All newborn babies in South Australia are to get access to comprehensive hearing testing in the first few weeks of their lives.
Health Minister Lea Stevens says the program, which currently reaches about 35% of the 18,000 babies born in South Australia each year, will be extended to reach all newborns by the end of 2005.
The $826,000 expansion of the program, which is run by Child and Youth Health, is part of the Rann Government’s Every Chance for Every Child framework, launched in November last year.
Ms Stevens says early screening is the key to allowing children with a hearing deficiency to properly develop speech and language.
“This program, which will be available to all South Australian children, is about early detection and early intervention,” Ms Stevens says.
“Research shows that babies less than six months of age who are diagnosed with permanent hearing impairment and who receive intervention programs do significantly better than those who begin later.
“At the moment, many of these children are only being identified at around 24-30 months, and that can cause a significant delay in speech and early learning.”
The hearing test program has several stages.
First, a midwife carries out the initial hearing screening as part of regular postnatal testing soon after birth. Then, after discharge from hospital, a Child and Youth Health nurse follows up those babies assessed as needing a second or third test. This could be at a clinic or on a home visit. If a fourth assessment is needed an audiologist then carries out comprehensive testing using special equipment.
Under Every Chance for Every Child, the State Government has already committed $16 million over four years to implement Home Visiting by Child and Youth Health Nurses to all newborn babies.
The home visiting initiative offers every parent a health check for their baby in the first few weeks of their lives, and ongoing family visit support for up to two years for those who need it.
A pilot project for the hearing testing began in August 2002 (running in Salisbury, Elizabeth, Murray Bridge and outlying Murraylands areas), with a parallel pilot program run from the Flinders Medical Centre. The pilot was expanded earlier this year to cover children in the Riverland, Port Augusta and Whyalla, and some southern Adelaide metropolitan areas.