitimacy of knowledge and truth:

What constitutes knowledge in policing has been widely debated and relates to the good old argument about research methods and the application of science to policing. The majority of us believe that the best evidence we have available in order to make a decision can be based on a number of factors ranging from professional experience to the use of findings arising from a randomised control trial.

It seems, however, and this was beautifully articulated in @nathanconstable’s blog following the conference, that the language used by some academics in this space can negate the value of experience and human voice. This can result in a perception by practitioners that their voice is not legitimate enough to be considered as knowledge and that there is no space for it within this sterile and controlled environment. The perceived absence of the practitioner’s voice as legitimate then impacts on the legitimacy of the evidence based concept itself as it is seen as separate to those involved in it and not inclusive.

As Professor Rob Briner (Queen Mary’s University) so clearly summed up, evidence based practice is not about certainty it is about a process. A process which involves learning, reflecting and not making experience and professional practice opaque by science. It is the use of multiple sources to inform a better outcome – and it is all of these different sources that should all be considered as legitimate in the right context.

Legitimacy of voice:

Always a contentious issue right? Well it shouldn’t be. This was mentioned by a number of speakers, as was the impact of not giving practitioners a sense of legitimacy in relation to their voice in all areas of police work. Dr Les Graham from Durham University described this perfectly in his work on staff surveys and the importance of using and operationalising findings to instigate change. For managers in the policing environment to recognise the legitimacy of their staff and hear what they have to say about issues effecting them is vital to productivity, officer wellbeing (as discussed by Dr Ian Hesketh) and the adoption of new programmes (such as EBP) in policing. Do not ever just capture voice. We need to use it, legitimise it and action it.

Ian also described the use of social media to capture this voice. For a number of reasons police officers are not exposed to the physical contact that they had pre austerity and access to social media for many is a way of them being heard. If researchers and others really want to consider the voice of officers and help them develop a sense of legitimacy in this space, using some of this information is a great way to go.

Refreshingly DCC Andy Rhodes talked of exactly this – calling these voices and such feedback as a ‘wakeup call’ to use and reflect on. This is essentially about making people and their opinions feel legitimate in their own work place.

Legitimacy of outcomes:

I make a huge leap here by linking the papers of Rick Muir from the Police Foundation and Rob Briner. Rick talked about some of the limiting factors within police culture which might affect the success of change as he described some of the outcomes of police work that are traditionally valued as a success. He questioned how a fast moving, reactive, performance driven organisation can effectively create the space required for learning. This is so clearly linked to what Rob Briner described as the police reaching for solutioneering – the can do culture, the need to quickly deal with an issue and help fix it. Actually he explained, being evidence based is not about having fixed solutions it is concerned with being more effective at solving longer term problems and using ideas that might work. There is no certainty.

Currently though, as Rick stated, policing refers to perceived legitimate, transparent information (usually in the form of statistics (arrests, stops, JD rates etc.)) to quickly prove to someone (HMIC for example) that something is being done and achieved. In reality these figures are not outcomes, are rarely focused on long term issues and usually fail to consider any effective problem definition. In fact, they can encourage solutioneering. Michael Brown’s paper on understanding this in the context of mental health and policing absolutely exemplified this issue. Don we really understand our problems?

Another, more effective form of reviewing, what constitutes, good police performance needs to be developed and legitimised by management to really support an environment capable of reflection and learning. Indeed, this related to a couple of papers raising the issue of officers ‘doing the right thing’ as opposed to doing what is expected of them in order to deliver the numerical outcome. This was an issue that was picked up from Roger Pegram’s talk in relation to some management styles stifling the use of evidence and trying new options.

Legitimacy of police roles

The breadth of police roles is not covered here. What this refers to in this blog is people within their force who try and make this stuff work. Like Roger and Rob Flanagan. Rob talked of his experiences since being made the lead for innovation in Lancashire, with complete support from his DCC. Despite this support and despite some incredible examples of the changes he has influenced, he believes he is not seen as having a legitimate role in his force, my some. This has manifested itself in comments at work and very publicly on social media. Simply his role, as driving forward change and identifying creative ideas, is not generically valued across his force.

