Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are being encouraged to use an Australian Government toolkit to ensure young children are meeting their milestones for hearing and speaking.
The Australian Government has made ending avoidable deafness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a priority, with their rates of hearing loss and ear disease significantly higher than the non-Indigenous population.
Between 2018-19 and 2022-23, almost $104.6 million will be provided for ear health initiatives to reduce the number of Indigenous Australians suffering avoidable hearing loss, and give Indigenous children a better start to education.
The Parent-evaluated Listening and Understanding Measure (PLUM) and the Hearing and Talking Scale (HATS) have been developed by Hearing Australia in collaboration with Aboriginal health and early education services.
As part of a $21.2 million package of funding over five years from 2020-21 to advance hearing health in Australia, the 2020-21 Budget includes an additional $5 million to support early identification of hearing and speech difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and embed the use of PLUM and HATS Australia-wide.
Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services will be able to access $2 million from that funding, through the Service Maintenance Program, to establish quiet spaces that can be used for audiology assessments.
PLUM and HATS uses questionnaires that help parents and carers, early childhood educators and health professionals to screen for hearing and communication difficulties in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and ensure action can be taken to address problems early.
The Australian Government has also provided $30 million for diagnostic hearing assessments and follow-up treatment for Indigenous Australian children in the years before starting school. The resulting Hearing Assessment Program – Early Ears (HAP-EE), also delivered by Hearing Australia, was co-designed with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector and other stakeholders.
HAP-EE was initially focussed on rural and remote areas, and more than 3,100 diagnostic hearing assessments in 93 communities have been conducted from when it began in 2019 to September 2020. The program will be expanded to metro areas by the end of the year.
Other ongoing initiatives include the Healthy Ears Program providing a range of clinical ear health services for Indigenous children and youth, including ear nose and throat (ENT) and speech pathology. Funding is also available to deliver access to culturally safe surgery, streamline care pathways, train health professionals, supply equipment and provide the Care for Kids’ Ears health promotion resources.