Ears2Learn -Ear-screening through the first 2,000 days.
“Ears2Learn is a wonderful and promising alternative model to screen and, through timely referrals, promptly treat young children at risk of speech and language delay and reduce waiting times that are far too long both in the public and private sector.”Professor Harvey Coates AO DM MS FRACS
What is Ears2Learn?
Ears2Learn is a safe free ear screening program for children aged from 9 months to 5 years of age in Perth, Western Australia. It commenced operating in August 2019 and since its inception has conducted thousands of screens, with more than a third warranting referral to a health professional. Ears2Learn is a collaboration between Connecting Community for Kids (CCK), Earbus Foundation of WA and Goodstart Early Learning.
How did it come about?
Despite the importance of ear health and the never-repeated brain-building that occurs in the first 2,000 days of life, there is a five-year gap in universal ear-screening for Western Australian children.
Currently, the ears of newborn babies are screened at birth but this is not repeated until school entry at 5 years of age.
Ears2Learn commenced in 2018 as a rapid learning trial conducted by CCK, a collective impact initiative supported by the Woodside Development Fund in the urban communities of Kwinana and Cockburn, Perth.
The eight-week trial in 2018 involved 76 children aged 2-3 years at four early learning centres. It found that the ears of over half (59%) of the children in the trial needed medical attention due to fluid in a middle ear or Eustachian tube dysfunction associated with OM. These children were referred to a General Practitioner and/or Audiologist and the risk of permanent hearing loss was averted for those children at that time.
The trial exposed a clear need for ongoing ear-screening through the first 2,000 days.
How does it work?
The two defining features of Ears2Learn are that paraprofessionals (early childhood educators) rather than health professionals are trained to safely screen the ears of very young children, and the screening occurs at early learning centres and playgroups rather than at health clinics. Rigorous training, clinical support and ongoing competency assessment of each Practitioner is provided by Earbus audiologists.
One Practitioner can screen approximately 40 children per 7-hour day and Ear-screening occurs every 12 – 16 weeks at no cost to parents. There are two screens conducted:
- The trained screener uses an otoscope to conduct a general ear exam
- They also perform a tympanogram test to rule out fluid in the middle ear, infection or perforation of the ear drum.
Results are marked as one of three categories – pass, review or refer to a health professional.
Through referrals triggered by Ears2Learn since August 2019, hundreds of children in the Kwinana and Cockburn area have been placed on the pathway for ear-health assessments by health professionals. The treatments they have received include antibiotics for OM, removal of foreign objects from their ears, surgery for grommets, or being fitted with hearing devices. While some of these ear-health issues may have been identified without Ears2Learn, it is likely that many would not.
In 2022 alone 1,152 ear screenings were conducted with one in three (36%) referred to a Health Professional
Currently there are 15 Goodstart Centres in Western Australia offering Ears2Learn Ear Screenings.
The identification of ear-health issues should not be left to chance. Ears2Learn is a tried and tested ‘up-stream’ preventative program which is ready to be applied at scale across Australia.