When early childhood education or health care providers inquire about starting a hearing screening program, they often initiate the conversation with a question such as "Which equipment should I buy?" or "How do we get trained to use the screening equipment?" Those of you who are successfully implementing periodic hearing screening are probably fielding many such questions posed by colleagues. In addition to providing answers, the greatest help you can offer may be to ask some questions of your own that help others to step back and look at their "big picture" potential for successfully implementing hearing screening--before spending money on equipment!
Whether your associates are working in health care, Part C Early Intervention, or EHS or other early childhood education settings, here are some larger questions you can ask to help them think through the service system infrastructure needed to support hearing screening:
Access to/Relationships with Families. Does your service system have regular, face-to-face, supportive contact with children and families that will allow you to initiate and complete a multi-step screening and follow-up process which may last 6 weeks or more for a small subset of children?
Access to Medical and Audiological Services. Is your service system able to assist children/families in accessing medical and audiological services, either through direct provision of such services or through a referral process?
System for Tracking. Does your service system have an established tracking system, or the capacity and commitment to incorporate one, allowing you to document specific screening information about individual children and track a subset who will need to receive follow-up services?
Stable Staffing. Does your service system have relatively stable staffing so that time invested in training staff members to conduct screening with children is likely to result in a sustainable program?
Related considerations: In selecting who will be trained to conduct screening, consider how likely it is that the prospective trainees will remain in your organization. If staff turnover is unavoidable, what measures can be taken to minimize it and/or to facilitate smooth turnover and new screener training so that it does not negatively impact screening program sustainability?
Service area. How many children/families do you intend to screen and where are they located geographically?
Related considerations: If the numbers are large and/or the geographic dispersal is high, can you roll out implementation over time, focusing on a target population, learning valuable lessons from that, then extend screening to larger numbers of children as you gain experience?
Focus on Child Language Development and Hearing. Does your service system have as one of its objectives to promote young children's language development and, as a more specific aspect of that, to monitor and promote their hearing health?
Related considerations: Do administrators and staff perceive hearing screening as a valuable investment and worth the expense of equipment costs and the time needed for training screeners and conducting screening activities? Are there policies that require the provision of hearing screening and, if so, what do they suggest about specific methodology, time frame of when screenings are to be done, periodicity of screenings, who can screen, etc.? What ages of children do you intend to screen and what types of hearing loss (permanent or fluctuating) are you intending to screen for?