You can apply this sense of legitimacy to a range of police issues and I think I make the inference that this also relates to change/reform in policing. Referring back to Rob Briner’s notion of solutioneering, I compare this to Mike Rowe’s paper on long term change in New Zealand and how, after identifying some long term issues they set a ten-year change agenda. Imagine that – being given ten years to deal with a review and its recommendations. This alone is another blog, but how can all police roles be considered as legitimate to focus on when fast time reviews and delivery of change expectations result in shifting limited resources around to ‘solutioneer’ on the subject at hand. Fascinating paper from Mike Rowe also stressing the importance of getting people on board as did David Wilkinson in his paper on change – all highlighting organisational justice and identity.

Legitimacy of leadership

‘Leadership is action not position’ – Gareth Stubbs. Leadership was a theme that ran through the entire conference. It became clear in a number of the papers – Rob Briner’s, Andy Rhodes, Gareth’s – that maybe. over asking what style and type of leadership is seen as legitimate in policing we need to ask, do we need different styles that are required in different contexts.

Gareth described leadership itself as a wicked problem which is poorly defined and hard to measure. In fact, if we recognise that there is no one size leadership style that fits all for policing we may enable the development of a learning environment amongst leaders. What style worked where, when and with whom…. Reflective leadership is perhaps required.

Finally, I mention Dr Jill Russell’s who raised the importance of good leaders bringing people together to create a joined up approach where shared values and agreed outcomes are supported and encouraged. Jill used CC Ian Hopkin’s communications methods over recent Manchester events as an example of this display of leadership. Her analysis highlighted some of what the other speakers voiced about the need for the complex issues the police increasingly deal with, to be seen as joint problems and not just focused in the police domain. Perhaps indeed there is no one legitimate leadership style but many and we need to celebrate and learn from that.

All in all, it was a really fantastic two days – I have questions / thoughts / increased desire to do LOTS of research (of course I am an academic and there is always research to be done).

Please join us on our learning journey – get involved and if any of you reading this fancy taking on a blog about any of these issues please guest for us on our blog site. We welcome practitioner views particularly. Tell us your experiences please!! That’s how we all learn!

 

[1] We very much hope to make available the presentations in due course on our website

 

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Terrorism and Cyber Hate – Dr Elaine Brown CCCU

A guest blog from Dr Elaine Brown – Senior Lecturer Canterbury Christ Church University 

Another terrorist attack, which stole the lives of people who had everything to live for. Teresa May has argued we have entered a ‘dark time’ for cybercrime; and pledged priority to addressing this in a statement to the nation yesterday. The harrowing message of Chrissy Archibald’s parents (the first named victim), asks that we sort our society out by volunteering, doing good and helping those less fortunate than ourselves #chrissysentme

Cyberbullying is difficult to define and something typically associated with safeguarding children and protecting the vulnerable. However, today online we are exposed to comments which illustrate bigotry, xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination consistently. No doubt, you will have read statements such as “fake Britain” or “go back home” communicated via social media. Perhaps, friends of yours are engaging. What did you do, if anything, to challenge this narrative?

Absence of by-stander intervention (notably a criticism frequently levelled at members of British Muslim communities in relation to terror prevention efforts), is something which should not go overlooked. We all have it in us to help others, but many people choose to be passive by-standers. The by-stander effect is a phenomena which causes individuals not to intervene in emergency situations. A repeated observation is that the more people who are present, the less likely it is one of them will intervene. In an online world, the number of people anonymously observing is unlimited as is the diffusion of responsibility it would seem.

This could be because of conformity (those who read the post agreed, but choose not to express this explicitly), or compliance (people did not agree, but choose not to express it). This question may help us to better understand the escalating violence we see at a global level; are you a by-stander? And if so are you conforming or complying?

