Mentoring Needs of Minnesota Families with Children Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

9/15/15 by Nicole MartinRogers

Early intervention is critical to ensure that a young child who is deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) has access to appropriate modes of communication and language acquisition, can develop along with their peers who do not have a hearing loss, and has access to resources and supports to meet their needs. In addition, parents (especially those who do not have hearing loss themselves) may feel a sense of loss and trepidation when thinking about their child’s future.

Lifetrack’s Deaf Family Mentor Program matches a family that has a young child who is D/HH with an adult who is D/HH. The Deaf Mentor and family meet in-person once a week for 2 hours for up to 2 or more years. The program curriculum currently focuses on teaching the family American Sign Language (ASL). In 2015, the program served 57 families across Minnesota.

What Types of Mentoring and Support are Most Helpful?

Lifetrack wanted to know more about what types of mentoring and support are most helpful for families with young children who have hearing loss. In response, Lifetrack contracted with Wilder Research to conduct a needs assessment for families with young children, age 0-6, who are deaf or hard of hearing. Wilder Research talked with parents of children who are D/HH, adults who are D/HH, and experts from other mentoring programs around the country. Throughout, we worked with an advisory group made up of professionals, parents and adults, and a state agency to design the study, collect information, interpret the responses, and report the findings.

Minnesota’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) system screens newborns for hearing loss. As of January 2015, there were 1,273 children living in Minnesota who were identified with a hearing loss before the age of 7. The EHDI system – managed by the Minnesota Department of Health, along with the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division and the Minnesota Department of Education – provides an array of program and service options for families, including Infant and Toddler Intervention through the child’s local school district, parent-to-parent support through Minnesota Hands & Voices, and Lifetrack’s Family Mentor Programs.

What Families & Individuals Need: Hope for the Future, Life Skills, and Positive Self-Identity

So what did we learn? Families told us that one of the most important functions of an adult mentor who is D/HH is to give the parents hope for their child’s future and to give the child a positive adult role model who can help the child learn life skills related to their hearing loss, as well as develop a positive self-identity. 

In addition, we found that while some parents appreciate the Deaf Family Mentor Program’s current focus on teaching ASL, many parents also wanted information on other modes of communication (Cued Speech, lip reading) and use of assistive technologies (hearing aids and cochlear implants, mainly).

Recommendations: Unbiased, Tri-Lingual Mentors & Increased Program Flexibility

The study recommendations include a set of suggestions for how to increase the program’s flexibility to better meet families’ needs and preferences. For example, we reviewed another program from Wisconsin that uses a “100 sessions” model that allows the family and mentor to work together to pick and choose from the wide variety of topics available to customize the program to meet their needs.

Families want mentors who can communicate well with hearing parents and other family members. Mentors should be unbiased in terms of the choices the family makes, especially about communication mode(s) they will or will not use and the choice to use assistive technologies. According to both parents and adults who are D/HH, finding a good match between child and mentor in terms of type of hearing loss and mode of communication use is essential for cultivating the best possible relationship and positive impact on the child. Mentors who are in the role of teaching families ASL should also be trained and skilled at using best practices in visual language instruction.

Finally, this study highlights the need to address the specific needs of families who do not speak English as a first language. This includes providing program materials in other languages and recruiting mentors from the same cultural communities and who are tri-lingual (English, the family’s native language, and ASL, if applicable for that family).

Expanded Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program is Needed

It is clear that an expanded D/HH mentoring program is needed to respond to the needs and preferences of all families with young children who are D/HH in Minnesota. The full needs assessment report describes the history of D/HH mentoring programs in Minnesota; the characteristics of young children who are D/HH in Minnesota; family needs and preferences with regard to mentoring program content, program structure, mentor characteristics, and family outreach; and benefits to families and mentors from participating.

Next Steps

Within the next few months, Lifetrack will create a plan for expanding the Family Mentor Programs to reflect the key recommendations outlined in the report. The expansion plan will be shared with key stakeholders and an advisory committee for feedback and guidance. The recommendations in this report are intended to inform the sustainable expansion of Lifetrack’s D/HH Mentor/Role Model programs to support the diverse needs and choices made by all families in Minnesota with children who are D/HH.

Nicole MartinRogers is a Senior Research Manager at Wilder Research and Beth Quist is the Director of Education Services at Lifetrack.