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Concern over Wiltshire's Portage service

October 20, 2011 11:53 AM

Wiltshire's cabinet meeting on October 19th 2010 was told of concerns about possible reductions to the standard of 'Portage' services within the county.

Portage is the system of home visits to children with special needs in their first five years. It aims to help parents cope with the various types of disabilities and requirements of their child. The name comes from the town of Portage USA where the system was first developed.

Cabinet were presented with a statement by Leila Gunning, whose daughter was born with SMS (Smith-Magennis Syndrome) and who had been greatly helped by West Wiltshire Portage (WWP).

WWP provides a home education service for 0-5 year olds with difficulties and disabilities. It works in partnership with local children services, but is unique as it uses an allocated home visitor, who visits the family on a weekly basis, allowing continuity and a trusting relationship to be formed.

Funding from Wiltshire Council currently allows 18 families to access the service, whilst WWP also raises funds to enable it to provide the service to a further 12 families.

However a procurement process for children with disabilities could mean a reduction in service. In her statement Ms Gunning suggested that: "This will result in Portage only being able to provide a service for 0-2 year olds and reducing the numbers of children visited from the current 30 to only 9. This means Portage may not remain viable and could have to cease altogether from April 2011. This will be catastrophic! Not only is there the risk for children with ASD for example, which often does not become apparent until this age, receiving less support but a large number of families and children will be left without this unique and life changing service."

In reply the cabinet member for children's services, Lionel Grundy, said the present services were ad-hoc and needed to be made consistent across the county.

Councillor Alison Bucknell, speaking as chair of a charity involved in Portage, claimed officers did not understand the requirements of families receiving the service, and said the process of reducing funding via the procurement process was "wholly inappropriate."

Original article October 2010