Compliance may be justified by different reasons, not least is concern for the repercussion of violence. The recent terror act in the USA where three men had their throats slit on public transport as they defended the innocent is a harsh reminder of this risk. Alternatively, it could be acceptance of the expression ‘never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and bet you with experience’. Or maybe, ‘poise and stoicism’. Strikingly, perhaps people have not even considered their role as a by-stander.

‘The only thing evil men need to triumph is for good men to do nothing’ (for those of biblical persuasion, the semantics are firmly rooted, James 4:17, ESV: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”). The absence of condemnation on hate speech online is deafening, something we implore others to consider.

Should we ignore what in the physical would could be considered criminal attitudes and legitimise it with reifying rhetoric (i.e., ‘trolling’)? I do not believe cyber hate should be ‘normalised’ we all must do more to address all narratives of hate, wherever we see it.

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In Praise of Those who Make a Difference

I am not a police officer but I am genuinely interested in policing and criminal justice matters – it has become my working world. Therefore as someone slightly removed from the reality of police work I can only imagine the conflicting feelings officers must feel today. On the one hand we have witnessed an overwhelming support for the police from the public, the media and many politicians in the UK this week. Whilst this support is linked to the amazing response by Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police Service particularly, following the horrendous attacks in Manchester and London, I am sure the positive words and recognition has been welcomed by many officers across the country.

Conversely however there must also be a sense of frustration for some as we see questions being asked to the Prime Minister about the impact the cuts she made as Home Secretary might have had on recent events. I don’t wish to speculate about any direct impact the cuts to policing may or may not have had on the recent terrorist activity, however it is clear to see that resources in specific and very relevant areas of the police world have been reduced and officers themselves have questioned their impact in a number of ways.

Numbers of local neighbourhood officers are significantly less than they were in 2010, this not only reduces the amount of intelligence coming in from the community about such issues but also can impact on the relationships more broadly. There has been a vast reduction in school liaison officers who had a key role in the identification of radicalisation in school arenas, the intelligence services have been overwhelmed with work generally and recent interviews in the media with senior officers have, over and over again, evidenced the extreme difficultly officers sometimes face when making decisions about what to prioritise first on a daily basis – this means that sometimes things might get missed.

The most frustrating factor when reflecting on this, alongside the type of language we are hearing today in support of the police (and all emergency services) is that officers predicted this would happen. Let me give just a few examples of this:

  • The brilliantly orchestrated #cutshaveconsequences campaign, which should have received more press coverage than it did, was driven locally in a number of forces to highlight in a very transparent way, the potential impact that reduced resources might have in their local area.
  • The anonymous pieces in various broad sheet newspapers by officers describing their despair about the current situation both on them personally as officers and the community they joined the job to protect.
  • Research evidence that clearly highlighted the growing stress levels amongst police officers and subsequent absenteeism resulting from it.
  • The use of social media as a safe way of sharing concerns about what was happening both nationally and locally. Brave decisions made to publicise in these forums the reality that young people with serious mental health issues were being held in custody suites and being dealt with by unqualified officers who feared that they would do the wrong thing at any given moment.

And yet no one really listened. The voice of the officers got lost, they were accused of being scaremongering and the government refused to take seriously the impact of what they had done.

Today this has been reversed and people are listening – I would argue not necessarily the government themselves but many others – including the media. The PM has faced difficult questions about her decisions as Home Secretary by the media this week and has broadly refused to answer many of them. What must really be a huge disappointment and frustration to many officers is the way in which the government have suggested to the public that police numbers are up as a result of the recent atrocities. This is not true – there is not a sudden surge in police numbers – what has happened in reality is that officers have been removed from other roles (putting other areas at risk), have been expected to work extra hours and cancel their annual leave. This is the reality for them. So it seems to me that this praise and support is desperately needed yes, and yet somehow it is undermined by the untruths being spouted by May and her team about the reality of the current situation. We see no plans to reverse cuts, to increase police numbers or to review how the police are currently really feeling. In fact we have no promise that we will not see more cuts should they win the election on Thursday.

