CHERYL’S STORY – Families First
The first five years of a Deaf child’s life is vital to their development – from the use of language and communication, to building a network of family, friends and the community that can support one another through life’s obstacles. Deaf Aotearoa’s First Signs Facilitators have supported over 600 Kiwi families and whānau with Deaf children aged between 0 to 5 years old. First Signs has a substantial impact on the wellbeing, identity, and communication skills of Deaf children through:
- Teaching families and their Deaf children on best communication practice, including using NZSL
- Providing greater awareness of Deaf people’s experiences, abilities and potential
- Making families feel more positive and confident about their child’s future
- Ensuring children start school with age-appropriate language, including spoken language
- Developing strong self-esteem in children.
First Signs Facilitator in Hawke’s Bay, Cheryl Spykermann, shares how COVID-19 has had an impact on families’ access to First Signs. Cheryl had worked at Deaf Aotearoa in Auckland for nearly seven years across the Employment and Hauora services, before she left her job to relocate to Hawke’s Bay. A year later when she saw we were booking for someone to join the First Signs team in the area, Cheryl was excited to apply and successfully received the role.
The Hawke’s Bay region stretches up to Gisborne, at least a three-hour drive away on narrow winding roads, and regular travel to provide First Signs sessions in person proved a challenge. Ten to twelve families receiving this service found the monthly visits were not enough, and expressed their struggles to retain what they had learned in the sessions. Many families in remote areas lack access to technology devices let alone reliable Internet to be able to participate in online sessions – some visit their local library to access the resources sent to them. With Cheryl in the role now, passionate and driven to ensure these whānau receive critical support, families look forward to her regular fortnightly visits. Resources like posters and videos are sent to the families each week for the families to learn and practice until Cheryl’s next home visit, where she models the use of the vocabulary in conversation.
“I drive up to the area and visit them over two days. This enables families to feel more confident in their use of NZSL. Families have commented that it is so much better, they feel more positive about their child’s language and their future.”
COVID-19 lockdowns presented further barriers for families, especially those who are unable to access online sessions – Cheryl sends them physical resources through
“It is hard and I really feel for the families during lockdown. The families who did receive the resources via email commented that they couldn’t wait for in-home visits.”
Seeing the impact of First Signs on Deaf babies, toddlers and children as well as their families is powerful, and it’s what keeps Cheryl and the rest of the team going.
“I love my work, I love meeting and connecting with whānau and building a relationship with them. Working with the Deaf child and the wider family to develop their use of NZSL helps connect them all.”