Significant improvement in hearing help for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
On the eve of NAIDOC Week, Australian Hearing is pleased to report that new research indicates a significant improvement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children getting hearing help at an earlier age.
Australian Hearing has tracked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s hearing aid fitting data for the past 10 years. In 2008, only one in ten Aboriginal children received their first hearing aids before the age of five, and very few before the age of seven. Now, one in four receive them before five years of age1.
“This is a huge improvement and the result of Australian Hearing working closely with communities and partner agencies over an extensive period,” says Kim Terrell, Acting Managing Director Australian Hearing.
“It’s positive to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children benefitting from early hearing help,” says Mr Terrell. “Early access to sound is vital for children. The first three years is so important for learning language and learning to listen. Language connects the next generation to their family, communities and cultural stories, and sets children up for success, giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
“There is, however, more work to be done given Indigenous Australians experience significantly higher rates of hearing problems compared to other Australians”, adds Mr Terrell.
Australian Hearing’s research findings are also influencing how the organisation’s audiologists work with communities, says Samantha Harkus, Australian Hearing’s Principal Audiologist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services.
“The findings help us understand more about families’ beliefs and knowledge around hearing loss and hearing aids in children aged five years and under,” says Samantha. “It also provides the building blocks to forge stronger long term relationships with early childhood services and child and family health nurses.”
Australian Hearing has provided hearing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for 30 years under the Government’s Hearing Services Programme. In 2017‑18 Australian Hearing provided help to over 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children. This is achieved via mainstream and outreach programs in over 230 urban, regional and remote communities across Australia3.
In addition to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get hearing help much earlier in their lives, and providing services to children and adults in remote communities, Australian Hearing has launched a six-month trial of a teleOutreach service that provides a follow-up appointment with hearing impaired children in remote locations via video-chat.
The service, called TeleFUP (Tele Follow-Up), is led by Australian Hearing’s dedicated team of outreach audiologists and delivers support to children in remote communities within two to three weeks after they are fitted with their first hearing aid. These children and their families currently wait on average three months for a face-to-face follow-up.
“The first few weeks with a hearing aid are critical. It’s a time when extra support is needed,” explains Samantha. “However, in remote communities there is usually less assistance available for families. Through TeleFUP, Australian Hearing can provide better support from a distance and help to strengthen community support. This will make it easier for children to make use of their hearing aids so they can hear easily.”
A small teleOutreach team of Sydney and Melbourne-based audiologists will connect with remote community clients across the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
TeleFUP is Australian Hearing’s second teleOutreach program, joining TeleFIT which started in 2016. TeleFIT is a video-fitting clinic aimed at children under five years in remote communities. As an Australian Hearing initiative implemented in partnership with Queensland’s Aboriginal Hearing Health program ‘Deadly Ears’, TeleFIT has significantly reduced waiting time and tripled the number of children receiving hearing aids before they start school.
“Australian Hearing will continue to develop these services as part of its commitment to providing world leading research and hearing services for the wellbeing of all Australians”, says Mr Terrell