Over the past few years officers have been stretched to the limit with unmanageable caseloads, increased working demands which often challenge their capability and a new professionalisation agenda which many feel has been enforced on them with very limited engagement and communications. Let’s face it, mixing these ingredients up and reflecting on the ramifications of them as a whole, you can see how many serving officers feel threatened and are questioning their perceived worth from the outside world. Survey upon survey by the Federation, the PD Trust, Mind Charity plus other academic works have clearly illustrated and evidenced that officers are more stressed than ever and that many are leaving because they consider it to be entirely removed from the job they joined.

There is now a wealth of work ongoing around police well-being and mental ill health, largely because officers are starting to disclose their feelings and admit that they are not coping. Ian Hesketh the College of Policing lead for this area has been involved in various national agendas to improve well-being in the police and strives continuously to make senior leaders understand how such factors will impact on productivity and service provision in the longer term.

This last few weeks we have witnessed very clearly, the dedication the police have to protect the public and keep us safe. How often do I hear “it’s more than just a job?” Well this week this has been more than clear.  Officers, with no questions asked, abandoning their annual leave and rare rest days to go and assist their colleagues, protect the public and provide a symbolic face of security in our cities.

I for one would like to say thank you to all of them for this dedication. Morale may be at its lowest for a number of reasons but still these officers respond quickly and efficiently, risking their lives to protect us. They warned the public and the government of their fears about security, risks and protection and they were not listened to. We need to move on from paying lip service to officers and start to listen to what they have to say.

 

 

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Scripts and innovation

This is a version of the piece published in Policing Insight this week – Emma

Last week the Canterbury Centre for Police Research hosted a debate on policing and mental health. It was a very successful evening and I would like to say a huge thanks to all of those that assisted in its success particularly as it was the evening following the atrocities in Manchester. This goes out to our staff, those that attended and the speakers.

The debate covered issues relating to both the way the police deal with individuals who are experiencing mental ill health and mental health issues in policing. It was very easy to analyse the information being presented and make links between the two and also the links to many areas of policing where officers can feel threatened, witness horrifying events and feel powerless to deal with them fully effectively. The statistics revealed, from a survey completed by Mind charity, reinforced the significant numbers of officers who disclosed their suffering of mental ill health or stress by the Police Federation England and Wales and Police Dependant Trust surveys. It was a very insightful evening and, if you would like more details specifically on Michael Brown’s input, he has published a great blog on his site.

This article isn’t specifically about the debate content provided that night but is partly a response to one simple issues that was mentioned in the paper delivered by the Mind representative. It has really resonated and stayed with me. There was talk about the potential development of a script for officers and call handlers to use when they are faced with someone with mental health issues. Prescriptive aids for officers delivered out of context concern me, as most of you already know. Whilst offering a framework perhaps, they can deskill, negate a sense of professional self identity, promote clone like approaches to extremely complex issues and remove the human element to just dealing with people properly. Such ‘outputs of assistance’ based usually on research findings (well we hope for reasons of evidence based practice) for officers and staff must always be delivered and implemented with the proviso that human care and professional experience is allowed for. Indeed, more than that, human reaction is actually fundamental not only for ensuring ‘real’ and contextual care and welfare but also for the benefit of learning, trying new ways of working and being innovative. Recently at the Society of Evidence Based Policing the need to learn from failures bring as important as learning from success was a major theme. Relaying scripts can limit both and yet allowing space for officers to try new ideas and ways of being in these situations is exactly what is needed. Such allowance and critically, trust, enhances officers commitment to the organisation and promotes a sense of leadership that supports its staff to do the right thing. Ethically this may be more beneficial than operating off a script.

Not one officer I know wants to be a clone, unable to go off script and reel off the same output in any given situation. Therefore I was relived by the mention of humanity by Mind and I hope that if such scripts enter the policing sphere this is stressed. BUT there is another key issue here that was raised by Michael Brown and that was about the risk to the officer and attached blame if something goes wrong. This is something that comes up time and time again when you speak to practitioners about being allowed to go off script, be curious (as Roger Pegram talks about regularly) and use innovation.
There are a number of things that are happening in policing at the moment to try and promote wider thinking in and much of this is embodied in the College of Policing’s PEQF through the delivery of qualifications in policing so even the idea of neat scripts seems threatening to the concept of thinking, analysis and new ideas.

