Evie and Renee Williams. Picture: Contributed
Evie and Renee Williams. Picture: Contributed

New partnership to support regional kids with hearing loss

Rockhampton’s Evie Williams was just nine weeks old when she was fitted with her first pair of “hot pink” hearing aids.

For Rockhampton parents Renee and Jacob, finding out their daughter had been born with hearing loss six years ago was a complete shock.

Mrs Williams said her daughter’s diagnosis came after her newborn screen at the hospital.

“It was a huge surprise as no one in our families had ever had hearing loss,” she said.

“We didn’t know what we were meant to do, and it was pretty scary particularly as we were first-time parents.”

Evie Williams. Picture: Contributed
Evie Williams. Picture: Contributed

Determined to help their daughter learn to hear and speak, the family turned to the Queensland based charity Hear and Say, which offers a telepractice program for rural and remote children.

“Because we live regionally, we received weekly specialised speech therapy via telepractice from Hear and Say until Evie was around four years of age, which then went to fortnightly sessions,” Mrs Williams said.

“She is now in the end stages of the Early Intervention program, as she is now a big Year One student.”

She said the organisation offered support the family couldn’t do without.

“We had no idea what to do for a child with hearing loss and Hear and Say has guided us every step of the way,” she said.

“Evie’s speech therapists have been professional, kind and they care about her holistic development.

“She is keeping up with her peers in terms of listening and speaking, and Hear and Say has shown us children born deaf are able to access sound and live a full and happy life – the work they do is unmatchable.”

The release of “startling figures” that revealed up to four school-age children in every 1000 had hearing loss prompted a new partnership between QCoal Foundation and Hear and Say to support regional and remote students to thrive.

“We know people living outside major metropolitan areas are more likely to experience hearing-related issues than people residing within major metropolitan areas, coupled by the fact hearing loss is often describe as an ‘invisible disability’,” Hear and Say chief executive officer Chris McCarthy said.

“Hearing loss can also have significant consequences for children’s development, impacting learning as well as social and emotional wellbeing.

“That’s why ongoing monitoring and specialised support throughout children’s school years is critical, to ensure they maintain the outcomes achieved through early intervention.

“This is especially true for those living in regional, rural, and remote Queensland communities, where specialist support in schools and other education settings can be much scarcer than in major cities.”

In 2018, QCoal Foundation partnered with Hear and Say.

Together, the organisations worked to tackle the challenge of supporting school-aged children in regional Queensland with hearing loss through highly specialised speech and language support via telepractice.

QCoal Foundation chief executive officer Sylvia Bhatia said the organisations directors were impressed with the work of Hear and Say during the partnership and were keen to further support children with hearing loss.

“Hear and Say kept us updated on their work and, in particular, their experience during COVID-19, which saw over 70 per cent of their services temporarily transitioned to telepractice,” Ms Bhatia said.

“We have proudly partnered with Hear and Say to develop a telepractice program to support school-aged children in regional Queensland to develop and maintain optimal listening, speech and language outcomes, social skills and access to the school curriculum.

“We are delighted to be teaming up with Hear and Say once again, to help ensure school-age children who are deaf or hard of hearing aren’t left behind and can go on to reach their goals, regardless of where they live.”

Ms Bhatia said the partnership had entered the solution development phase and work in regional and remote Queensland would commence in May.