What is Portage and why is it so powerful?

This article first appeared on the Mencap website

I'm a mother to eight-year-old Natty who has Down’s syndrome. Portage helped to give Natty a great start in life – she is flourishing in mainstream school and is also fronting national advertising campaigns as a model.

Natty playing with a portage toy
Portage is a powerful early years service

But people often don't know what portage is, so I just want to highlight why it was such a life-saver for me in the early days.

It wasn’t just the sound advice or loan of fabulously educational toys, or even the linking up of other services. It was also the friendly face telling me weekly over a cuppa that our daughter was doing really well - that almost meant the most.
Our Senior Portage Worker, Amanda Eva, provided Portage to me, Natty, and the wider family, when Natty was younger. The support Amanda provided was invaluable to the family. She listened to our concerns about Natty and big sister Mia and has witnessed tears too. But she always scooped us up and helped us along. Portage is an invaluable service that families can’t afford to have cut.

So what exactly is Portage?

Mencap asked Amanda from the National Portage Association to describe the service that she's part of to give you more of an idea of what portage really is: 
“In Cornwall we are very fortunate to have a well-established (over 26 years) Portage Service run and funded by Cornwall Council. Despite reductions in funding, we continue to have a good level of staffing, which enables us to support all children referred to our service - although there may be the occasional wait.
We strive to prioritise any waiting list by looking at the level of need, not the length of time they have been waiting and our criteria for receiving support allow us to reach the children who have the most complex additional needs.
We regularly have very positive feedback from parents who appreciate our input, and aim to develop good partnership working that empowers and enables parents to become confident in teaching their child new skills following the Portage model.
We are usually the first experience of the ‘education’ world for a family and have great links and working relationships with other professionals such as Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, Health Visitors, the list goes on.
At the conclusion of Portage involvement we focus on the transition from our service to the next stage of education and strive to ensure that we are inclusive. Lots of our families have early support and we problem solve with the support of our colleagues and education providers. At all times, the child and family are at the centre of our work.
Many parents stay in touch with us after their child finishes portage and are the best ambassadors for our service and for that we are very grateful. This is our Cornish experience and it would be wonderful to think that this was reflected nationwide."

Did your child receive Portage?
What are your experiences of the service?

You might also like to read Do We Really Need Makaton?

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