In June we hold our second annual conference at CCPR which will explore barriers to change and how to encourage an environment that accepts learning and innovation. We are exceptionally lucky to have such superb speakers coming to talk and, as a core part of our objective as a centre, we have a great mix of academics and practitioners attending and presenting over the two days. Last years was event fantastic and we hope to create a similar event in June.

The key theme arising from all of the papers concerns the people. Communicating to them, listening to them and engaging with them – the humans. That is so much more important than changing processes, structures and things that legitimise the organisation to the outside world. Unless you have the buy in and the voices involved within the organisation those changes are highly unlikely to really have an impact or indeed, be considered legitimate by employees themselves. I could rant on about this for ever as I am entirely embedded in this conversation for my own research but I feel excited that we can raise these issues if only to a few in June.
Giving people scripts and expecting the same responses and actions to be applied to certain events and contexts can influence social contagion where a particular type of behaviour is perpetuated, culture is reconstructed time and time again and change remains limited in any real sense.

A recent poll designed and distributed by Police Promotion on Twitter asked officers why they felt they could not be themselves during an interview process and turn into an interview robot. Neil James from the organisation, that offers training around promotion processes, told me that the response they had was higher than for any other twitter poll they had completed. Most interesting in this debate was that 61% of the 980 officers that responded said that the reason was because they felt it was expected of them. Comments such as “you have to say what they want to hear” and “difference is unwelcome and disruptive thinking is to be slapped down” don’t really resonate with a place that it ready for difference, lateral thinking and curiousness.

As an aside this is an excellent example of how social media can reveal voice. Ian Hesketh and I have advocated the use of social media channels for research probing for a while and this is a classic example of how it could be used. Particularly around a subject that maybe challenging for people to discuss openly in their force.

I am excited by the debate that is coming in June. Opening up the questions about why change is stilted is critical at a time when change is not only required but also being enforced in some areas. The papers we have range from ideas about listening to practitioners and using surveys from Les Graham, encouraging evidence based practice from Rob Briner, leading though change from Andy Rhodes and many many more. We hope the conference will raise conversation and questions about what the reality is at the current time for those doing the job. Please tweet away and spread the debate around to those not coming. There are a lot of evidenced examples about the perceptions of officers and indeed the inhibitors of innovation – scripts being one example of this.
The human experience is the most important part of this process. We must always value the assets -the staff and listen to them if we really are serious about change. Change of practice, change of culture and more critically of behaviour is likely to be surface level without this.
Organisational change can look sufficient to the outside world and change programmes can help legitimise failings to the outside world. However isn’t ironic that whilst we experience failed change programmes we don’t learn from the reasons why! I think researchers and academics have a role in making this better. We need to consider the people in our research too (as I have written about). Evidence to learn from comes from voice too. Understanding the impact of something is useless unless we learn from what didn’t or conversely didn’t make it effective.

So the human is applicable to this entire conversation. Doing the job, trying new ways of working, further testing ideas to see if they work in context and asking those involved what they need to make it a success. Without pre-emptying the conference debates I suspect that it might mainly feature people, the removal of blame and the promotion of a culture that doesn’t advocate clones.

Please get involved in the debate – follow #CCCUConf17

 

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Personal reflections from Jenny Norman A voice for Daisy: being deaf in a hearing world

I am using this blog site to share some very personal thoughts from our wonderful senior lecturer Jenny Norman.. it is honest and reflective and also highlights more issues that the public sector face around children who have extra needs at school 

This week marks National Deaf Awareness Week and I wanted to share our family story. I have only properly articulated this in any depth to a few close friends and family members. But I often experience low ebbs and feelings of anxiety around both my children who are both deaf. My son is mildly deaf and my daughter is moderately. Now seems an apt time to speak out.

