This study investigated how access to, and availability of, ear health and hearing services contributes to the burden of avoidable hearing loss experienced by young, urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families. The paper aimed to present the perspectives of parents and carers about awareness and concern in their community, detection and diagnosis of children’s ear health and hearing problems in primary care, and impacts of delays in diagnosis on children and families. These perspectives are complemented by those of health professionals.
The project team consisted of six Aboriginal researchers and 10 non-Indigenous researchers, and a total of 33 parents and carers completed surveys, with most also taking part in interviews about their child's ear health journey. Fifty-eight service providers from the health, early childhood and community service sectors also completed anonymous surveys and 26 were interviewed.
Five main themes emerged from the analysis of parent and carer interviews: community knowledge and parent/carer recognition of signs of ear health and hearing problems; parent and carer action-taking; getting ear health and hearing checks; recognition of persistent problems; and impacts of delays on children and families.
This study found there is no evidence of a systematic approach to ear checks for this at-risk population. A significant proportion of parents and carers are noticing problems by watching their child’s listening behaviours: early and reliable indicators of hearing status that can be harnessed. Some persistent ear health problems are being managed in primary care as acute episodes, thus delaying specialist referral and increasing developmental impacts on the child. Parents’ and carers’ practical recommendations for improving hearing health services are presented.