The Story Behind the Family Mentor Program

Published on: 5th February 2024


Deaf Connect’s new Family Mentor program has been developed by our Family Services team in NSW, Teachers of the Deaf, and guided by Deaf community members. In this program, families with a child aged 0-8 years will be matched with a Deaf adult who has lived experience, Auslan fluency and is specifically trained in early language development to provide early access to language and community and nurture responsive parent-child relationships

Genevieve Roberts, key facilitator of the program, recalls the seed of the program being planted through conversations with Leonie Jackson, beloved champion for the Deaf community: 

It started with a conversation between Leonie and I in early 2018. Leonie approached me with concern about the levels of language deprivation and delay in deaf children, and the lack of access to Auslan. Following this was lots of research, focus groups, and an extensive survey…

We know how important Deaf adults are in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing kids, particularly during their early years of development.  

…Two key issues were identified: 1) need for genuine access to options and 2) hearing parents want access to Deaf adults early in their child’s journey.

First Signs – Meeting Deaf Aotearoa

Genevieve embarked on a research trip to New Zealand to learn more about Deaf Aotearoa’s ‘First Signs’ Program firsthand from their team. Their program works to inspire strong positive aspirations for deaf children, and  strengthen family’s deaf awareness .  It has been and recognised that one of the skills parents need is to be able to advocate for their child.   

The most notable difference with their program is the focus on first language acquisition right from birth, through the provision of a fluent sign language model for the whole family. This is to mitigate language deprivation in the vital early ages of development.  

There was lots of discussion comparing and contrasting this New Zealand situation with the Australian one.

She was inspired by how the program encouraged a network among families of deaf children and the wider Deaf community and recognised the importance of having a Deaf role model.  

The power of a Deaf or hard of hearing child seeing a Deaf Presenter (role model) cannot be overestimated – you can’t be, what you can’t see!

We look forward to taking the wisdom and rich experience back to Australia with us, and sharing it with our Deaf Connect colleagues. We feel inspired and energised to return to Sydney and establish an empowering service for our community of families with deaf and hard of hearing children.

The Family Mentor Program

In the Family Mentor Program, we provide a Deaf role model for children and a link to the community with an approach that includes bilingual, bicultural, social and language development. We support early access to Auslan and total communication options to enable full choice throughout your child’s life.   

So what can you expect from the Family Mentor program?  

  • We match you with a Family Mentor 
  • You collaborate to outline goals and a session time schedule 
  • We provide regular support and monitor progress 
  • We check in every three months to evaluate and reset goals 
  • Sessions can be 1, 1½ or 2 hours in length, tailored to each family. 

If you would like to join the Family Mentor Program and receive guidance from a Deaf Mentor, express your interest here or email [email protected] 

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