Let me introduce Daisy, my four and half year old, sparky, chirpy, endearing little girl. She amazes me every single day. She is perfect. She loves a tantrum from time to time, like any other child. She insists to wear shorts when it’s freezing outside. She continuously raids my make-up bag and experiments with my lipsticks and eye shadows in a rather questionable way. She is loving and caring. She is ‘normal’. Part of her ‘normal’ is being is moderately deaf and this is part of our family life.

In contrast to my six year old son, Harry whose hearing loss was identified at five years old. We were very lucky as Daisy’s hearing issues was flagged as part of the new born screening test carried out on babies at 10 days old. Prior to these tests, I had just assumed that all the checks would come back as ‘normal’ but when Daisy’s hearing was screened there was no response from her left ear. Looking back, it was at that single point in time, when I heard this result where our journey into hearing loss started. I remember it vividly, looking down at my brand new baby in my arms, tears falling from my eyes bouncing off her forehead. I was scared and anxious about the extent of her loss, whether it would progress and importantly what this would mean for her in reality as she travels through her life.

These feelings have never disappeared, sometimes I am just better at containing it but there have been distinct moments where my knees have buckled and I’m right back in ‘that’ place, concerned for her future and knowing I have such a vital role in making it right for her.

Over the course of Daisy’s few months of life she had several tests to establish the extent of her deafness. When she was eight weeks old Daisy was diagnosed with unilateral sensorineural mild hearing loss. We were told that this was permanent but as long as she didn’t get ‘glue ear’ in her good side, she would hear adequately to progress in a ‘normal’ way. I came away from the test feeling mainly relieved. I felt that if this was all we had to worry about then we’ll take it. Importantly, we knew the situation right from her start in life and had a basic level of understanding about what her world might be like. From that point, our mission was to be aware of her needs but to normalise this for her.

In her first year, we had numerous trips to the audiology department. At this point her audiologist detected glue ear in her ‘good’ ear which wasn’t the best news given her loss in the other side. I remember distinctly the day I was given a bone conducting hearing aid for her to wear. The aid was fitted within a red towelling headband. I left the consultation with those feelings again, concerned about how the world would view her. With our mission to normalise her deafness, my husband ordered three other red headbands for us to wear so she didn’t feel different at home (although she was probably too young ever notice) and so our son could see no difference, if he did at all at only two years old. But it was our way of being proactive and just doing something to help.

When Daisy was about 18 months, we noticed that she hadn’t attempted to say a sound. She was completely mute. She would watch our mouths move as we spoke to her but no sound came from her. I contacted a Makaton advisor who visited us at home and he taught the whole family to sign including Harry, who was only 3 at the time, he picked it up better than all of us put together as it is such a powerful (and beautiful) way of communicating. Daisy started to use basic signs for water, sleep, sausages (was always a favourite) almost immediately and gradually with modelling the spoken language in combination of the signs she began to speak. It was amazing.

As time went on she received speech and language therapy who gave us invaluable strategies to support Daisy. Her Teacher of the Deaf (TOD) assessed her continuously and as Daisy grew, she responded to more sophisticated testing at audiology appointments. When Daisy was three years old, we went along to her routine consultation. There was good news, the glue had gone in her right hand side. I remember the relief but it was short lived. The hearing test that followed showed that she also had permeant hearing loss in her ‘good’ side too. Her audiologist confirmed that she had bilateral moderate sensorineural loss. She told me to imagine being in a swimming pool, under water and trying to hear. This is what Daisy’s world is like for her. She was measured and fitted with behind the ear hearing aids. Since using them her speech has come on tremendously and they have opened her world up. But now she is at school another set of variables strike us as a challenge as the ramifications of her hearing loss become apparent.

Daisy is entitled and it is appropriate for her to be educated in mainstream school. Daisy isn’t ‘deaf enough’ to go to a school for the deaf to access the support and education, but the resources in mainstream schools aren’t enough to acknowledge her individual needs so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard. So she is encapsulated in a hearing world when her reality is very different.

She started reception class in September. On the surface Daisy is doing really well at school. Her reading and writing is ‘age appropriate’ (the ‘norm’ she is benchmarked against at this stage), a label that is working against her already, as dig a little deeper, it’s not quite as simple as this. Now, two terms into school life, there some further issues have come to the fore.

Whilst the aid technology is extremely effective in some circumstances, they amplify all surrounding noise as well as the sounds she needs to hear. This is hard for her (or anyone) to manage. She has fatigue from concentrating in class all day long which is a constant challenge for her every day at school or indeed in any busy environment and she manages this amazingly. Her classroom teachers and teaching assistants are very willing to help support Daisy but they are limited and there are 29 other pupils in the class to rightly, support and develop at the same time.

The implications of being a deaf child in school also manifests in other forms. Anyone who knows Daisy will observe that she is an incredibly social girl, she forms strong bonds with particularly adults and older children. They can help her with the clues she is searching for and make things clearer for her but outside of these relationships it is difficult for her. As a result she has anxiety going into school. She particularly struggles with developing friendships with her peers and gravitates towards the older girls in the playground rather than feel she can play with the children her age. The stories Daisy has recounted to me range from not being included in games in the playground to being told she is hated by her peers. I take this with a pinch of salt to some extent as there is always context to consider and luckily at her age the majority of this, I think, washes over her head to some degree. But this won’t always be the case.

On hearing her playground experiences I had to act and re-state my concerns at school as any parent would. I needed to empower myself with the right information to guide the discussions to ensure Daisy is properly supported and has the ability to access the education she is entitled to. I lifted the phone and spoke to the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), our case was referred to a Children and Family Support Officer (CFSO) who contacted me and advised me on several aspects to explore at home and importantly at school. The CFSO gave me a huge amount of information about Daisy’s rights which has enabled me to have meaningful discussions with the Special Needs Co-ordinator at school. I was also told about a charity that may help. One Friday morning recently I called them. I spoke to the founder of the charity, who had set up Chloe and Sophie’s Special Ear Fund (CSSEF), as a result of both of her children being deaf with an aim to support them in mainstream school. She understood and

could relate everything I had experienced and offered her hand to help me. Throughout my conversation with her I realised I have spent so much time ‘normalising’ Daisy’s hearing loss in our family life that so much so I have overlooked the strategy I needed to pursue in conversations about her needs at school. I realised I have almost ‘downplayed’ her situation, when in fact this approach has led to things going unnoticed. Deafness is an invisible disability. The only way to close the gap between her hearing loss and hearing is to speak out and raise awareness around being deaf, what it’s like, and how it affects both social and emotional wellbeing as well as educational development.

I hear frequently from people, friends and even family members that hearing loss doesn’t have the same stigma as it used to. I agree to an extent but if it were true, then deaf awareness would be embedded into at mainstream school, as well as other complex needs that children deal with. The impact this is having on Daisy socially could be quite fundamental as she travels through school and becomes more self-aware. This is my biggest fear for her, but maybe this could change if more proactive and inclusive dialogues can be encouraged with everyone within the school environment.

For now, this piece is aimed at anyone that is experiencing anything similar to me, who is feeling isolated and not sure of the questions to ask and whom to aim them at. I was in that space for a long time. I realise now that whilst there is a willingness to help support Daisy in school from the teachers, they are inhibited by a lack of funding which means support is inconsistent. The wider issue stems from our government continuing to fundamentally restrict our public sector with such limited resources it is near on impossible for practitioners to be empowered do their job on the ground. This is making our future generation vulnerable. I heard last week that the county I live in will be cutting resources that support deaf children in mainstream schools again. As with many parents with children with additional needs, it becomes their personal fight to ensure the support is provided. This is my mission now. The difference for me reflecting on these past few months, is that I have somewhere to turn to help me be the voice for both my children, especially Daisy.

Thank you NDCS, CCSEF, our audiology department, our Makaton teacher, the kids TOD, their teachers in school, my friends, my family who all help in many ways to support Harry and Daisy. But, thanks importantly goes to my children who have opened my world up and taught me so much – the hearing world and the deaf world are both amazing places but they must meet more effectively to enhance each other and support the individuals within them. This starts in early childhood in school.

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